15 Bleeding Heart Plant Problems You Shouldn’t Ignore

Are your bleeding heart plants struggling a bit this season, but you aren't quite sure why? These shade-friendly perennials can be sensitive, and susceptible to some common issues. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley looks at the most common problems that may impact your bleeding hearts, and how to fix them!

bleeding heart plant problems

Bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) are one of the first flowering plants to wake after a long winter. These spring-blooming perennials thrive in cooler temperatures and shady gardens. But as temperatures increase, they fizzle out and become dormant for the summer. Although bleeding hearts are low-maintenance, they can still have problems.

There are a few common problems that bleeding hearts will present. Luckily for us gardeners, almost all of them are treatable. Many of the issues stem from the environment they are grown in. Diseases and pests will vary by location and may be present in one region and not another.

So if you’ve started seeing signs that your bleeding heart is struggling, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out how to identify common problems you may run into when growing these beautiful plants. You will also learn how to remedy each issue and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Yellowing Leaves From Excessive Sunlight

Close-up of a bleeding heart plant with yellowing leaves next to a grey-black trunk in a sunny garden. The small bush consists of several brown-red stems on which yellowing divided and fernlike leaves grow densely.There are several vaguely heart-shaped flowers with a protruding white stamen below grow on a long reddish stem. The flowers consist of two pouched pink petals with strongly reflexed tips under which there are two more white inner petals.
Leaves may turn yellow due to excessive sun.

Yellow leaves are a great indication that something is wrong. Now, yellowing leaves can indicate a number of different problems. You will have to do a little digging to determine the issue.

Sunlight is the most common culprit cause of yellowing leaves. Bleeding hearts need partial to full shade to survive. If exposed to too much sunlight, the leaves will begin to turn from yellow to brown and then die.

You can attempt transplanting to a new location with less sunlight or plant taller plants around the bleeding heart to provide shade.

Yellowing Leaves From Overwatering

Close-up of Bleeding Hearts plant with red-pink flowers and yellow leaves. The leaves are compound, lobed, yellow-green in color with orange-brown tips. Three heart-shaped flowers hang from a thin red stem. The flowers consist of two red-pink petals and a white-red stamen sticking out from below.
Too little or too much water can cause the leaves to turn yellow.

Another reason for leaf yellowing is overwatering. Bleeding hearts like soils that are in the middle of the road for wetness. Not too much and not too little. Avoid soils that are poorly draining and have a tendency to have standing water. This is a breeding ground for more problems such as root rot and fungal disease.

Get in the habit of checking your soils. This will help determine whether they need more or less water. If they are allowed to dry out, the leaves will turn yellow, and the plant will begin to die.

You can generally fix these water issues. If your soils are having a hard time draining, add organic matter. Organic matter can be found all around your yard in the form of dead leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps. If soils are dry, consider watering more frequently or laying down a layer of mulch to trap moisture.

Lack of Blooms

A plant is blooming with just a single flower where there would normally be multiple flowers coming off the stem of the plant.
There are a few different causes for a plant that lacks blooms.

One of the best features of bleeding hearts is their gorgeous, pillowy heart-shaped pink, and red perennial blooms. But what happens when you arrive in the middle of the spring and you don’t see few flowers, or none at all?

Bloom production is affected by several different conditions. The first factor to check is if the plant is excessive sunlight. Bleeding hearts love the shade and grow the best when exposed to 5 hours or less of sunlight per day. Sunlight requirements will vary depending on your hardiness zone.

Like leaf yellowing, overwatering and underwatering can both contribute to a lack of bloom production. These plants like moist, well-draining soils. They are native to woodlands that have rich, humus soils. Never allow soil to become soggy for long periods of time. This can cause diseases to grow and spread very quickly.

As we mentioned earlier, these plants love the cooler temperatures that come with spring. If your region is experiencing long periods of warmer temperatures, the plant will stop producing blooms and begin to go dormant. Bloom production might pick up if temperatures become cooler again.

Browning Foliage

Close-up of the flowers of the plant Bleeding hearts illuminated by sunlight on a blurred green background. Heart-shaped small flowers hanging gracefully from a reddish stem. The flowers consist of two bright pink pouched outer petals with strongly curved tips and two white inner petals. A white stamen protrudes from the bottom of the flower.
This plant goes dormant when the temperature rises and is constantly above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bleeding hearts are sensitive to higher temperatures that come with the summer months. They will go dormant once temperatures are constantly above 75 degrees Fahrenheit for over a week. Planting in the shade will help the plants survive longer into the summer.

If it’s early to mid-spring and your plant begins to die, look at the planting location. Is it getting too much sunlight? Too much or too little water? You might have to do some detective work to determine what is causing the plant to turn brown and die.

