Do Deer Eat Bleeding Hearts? The Surprising Answer

As an avid gardener and nature lover, I’m always looking for ways to deter deer from feasting on my flower beds. One plant I’ve had great success with is the bleeding heart. But, do deer eat bleeding hearts? Let’s take a closer look.

Deer tend to avoid bleeding heart plants. The reasons behind this have to do with the plant’s toxicity, taste, and scent.

Why Deer Don’t Like Bleeding Hearts

There are a few key characteristics of bleeding hearts that make them unappealing to deer:

  • Toxicity – All parts of bleeding heart plants contain isoquinoline alkaloids, which are toxic substances that cause gastrointestinal distress when ingested. Deer have learned to steer clear of these poisonous plants.
  • Taste – The alkaloids present in bleeding hearts give them a bitter, unpalatable taste. Deer follow their discerning palates and opt for tastier options in the garden.
  • Scent – Bleeding hearts have a distinctive floral scent that deer don’t find appealing. The flowers give off a perfume-like fragrance that deters deer.

These natural plant defenses have evolved to prevent grazing by herbivores like deer. As a result, deer will bypass bleeding hearts in favor of more appetizing and safe vegetation.

When Might Deer Eat Bleeding Hearts?

Although deer tend to shun bleeding hearts, there are some scenarios where deer may sample or damage these plants:

  1. Young plants – Deer may nip at young, newly planted bleeding hearts before they’ve developed high levels of alkaloids. Take precautions to protect new plantings.
  2. Winter starvation – During winter when food is scarce, deer become less selective and may eat bleeding hearts despite the alkaloids and taste. Provide alternative sources of forage to prevent this.
  3. Ornamental varieties – Some newer ornamental bleeding heart varieties have been bred to be less toxic. Deer are more likely to browse these non-native plants.
  4. Flowers – Deer may cautiously nibble the dangling heart-shaped flowers, avoiding the foliage and roots where alkaloids concentrate.

While deer resistant, bleeding hearts aren’t 100% deer proof. Minor nipping can occur when deer are desperate. But for the most part, deer steer clear of these toxic plants.

How To Keep Deer Away from Bleeding Hearts

If you’re noticing deer sampling your bleeding hearts, there are some tactics you can use to further deter them:

  • Fencing – Install temporary garden fencing around new plantings until they mature.
  • Repellents – Apply commercial deer repellent sprays or make your own from garlic, chili peppers, or soap.
  • Scare devices – Use motion-activated sprinklers, lights, or noisemakers to startle deer away from the plants.
  • Alternative forage – Lure deer away by providing more appealing food sources like corn or fruit trees at the edges of your property.

A combination of fencing, repellents, scare devices, and alternative forage should keep your bleeding hearts safe from hungry deer. Be sure to reapply repellents after rain and vary your scare tactics to maximize effectiveness.

Ideal Conditions for Growing Bleeding Hearts

To keep your bleeding hearts looking their best while deterring deer, provide the following care:

  • Select a part shade location protected from hot afternoon sun.
  • Enrich the soil with compost; bleeding hearts like consistent moisture.
  • Apply a 2-3 inch mulch layer to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Prune spent flowering stems down to the ground after blooming finishes.
  • Water during dry periods to keep soil evenly moist. To maintain optimal plant health, it is crucial to ensure that the soil is adequately dried out between each watering session.
  • Divide congested plants every 3-5 years in fall to maintain vigor.

With the proper site conditions and care, your bleeding hearts will thrive and multiply into a breathtaking spring display that deer merely admire from afar.

Choosing the Best Bleeding Heart Variety

If you’re sold on adding deer-resistant bleeding hearts to your landscape, you’ll find several excellent varieties to choose from:

Old-fashioned bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)Classic spring bloomer with pink and white heart-shaped flowers on arching 2-3 foot stems. Goes summer dormant.
Gold Heart bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’)Pink and white blooms on chartreuse foliage provide color contrast. Grows 18-24 inches tall.
Fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)Fine, fern-like foliage stays attractive all season on this 1 foot tall plant with fringed pink or white flowers.
Alba bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’)A white-flowering form of old-fashioned bleeding heart, reaching 2-3 feet.

For the typical bleeding heart form and maximum deer resistance, go with L. spectabilis types. The Dicentra species may be slightly less avoided by deer.


Are bleeding hearts deer resistant? In most cases, yes! The toxicity, scent, and taste of bleeding heart plants sends deer looking elsewhere to browse. These charming perennials provide a safe, low-maintenance option for gardens plagued by deer.

By choosing deer-resistant plants like bleeding hearts, using protective measures, and providing ideal growing conditions, you can enjoy gorgeous floral displays that deer admire but don’t devour. With their graceful dangling blooms in shades of white and pink, bleeding hearts are a lovely addition to borders, cottage gardens, and woodland plantings.

So take my advice as an avid gardener – plant some bleeding hearts this spring and see for yourself how these enchanting plants keep deer at bay!

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