Reader question… “Last summer I planted bleeding heart roots in one end of my patio garden. I need to clean away the dead leaves and debris but I’m nervous about accidentally pulling the plants up. I can see something is growing in there but I don’t recognize anything there that looks like the plants did last summer. Could you describe what bleeding hearts look like when they first come up in the spring?” –Cayle

Look for fat “shoots” growing under or through the leaves. In the fall when the temperature of the soil drops, small buds or “eyes” form on the crown of each bleeding heart root. Each eye will become a thick shoot with several growing points. These growing points will become the individual stalks.

The shoots tipped with red are from the old-fashioned bleeding hearts with red/pink flowers… the shoots tipped with green are from bleeding hearts with white flowers.

Nature supplies my bleeding heart plants with a thick covering of leaves each fall so their first growth is under the leaves and is always white.

The shoots color up quickly once they are exposed to the sun.

I cut my bleeding hearts back each fall, but I leave several inches of each old stalk to mark where it was growing and I wait to remove them until the new shoots are large enough to serve as their own marker. The old shoots can then be broken off easily without disturbing the new growth.

The thick shoots grow and open to reveal several thinner stalks. The number and size of the original shoots and the thinner stalks that follow will depend on the age and size of the bleeding heart.

Older established plants will have many shoots and flowering stalks, and recently planted roots will produce only a few smaller shoots and fewer and smaller stalks. The bleeding hearts shown here are both about two years old.