If you grow bleeding heart vines, you’re undoubtedly familiar with their seasonal dieback. The aerial parts wither, leaving behind a dormant root in the ground with the potential to bloom once again next spring. That is if it survives the harsh winter!
Figuring out how to winterize a bleeding heart plant is all about keeping the precious rhizomatous roots alive to be able to make it to the next blooming season. You do this by pruning, balanced watering, and mulching the vine’s bare bed.
In this post, you’ll find a guide on preparing the bleeding heart vine for the cold winters with five simple tips. So, let’s get started!
Although it’s a perennial plant, the bleeding heart goes through seasonal changes. Right after its bloom peaks, the plant wilts away.
From the late summer to the next year’s spring, the vine requires special care to protect the dormant roots in the ground.
Sometimes, the flowers and foliage will drop naturally during the late summer as a response to changes in the temperature. Other times, you’ll only see significant withering once it starts to frost outside.
Either way, anticipating the change is half the answer to maintaining a healthy and balanced backyard garden.
Let’s take a look at five handy tips and tricks that can help you winterize your favorite vine just in time!
As the bloom season comes to an end, the vine gradually wilts, and its foliage turns yellow. One by one, you’ll see the plant parts withering. Once this happens, it’s time to prune away the vine to an appropriate length in preparation for the dormancy.
The key here is to deadhead with the right technique that saves the vine from permanent damage.
To do so, hold each withering flower head with the tips of your fingers and pinch it gently till it pops out of place. All along the last few days of the bloom, you’ll be repeating this process every couple of days till the entire vine is left bare.
As soon as an entire stem clears up entirely from flowers, pick up sharp garden shears and swiftly trim it. Don’t leave any more than an inch or two above ground level.
This pruning can help reduce the depletion of the energy stored in the root crown, leaving behind a decent reservoir for the harsh winter. It can also help delay senescence and give the plant a growth boost for the next spring.
After pruning away all the wilting flower heads and the last of the vine withers to the ground, people might think there’s no need for watering.
Here’s where most people mess up their bleeding heart winterizing routine.
The aerial parts have died. However, the roots are still very much alive, albeit a bit dormant. That means that they still need water and nutrition. After all, your main focus should be on keeping the rhizomatous roots alive.
For the first signs of seasonal dieback when it’s hot, you’ll need to water the vine once or twice weekly.
Once the first freeze arrives, you can cut back your watering to once every two weeks or so, then gradually reduce the frequency as it gets colder.
When the weather starts getting warmer again, water the plant more to prepare the roots for the upcoming blooming season.
Keep in mind that these are all generalized estimates. There are a lot of factors that affect the ground’s’ capacity to retain water, from texture to organic matter.
When in doubt, test the moisture content by dipping your finger an inch or two into the soil. It should be moist but not soggy at all times. It’s not the most accurate measure, but it’s a simple enough way to estimate soil’s water retention.
Whether it’s natural foliage shedding or your active efforts at pruning, your plant bed can end up being quite the unsightly mess.
Yet another task that you’ll have to take on is the clean-up duty. Not only because it can ruin the garden’s athletic vibe but also because it can create the perfect breeding ground for slugs, aphid infestations, and fungal infections.
If you’re wondering what to do with all that debris, you can turn it into compost and let the bleeding heart give back to the garden. If it’s infested, burn it to limit transmission.
For an extra step of active prevention, watch the neighboring plants for any signs of an infestation. Keep your eyes peeled out for things like curled leaves, stunted growth, white spots on the foliage, and webbing-like residue.
These can all be an indicator that the bleeding heart’s debris is attracting disease to its companion plants.
If you notice any of these warning signs, use a regular neem oil spray. When used at the early stages, neem treatment can help minimize the damage to the foliage.
Unless you have green thumbs and a few years of gardening experience under your belt, winterizing is already a battle uphill. The last thing you want is to add a stubborn case of a root rot infection into the mix!
To prevent the roots from freezing off during the winter, you can cover the empty bed with a dense layer of insulating mulch.
To get decent coverage, spread a layer of around three inches over the bare spot and pat it down with your hand to even the insulation.
You don’t have to be too picky about the mulch type, either. If you can’t mix your own with straw and wood chips, store-bought will do just fine.
The best part is that the mulch insulation can double as a soil booster by the time the bleeding heart vine is ready to bloom. Double win!
Be careful, though.
If you layer in the mulch too early, you might be messing with the roots’ temperature-sensitive growth cycles. It can also attract rodents to your garden.
That’s why it’s usually appropriate to wait for the third or fourth snowfall. The mice will be nowhere to be seen by then.
In other cases, it’s recommended to ditch the mulching step altogether. This is applicable if you live in warmer regions, where you don’t expect to see any actual snowfall during the winter.
So, check the USDA hardiness zone for where you live before you decide to go forward with this step. Plants in zone 9 with a range of 20 to 30℉ might not need mulching.
Once the seasonal dieback kicks in, the once marvelous vine is going to lose its luster and leave back a bare bed with withering remains.
Part of winterizing is also making sure that your entire garden can keep on going while the bleeding heart goes dormant.
It’s useful to plan your garden layout around seasonal changes. In this case, you might want to surround the vine bed with plants of various bloom cycles like hostas, ferns, caladiums, and witch hazel.
This way, the different plants will alternate their bloom seasons, keeping your garden pretty all year round and protecting the soil from nutrient depletion.
It also helps if you plant the bleeding heart somewhere marginal and easy to hide. This trick makes it easier to find new replacements to distract the eyes away from the balding spot where the vine used to be.
If you know what you’re doing, figuring out how to winterize a bleeding heart plant shouldn’t be much of a challenge.
With the right technique, you can deadhead the withering flowers, trim the stem, insulate the empty bed with mulch, keep the soil watered and clean, and wait for the vine to do its magic next spring!
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