When not in bloom, the bleeding heart plant is a rather unassuming bush. When blooming, however, there's no denying the wonder of those dangling, dripping heart-shaped blossoms. Native to Eastern Asia, the bleeding heart plant has come to charm gardeners around the world since its introduction to England in the 1840s. Since then, several cultivars have been recognized and awarded prestigious honors for their beauty and uniqueness. Today, bleeding hearts bloom in unusual and far-away places. With proper technique, you, too, can enjoy the beauty of these fairy-tale delights.
In cooler climates, bleeding hearts can be planted right in the ground whereas they tend to do a little better as houseplants in warmer climates. Bleeding hearts have a shallow root system, so choose a place in the ground that can accommodate horizontal root growth as opposed to vertical.
The bleeding heart plant much prefers heavier materials like glazed ceramics that retain more water than, say, terra-cotta. Select a pot that is twice the size of the root ball and fill it partway with very rich soil. Dig a hole in the center and completely cover the root ball with soil. Water well.
Unlike most houseplants, which require a loose, well-draining soil, the bleeding heart plant likes all the richness it can get. Commercial blends that are made for indoor plants will suffice, but don't be afraid to throw in an organic additive like compost or soil builder to help enhance the richness of your mix.
Sunlight can be quite harsh on the delicate, fern-like fronds of the bleeding heart, so it's best to keep them indoors, out of direct sunlight, in warmer climates. Cooler climates call for partial shade when planted outdoors. Keep your indoor bleeding heart plant about a foot from a window for optimal lighting.
Known colloquially as "lady in a bath," bleeding heart plants are thirsty girls. These ladies require regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist, otherwise blooming may halt. This translates to watering roughly every two to three days, depending on the environment. For bleeding hearts planted outdoors, an application of organic mulch will help retain that much-needed moisture.
The bleeding heart plant propagates quickly and easily with a little bit of help. To begin, prepare a small pot with well-draining, moist soil. You will then need to cut a piece of stem about 3 to 5 inches in length. Remove any foliage from the bottom half, and dip the tip in rooting hormone to expedite the rooting process. Cover the planted cutting with a plastic bag to create a miniature greenhouse, taking care not to retain too much moisture, as this can lead to rotting. Keep covered until signs of new growth appear. Transplant when hardiness improves.
There are three main pests that plague the bleeding heart plant: aphids, snails, and scale. All three are biting pests that destroy vital plant tissues to extract the fluids within. Aphids appear as yellow ants clinging in clusters on the stem and buds. Scale appears to be a fungal infection but is a tiny insect protected by their distinctive scaly covering. Snails come out at night to feast on the tender leaves of the bleeding heart plant, leaving behind jagged holes and silvery trails. Insecticidal soap and neem oil are effective solutions for the insects. An application of diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant will get rid of snails and slugs.
In its natural cool, wet habitat, the bleeding heart plant puts up with a lot. They are susceptible to a number of fungal infections, such as powdery mildew, which is usually not lethal and is easily treatable with fungicide. Leaf spot requires removal of infected leaves or plant death may occur, and botrytis is a very lethal fungal infection if not treated. Finally, verticillium wilt is not treatable and always fatal.
The bleeding heart plant is not a heavy feeder, and it's best to skip fertilizing entirely. Feed with an organic mulch or compost — something rich but not concentrated like a store-bought preparation, as this may burn the delicate and shallow roots. If your plant is not blooming, a light application of a commercial preparation is acceptable at a diluted ratio.
All parts of these beauties are considered toxic if ingested. Although handling the plant and flowers poses no risk, those with children or pets should take special care when keeping a bleeding heart plant around. Should ingestion occur, contact a poison control center as soon as possible. Enjoy your plant safely and happily.