Dicentra Spectabilis Growing Guide

Growing Dicentra Spectabilis In A Polytunnel

One of the interesting things about polytunnels is that they can, depending on the cover used and their location, be used to grow a huge range of different plants. 

The right cover will allow polytunnel gardeners to grow a range of plants suited to growing in shade, including 'bleeding heart'. You might also incorporate this plant within a perennial planting scheme in a polytunnel, below trees or shrubs, for example. 

Key Information

"Bleeding heart" is the common name for a herbaceous perennial plant known scientifically as Lamprocapnos spectabilis, previously classified under the name Dicentra spectabilis.

Each flower of the Bleeding Heart plant resembles a heart shape, with a distinctive single dangling drop beneath it. Indigenous to regions including Siberia, Korea, Japan, and China, this plant belongs to the Papaveraceae family, commonly known as the poppy family. Although it's still frequently referred to and sold under its former name, it's now recognized as the sole species within the Lamprocapnos genus.

The initial introduction of this plant to the British Isles dates back to the 1840s, when Scottish botanist and plant explorer Robert Fortune brought specimens from Asia. Since then, the Bleeding Heart has gained popularity as a beloved addition to gardens in temperate climates.

The Preferred Conditions for Dicentra Spectabilis

This plant will thrive if it is provided with:

  • Partial or dappled shade. Though it can also cope in full sun with adequate soil moisture, and in full shade, though flowering will be reduced. 

  • A moist but well drained or moisture-retentive soil that is alkaline or neutral in pH. 

How to Grow Dicentra Spectabilis

To grow this plant successfully, you need to think about the conditions it needs and choose the right location in which to grow it. This may be inside a polytunnel but will of course more commonly be below deciduous trees or large shrubs elsewhere in your garden. 


Remember, bleeding heart will grow best in moist, fertile, humus-rich soil, preferably neutral or slightly alkaline. It does best in a site in partial shade although will tolerate sun if the soil is reliably moist. Finding the right growing location is by far the most important thing if you want to grow this plant successfully. 


Lamprocapnos spectabilis can be propagated by means of root cuttings in the winter or by means of division in the early spring. 

To successfully take root cuttings:

  1. Ensure the plant is well-watered and adequately hydrated the night before collecting root divisions.

  2. Prepare a container with a moist yet well-draining medium.

  3. In the morning, gently remove the soil around the plant to expose the roots.

  4. Use a sterile gardening knife to cut the root, ensuring there are at least two nodes.

  5. Rinse the root cutting with clean water and place it in the container, covering it with a couple of centimetres of the well-draining medium.

  6. Water the cutting when the medium is dry, avoiding waterlogging.

  7. Position the root cutting in a lightly shaded area away from direct sunlight.

  8. Expect new growth to emerge within 4-6 weeks.

  9. Allow the new plant to grow, potting up as needed during the summer.

  10. Transplant the new plant carefully into a new location in your garden in early autumn.

It is also possible to grow it from seed sown in January in a polytunnel or unheated greenhouse. (The seeds require a period of cold stratification to germinate successfully.)

Where to Plant Dicentra Spectabilis

Dicentra Spectabilis can be a wonderful addition to any woodland garden, as it thrives in the rich, moist soil provided by the leaf cover. However, it's important to note that excessive shade can limit its flower display.

This plant also complements shaded borders beautifully, especially when planted alongside other perennials like ferns and astilbe. Ensure ample space for its foliage to spread during dormancy. Additionally, it can enhance the charm of a cottage garden when planted under roses, adding an appealing layering effect.

For optimal growth and visual impact, seek out areas with dappled sunlight to plant Dicentra Spectabilis. It flourishes in this mixture of direct light and shifting shade. Given its relatively low height, it's ideal for positioning in the middle or towards the front of a border.

Suggested planting locations and garden types:

You might plant Lamprocapnos spectabilis:

  • In a shade tunnel, among other woodland plants.

  • In a woodland garden or forest garden. 

  • Below shrubs and other planting in a traditional cottage garden bed or border. 

  • In a container, as long as the container is placed in a suitable spot. 

When to Plant Dicentra Spectabilis

Bleeding heart plants are typically best planted between the months of March and June. 

How to Plant Dicentra Spectabilis

It's important to handle them with care during planting as their roots are fragile, and they are sensitive to disturbance. 

When incorporating them into a garden scheme for a specific area, it's useful to note that bleeding heart plants typically reach a height of around 60cm and have a spread of 45cm.


Deadheading or pruning is generally unnecessary for bleeding heart plants. However, if you desire to maintain a tidy appearance in your garden, you can trim the ragged foliage of this herbaceous perennial back to the ground during late autumn. 