Bleeding hearts should be at their peak in mid-spring to early summer. If you notice browning foliage in early spring, you will need to assess its surroundings.

Curling Leaves

Close-up of a flowering bleeding heart plant in a sunny garden against a leafy blurred background. Vaguely heart-shaped flowers hang from a thin reddish stem. The flowers have two pink outer petals and a white stamen pointing underneath. The leaves are dark green, lobed, slightly wrinkled, and the edges of some are curled up.
The cause of leaf curl on your plant may be aphids sucking sap from the leaves.

So, you’ve noticed that the leaves of your bleeding heart are starting to curl. Have you noticed tiny, green insects all over the plant? If you notice these symptoms, you are likely dealing with aphids.

They are a common pest and virtually unavoidable, no matter your location. Aphids will appear as pear-shaped, light green insects about the size of the head on a pin. They feed on the newer growth of the plants and will appear on the underside of the leaves and stem.

They suck the sweet sap from the leaves and will cause the plant to become stunned. The first signs of aphid damage will be the leaves curling in on themselves. If your plant is already stressed by some other factor, aphids will be more abundant.

To help control aphids, start by determining if your plants are stressed. Too much sunlight or too much water can be easily fixed and help control the aphid populations.

You can also purchase an insecticide from your local garden center to help control the aphids. Read and follow all label directions when working with garden chemicals.

Small Bumps on Leaves

Close-up of three scale insects on a light green leaf. The body of the pests is covered with a high-density protective shell, which includes 1-2 skins, as well as secretory wax.
You can get rid of scale insects by removing them manually or by applying an insecticide.

If you’ve noticed bumps on the leaves and stems of your bleeding heart but aren’t sure why they are there, chances are you are dealing with scale. These are tiny insects that create a waxy shell around themselves to protect them while they feed.

The shell may be brown, black, yellow, or white. The scale attacks the leave and causes discoloration on the underside of the leave. If the damage is significant, the leaves will drop, and the plant will be stunted or die.

If the plant isn’t heavily infested, you can remove the scale shells with your fingernail. You may need to consider applying an insecticide labeled for controlling scale if the plant is heavily infested.

Powdery Spots on Leaves

Close-up of a leaf infected with powdery mildew. The leaves are dark green in color, lobed, covered with a white powdery coating. The background is green, blurry.
Powdery mildew spreads in very humid conditions contrasting with high temperatures.

A very common fungal disease on most plants, powdery mildew is easy to identify. It looks like someone walked around with a bag of flour and sprinkled it on your plants. The fungus can appear white, gray, black, and even pink.

If present on established and healthy plants, powdery mildew typically doesn’t cause many issues. But if your new plant that just sprouted or your recently transplanted bleeding heart contracts powdery mildew, this disease can pose a bigger threat.

Wilted, Dying Foliage

Close-up of a single flowering bleeding heart plant in full sun in a garden. The plant has slender reddish stems bearing grey-green pinnate lobed leaves, and two heart-shaped red pendant flowers with a white stamen protruding from the bottom.
Root rot can occur due to overwatering and poorly drained soil.

So you have wilting plants. You’ve tried to give the plant more water, but that doesn’t seem to be helping. Too much water can do more harm than good. Remember, these plants don’t tolerate soggy soil. Soggy soils can turn into root rot.

If you have tried giving your bleeding hearts more water and the problem is getting worse, it’s likely you are dealing with root rot. Root rot appears as a filmy white coating on the leaves and stems and will cause the plant to wilt and die.

There isn’t much you can do if you are dealing with this condition. You can improve the soil drainage by adding peat moss or other organic matter. If you don’t improve the soil, the problem will continue and affect other plants in the area.

Yellowing Lower Leaves

Close-up of the base of a bleeding heart bush with lush green-yellow foliage in a sunny garden. The plant has thick pinkish stems and complex biternate lobed fern-like leaves. The leaves are light green with a yellowish tint.
If your plant has Fusarium wilt, it is recommended to cut off the damaged stems to prevent the spread of the disease.

If you notice that only the bottom leaves of the plant are turning yellow, you may have fusarium wilt. The disease will work its way up the plant and slowly kill the plant.

You can cut the surface of the stem, and there should be dark streaks where the wilt has invaded. If you believe you are dealing with fusarium wilt, you will have to remove the plant from the soil and discard the plant.

Avoid planting anything back into the infested area. If planted back in the same location, your new plants will most likely contract the disease. Keep plants well-fed and watered to prevent the disease from spreading.

Ragged Holes in Leaves

Close-up of a long brown slug Limax maximus on a green leaf against a blurred background. The slug has a long body with a leopard pattern: a light brown base with black spots.
Slugs and snails are common pests that feed on the leaves of many plants.

