Is My Bleeding Heart Dead?

Is My Bleeding Heart Dead?

Bleeding hearts on tree  

We love those verdant mounding flowering perennials and their clumps of green foliage. Gush over all those gorgeous blooms throughout the spring or summer. But they don’t quite look so lush and healthy by late summer and fall. It’s this time of year, right after a frost, that Nature Hills gets flooded with upset and frantic calls from worried customers and novice gardeners.

“Help! My perennials are dead!”

Nature Hills Nursery is here to calm your worries and fears and assure you that those Perennials live up to their name and will return once again in the spring! Bigger and better than before!

Tender and Herbaceous Perennial Plants

All tender perennial plants, early-blooming perennials, and spring bulbs go dormant as soon as the winter's chill seeps into the air and into the ground. Even sending trees, and shrubs intowinter garden dormancy as well, however, some perennial foliage does it with far less colorful fanfare. Their leaves are instead lush and green one moment, then dead-looking after that overnight frost.

Tender and herbaceous perennials have high water content in their stems and leaves, and very little to no lignin - which enhances plant cell wall rigidity and makes stems woody and more durable as is how it is in shrubs and trees. That fleshy foliage means that after one frost, your Astilbe are yellowing or already dried and tan, Hostas look limp like the lettuce you forgot about in the back of the fridge, Daylilies are sprawled out all over the ground like cooked spinach, and your Bleeding Hearts and Columbines may have been MIA since that August heat wave.

It’s a completely natural process and happens every year, give or take a few weeks because of Ma Natures' fickle temperament. Many varieties of Perennials and spring ephemerals planted in cooler and hot growing zones alike almost melt with the onset of warmer weather. They enter a summer dormancy period during the intense heat, only to return when things cool off again.

Unfortunately, there are few evergreen perennial plants available unless you live in a frost-free warm winter climate. All we can hope for is an early snowfall to cover the entire garden crime scene up for the winter!

Since fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, spring-flowering bulbs, and perennials alike, and if temperatures allow, Nature Hills is still shipping plants throughout the country. But even these perennials, like Bleeding Hearts, that ship out of our colder region nurseries are arriving having already had their fall haircuts and their fleshy, tender foliage ‘missing’. Bleeding Hearts up close

But fear not, there’s still a healthy, thriving, albeit sleeping root system alive and well in that pot of dirt that just arrived at your doorstep.

Rest assured, your herbaceous Perennials are going to come back with the spring's warmth to start over again! Your plants have been growing and blooming all growing season and deserve a much-needed rest and vacation after all their hard work! For now, all we can do is give them the support they need to sleep safely and erupt into spring bigger and better than ever before!

Putting Your Perennials Down For Winter Naps

The key to ensuring your Perennial's survivability over the winter is to first have selected hardy plants rated for your USDA Hardiness Zone. Hopefully, you have watered them religiously during their first growing season so they didn’t dry out and now have a sizeable root system beneath the ground. Lastly, you’ve ensured your Perennials enjoyed a midsummer application of fertilizer. Once fall arrives all you have left to do is give them a little TLC in their convalescence.

Getting Perennials Ready for Winter

  1. Prune back dead above-ground leaves and branching for most types of tender perennials. This prevents heavy snow from packing leaf matter down over the crown, which is sitting just below thepruning in fall soil's surface, from being choked out or smothered.
  2. Some perennials are excellent candidates for being left intact for winter interest and their seeds feed birds and wildlife in the landscape. Perennials like Sedums or Black-Eyed Susans are fantastic sturdy plants to catch and sculpt the snow. Leaving some perennials in place also offer protection and a place to overwinter for beneficial insects, especially in your pollinator garden! Leaving perennials up for the winter also catches snow to insulate and add moisture to the soil.
  3. Other perennials that may have suffered some issues during the growing season (like botrytis on Peonies, mildew on Bee Balm, or insects in Iris) and should be cut down and removed before winter. Removing diseased plant debris will prevent the problem from overwintering and help to break the cycle. So when in doubt, if your plant was mildew laden or diseased you should consider cutting it down and removing the debris from your landscape. 
  4. Avoid fertilizing your perennial plants in the fall, as their final application of fertilizer should have been in mid-summer. However, autumn is a good time to work in a few inches of compost around your garden beds. As the compost and mulch slowly break down, they release nutrients into the soil while improving the soil structure.
  5. Many Perennials and Ornamental Grasses may benefit from being divided to keep the clump smaller and increase vigorous; preventing them from dying out in the center. Some spread faster than others but take a look at your plants, and every third year or so they may need to be reduced. (Free plants for your garden or your neighbors!) mulching
  6. Water your perennials in well so their roots don’t go through winter dry. Right up until the ground freezes solid, water weekly if there hasn’t been significant rainfall or snow cover.
  7. Lastly, give them a winter's blanket of arborist bark chips. Being sure not to pile it up against their stems, layer a 3-4 inch thick bed of mulch to hold in moisture and add insulation to the roots. The best time to mulch is after you’ve had a couple of good frosts or a hard freeze. So, if your mulch layer is getting light, fall is a great time for a refresh!
  8. Kick back inside your warm home and plan for next spring. Ma Nature will take care of the rest.

Gardeners in hot climates will notice their Bleeding Hearts and other tender early-blooming Perennials, as well as spring ephemerals, all take a break once the summer sun reaches its peak. Dying back during summer dormancy to escape the hot sun and the stress of drought and temperatures. Again, completely normal, especially during a drought.

  1. Trim away and remove the yellowed or dead foliage as noticed.
  2. Water your perennials regularly, and our Horticulturist recommends using the Finger Test Method to ensure you are not over or under-watering.
  3. Perennials may benefit from early spring fertilization if you notice your plants have reduced vigor or bloom. Many extension offices offer soil testing to know if your soil is lacking in nutrients. 
  4. Top off the area with 3-4 inches of arborist mulch if you haven’t already to retain soil moisture, prevent erosion and keep the soil from being exposed to the worst of the elements.
  5. Hot climate Perennials and Ornamental Grasses also benefit from division every few years to keep the clump smaller and more vigorous. Also to stop the centers from being choked out.

Garden Markers

Since most herbaceous Perennials like Bleeding Hearts, die back completely to the ground, it can be difficult to know where they are in the garden, so many folks mark their perennials withGarden Markers flags, painted stones, a plant name tag or other types of garden marker, even using colorful glass pebbles glued onto golf tee placed strategically by your perennial roots.

For plants to leave some stems behind, you can trim these back to a few inches and let their buzz cut show you where they are in the landscape.

That way when the snows finally pass and you still have a bare spot in the garden, you don’t get ahead of yourself and accidentally dig up your late-emerging perennial to replace it!

Fear Not - They Shall Return!

For gardeners like myself, the end of the growing season can be a sad time of year but we can be bolstered by the knowledge that spring will come again with bigger, brighter blooms! Knowing that our Perennial plants are enjoying a much-deserved vacation - helps with the heartbreak.

Nature Hills Nursery is here to ensure you receive the biggest, healthiest root systems and therefore highest quality plants so that you can enjoy year after year of beauty in your landscape as a result of all your hard work! Check out all the Perennial garden plants we offer and place your spring garden order today!

Happy Planting!

← Previous Next →