Alternatively, it's even better if you can bear to  leave the dead foliage intact over winter to support wildlife, and you can tidy up with a little tidy-up in the spring. 

When to Cut Back Bleeding Heart / Dicentra Spectabilis

You have the option to trim the ragged foliage of this herbaceous perennial back to the ground during late autumn. However, it's even more beneficial if you can bear to leave the dead foliage intact over winter to support wildlife. Then, you can perform a tidy-up in the spring if necessary.

Is Lamprocapnos poisonous?

It is important to note that this plant is toxic to people and dogs, so this is something that you should bear in mind when deciding where to grow it. 

Care Tips

This is not a plant that is challenging to care for. In fact, it should not require much care at all when it is grown in the right location. 


This plant does best in a position, it must be remembered, where it does not experience either full sun or deep shade. A partially shaded position or one in light, dappled shade is ideal. 


Lamprocapnus spectabilis needs moist but well drained or moisture-retentive soil that is alkaline or neutral in pH. Though relatively unfussy about soil type, it is important to make sure when growing this plant that the basic growing requirements regarding the growing medium are met. 


When growing L. spectabilis in dappled or partial shade with suitably moist or damp soil, watering should generally only be necessary during extended dry periods. 

However, it's crucial to monitor soil moisture levels, particularly if the plant is situated in a sunnier location or in a container. If you're cultivating bleeding heart in a container, regular watering is important to maintain its health.

Temperature and Humidity

The ideal temperature range for this plant is between around 12 and 24 degrees Celsius, and it exhibits good tolerance to high humidity levels.


For optimal growth, your bleeding heart plant thrives in fertile soil enriched with humus. Applying an organic mulch each spring will supply the necessary slow-release fertility it needs for the year. 

As this plant naturally originates from woodland environments, a mulch composed of leaf litter or leaf mould is ideal.

Common Problems for Dicentra Spectabilis

This is a resilient and tough plant that is unlikely to be much troubled by pests or diseases. However, like any plant, it can encounter problems when the environmental conditions or care are not quite right, and every now and then, fungal issues can take hold. 

Powdery Patches on Foliage

Presence of black, grey, white, or pink powder spots on bleeding heart leaves signals the presence of powdery mildew, a manageable disease if detected early. To prevent powdery mildew, ensure plants are watered at the soil level rather than on the foliage, and ensure adequate spacing for proper aeration, avoiding overcrowding. Remove affected material promptly to prevent its spread. 

Brown or Black Spots on the Leaves

If you notice small brown or black spots on the leaves of your bleeding heart plant, which gradually enlarge with a yellow ring or halo, and the centre of the ring starts to rot, it's likely suffering from fungal leaf spot. Promptly remove affected leaves upon detection to prevent the spread of the disease.

Yellowing Leaves

The natural yellowing and subsequent death of bleeding heart as temperatures rise indicate the onset of dormancy, which is a normal part of its growth cycle. In such cases, no intervention is necessary.

However, if yellowing occurs due to excessive watering, alkaline soil, or excessive sunlight, adjustments to these conditions are recommended.

Yellowing may also signal the emergence of fungal diseases such as Verticillium or Fusarium, which are severe and irreversible. Infected plants should be promptly removed to prevent further spread to neighbouring plants.

Browning, Blackening, or Rapid Wilting of the Plant

Diseases such as Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, Botrytis, and root rot can lead to rapid deterioration of the plant. Initial symptoms typically include wilting, which progresses to overall browning or rotting of the plant. In the case of Botrytis, a gray mould may appear to be overtaking the plant.

Unfortunately, if your plant is showing signs of browning or blackening due to these fungal issues, it's often too late for effective intervention, and the plant is likely beyond saving.


The classic L. spectabilis variety showcases fuchsia pink and white flowers, although various cultivars offer different color variations. For instance, 'Valentine' features red and white blooms, while 'Alba' presents an all-white variety. All three—'Valentine,' 'Alba,' and the species type—have earned the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit for their exceptional qualities.

Additionally, there's a cultivar named 'Gold Type,' notable for its yellow leaves, adding further diversity to the range of available options.

Top Tips for Growing Dicentra Spectabilis in a Polytunnel

Bleeding heart is not necessarily an obvious polytunnel plant. But if you have a shade tunnel you can choose to grow within it a range of woodland plants, and this is one great choice for a planting scheme of this type. 

You might also grow Dicentra plants below trees in your polytunnel, such as fruit trees, for ornamental appeal. 


Is bleeding heart a perennial?
Does a bleeding heart plant come back every year?
Where is the best place to plant a bleeding heart?
Do bleeding hearts spread?

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growing bleeding heart in a polytunnel