How to Cut Back Bleeding Hearts

Written by jacob j. wright
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How to Cut Back Bleeding Hearts
The bleeding heart's flower stem grows separately from its leaves. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Picturesque flowering perennials native to moist woodlands in North America and Asia, bleeding hearts bear pendulous white, pink, yellow or red flowers in spring, depending on species. In garden settings, species Dicentra spectabilis grows 60 cm to 1.2 m (2 to 4 feet) tall and blooms in late spring, while Dicentra eximia grows 60 cm (2 feet) tall and bears flowers in late spring and intermittently through fall until frost occurs. These perennials spread by underground rhizomes and by scattering seeds from ripe fruits after flowering ends. Trimming plants controls seed production, slows the growth and spread of rhizomes or removes yellowing foliage as the plants enter seasonal dormancy.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Hand pruners (secateurs) or scissors

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  1. 1

    Clip off stems with old, faded flowers with hand pruners or heavy scissors. Cut the stem just above the junction with a leaf further down the plant. Deadhead if you don't want seedlings to sprout and spread bleeding hearts across your garden. Deadhead fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) to encourage more reblooming across summer and fall.

  2. 2

    Cut off all foliage and stems that yellow and wilt in mid- to late summer.

  3. 3

    Reduce the height of bleeding heart plants by cutting back a portion of the foliage stems after flowering. Make cuts so that at least one leaf remains on the stem so the plant continues to make food to replenish the energy in the underground rhizomes. If you want to limit the clumping rhizome growth or spread of plants in the garden, fully cut off all leaves and stems at the edge of the clump to dwarf or kill those plants.

Tips and warnings

  • Some people contract dermatitis when touching the foliage and stems of bleeding hearts. Wear long sleeves and gloves when trimming foliage if you have sensitive skin.

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