Jagged and ridged holes in the foliage leaves are an indication you have slugs or snails present. Slugs and snails are attracted to moist, well-mulched soils. Unfortunately, this is the type of environment that bleeding hearts thrive in.

Snails and slugs are active at night. They hide under boards and leaf trash during the day. There are a few methods to control snails and slugs. Consult your local garden center on methods to control snails and slugs in your area.

Spots on Leaves

A Plant with fungal spots on the leaves. The fungus is spreading between all the leaves.
Since these plants love moist conditions, fungal diseases can thrive.

Fungal leaf spots are very common on bleeding hearts, given the environment they thrive in. Fungal diseases love wet, moist conditions. Leaf spots will show up as ovals or circles in a grayish-blue color. The ovals will get larger and larger as the disease progresses.

This disease isn’t specific to bleeding hearts. But if you’ve identified that you are dealing with leaf spot, most likely, your other plants in the area have it as well. Plant seeds can be infested with the disease unknowingly when purchased or gathered from the plant.

Unfortunately, there are many treatments for leaf spots. You can remove the infested leaves or whole plants to slow the spread of the disease.

Foliage Production Decrease

Close-up of a young Bleeding hearts plant on black loose soil against a concrete path in the garden. The small shrub consists of thick reddish stems with bright green pinnate, lobed leaves.
It is recommended to cut the foliage in the fall and clear the area of ​​plant debris.

Bleeding hearts can’t handle the heat. Once summer temperatures rise above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant begins to slow down. They fall into dormancy through the winter and will rebloom in the spring.

This is a normal growth habit, so don’t panic. The plant will appear dead but do not remove it from the ground. You can cut back the foliage in the fall to clear plant debris from the area.

I recommend planting companion plants around your bleeding hearts to cover the bare spot that will appear once the plant goes dormant. Common companion plants are ferns, hostas, or shade-loving perennials and annuals.

Mushy Brown Areas on Stems, Leaves, or Flowers

A close-up of a Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Hearts' plant with dense large yellow leaves and a hanging cluster of drooping brown-red flowers. Fern-like leaves are large, golden yellow, pinnate and lobed. Thick reddish stems on a blurred background.
Be sure to keep the soil moist and provide adequate airflow to the roots to prevent botrytis blight.

Commonly known as gray spot, botrytis blight is more common in greenhouses than in home gardens but can still be present. If your area experiences cool, cloudy weather, this disease is going to be more prevalent.

Watch for signs of water-soaked spots on the leaves and mushy brown areas on the leaves, stems, and flowers. These spots will form on the roots, but this is harder to notice.

This disease can survive on dead and living plant tissue, seeds, and in the soil. This makes it difficult to control. The best method of control is to keep soil moisture under control. Give your bleeding heart plenty of space to allow for proper airflow.

Rust-Colored Spots

Close-up of two green lobed leaves with jagged edges infected with a fungal disease - rust. The leaves are bright green in color, covered with chaotic rusty-brown spots throughout the surface. The background is blurry.
One of the most effective rust control methods is spraying the plant with a copper-based fungicide.

One of the most common fungal diseases is rust. It gets its name from the color of the spores it produces. You can find these rust-colored spots all over the leaves and stems of the bleeding heart.

Since it’s such a common disease and affects many types of plants, there are plenty of control methods. You can try a copper-based fungicide. Spray the plant well, being sure to spray all leaves and stems. Follow instructions for the proper use and spray until symptoms are gone.

Yellow Streaks or Mottled Leaves

Close-up of a leaf infected with the Tobacco Rattle virus against a blurred background. The leaf is large, oval, with smooth edges and tapering towards the tip. The leaf is dark green covered with green-yellow spots.
The main symptoms of the Tobacco Rattle Virus are the appearance of yellow stripes and spots on the leaves.

The virus is called Tobacco Rattle Virus (TVR) and was only recently discovered to affect bleeding hearts. This virus spreads quickly on divided plants and those propagated by cutting. Symptoms develop when weather is cool and can be present without showing any signs.

When symptoms do appear, the virus will produce yellow streaks and mottled areas on the leaves. Eventually, the plant will wilt and die. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for TRV.

This virus is spread by nematodes which are present in the soil and impossible to see. You’ll only know if they are present when it’s too late and the plant is dying. Once the plant shows symptoms, it’s best to pull in from the soil and discard. Avoid propagating infected plants.

Final Thoughts

Like most plants, bleeding hearts come with their list of problems. Luck for us, a majority of the problems are treatable once identified properly. This list of common problems should help you determine what might be impacting your plants and help get them back on the path to good health!

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