Where to plant columbine?

Growing Columbines

So easy, so elegant, so willing to come down from the mountains and meadows into your garden Text and Photos by Ken Druse

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Certain words that get attached to gardening make me a little anxious, for example, “easy” and “foolproof.” We know that few worthwhile things in gardening (and life) are simple to attain. That said, columbines could be described with these words. After all, columbines come up easily from seed and bloom when young—for nearly any gardening fool.

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Photo by: Ken Druse

The variety of columbine shapes and colors is astonishing even within a single group of hybrids. Shown here is delicate white Aquilegia vulgaris.

Photo by: Ken Druse

A blue-flowered strain of the same group, which Ken Druse developed.

Photo by: Ken Druse

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Aureovariegata’, another selection of European species, has green leaves mottled yellow that fades to white and pristine white flowers. After blooming, cut the plant back for a flush of brilliant new foliage.

Photo by: Ken Druse

One color from the ‘McKana Hybrids’ mix.

Photo by: Ken Druse

A. chrysantha, a golden native of the Southwest.

Photo by: Ken Druse

A two-color hybrid that resembles A. formosa, the West Coast native, might possess some of its genes.

Photo by: Ken Druse

An early-blooming strain self-sows within a carpet of spring daffodils and blue Phlox divaricata.

Photo by: Ken Druse

A plant with tiny double flowers pops up not far from where ‘Nora Barlow’, an old-fashioned variety named for Charles Darwin’s daughter, once grew.

Photo by: Ken Druse

Druse’s strain of blended hybrids yields flowers in shades of pink, lavender and pure white.

Photo by: Ken Druse

If isolated in the garden, species such as North American favorites Aquilegia canadensis, shown, from the East, and A. caerulea, the Rocky Mountain columbine, will remain true.

Photo by: Ken Druse

A. caerulea, the Rocky Mountain columbine.

Columbines also are easy to appreciate. They bloom from midspring through early summer. Some species have flowers in one color; others have contrasting sepals and petals. There are alpine miniatures a few inches tall and hybrid garden plants up to 3 feet. Some species have blossoms that dangle or nod, and others are upright, somewhat like a horn.

All species have spurs that project toward the rear of the flowers, identifying them as columbines. The Latin name (Aquilegia) comes from these spurs, which on some species resemble eagles’ claws—aquila is Latin for “eagle.” The leaves are also very recognizable: They are made up of green to bluish-green leaflets held flat in sets of three, six or nine on long petioles or leaf stems. Other plants with similar foliage even draw on the columbine name to highlight the resemblance—Thalictrum aquilegifolium is the columbine meadow-rue.

Several species are North American natives. The little nodding red flowers of Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) can be seen in spring on plants indigenous to the Eastern states. Canadian columbine forms patches in the open shade of the Eastern woodland; it can be grown in Zones 3 to 8. Golden columbine (A. chrysantha) grows in the Southwest, and a subspecies can be found east to Texas, popping up in rock crevices or at the edge of short-grass prairies. Although golden columbine comes from hot and dry climates, it and its varieties are hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Spurs up to 4 inches long distinguish the pale yellow longspur columbine (A. longissima) from the Southern U.S., which grows in Zones 4 to 8. The gorgeous blue and white Rocky Mountain columbine (A. caerulea is Colorado’s state flower). Just imagine what it must be like to come across thousands of plants sweeping across an alpine meadow. It grows in Zones 3 to 8.

The native plants spread by seed that spill out of chalice-like pods as they wave in the breeze. The reasons why columbines are considered easy to grow may be that they self-sow, grow quickly and bloom young. But there could be a price to pay. Columbines are very short-lived perennials. For me, most behave like biennials, germinating in one season and blooming the next year. I rarely see the same individual plant for more than a year. The seedlings bloom in place of their parents, so I always have flowers. But unless they are kept isolated from the others, species and varieties will hybridize freely to produce flowers that exhibit characteristics of both parents and all of their ancestors. When asked which columbines I grow, I have trouble answering. My plants are “Aquilegia mixedupensis.”

An early and still popular named hybrid was introduced in the mid-1950s. The large, long-spurred ‘McKana Hybrid’ flowers look somewhat like A. caerulea but come in a variety of pastel color combinations. Today, commercial varieties are classified as long- or short-spurred. The long-spurred hybrids may have A. canadensis, A. chrysantha, A. caerulea and A. Formosa in their heritage. Short-spurred hybrids evolved when the European species A. vulgaris was added to the mix. I know that A. vulgaris (Zones 4 to 8) is somehow present in my garden, because most of my plants have short spurs. Double flowers are also a clue to the presence of A. vulgaris as a parent. ‘Nora Barlow’, a cultivar of A. vulgaris named for Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, and ‘Adelaide Addison’, pompon-flowered plants that grew in the garden one season, may have contributed the characteristic of double petals I have noticed.

Because columbines practice such free love, I have been able to paint with columbine color in my garden. When the first flower opens on a plant, I weed it out if it exhibits a shade I might not want. For instance, in one bed I encouraged flowers that are pale pink to white. I plucked out the occasional muddy lavender-roots and all. After a few years, no plants in the “wrong” color appeared. It is possible that I have developed my own “strain.”

A strain is a genetically pure population of plants that retains its uniqueness from generation to generation if the plants are grown in isolation, in a colony of their like kind, far enough away from other types that might contribute pollen. Pulling out the rogue plants stops them from setting seeds so that only those with the desired attributes self-sow. This is how heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables are developed and why they can be grown from saved seed. So I have waves of pastel pink tints in one spot. Across the garden is another bed, where the flowers are cherry to wine red. In another spot, most of the flowers are double—deep purple or purple with frilly white petticoats.

Columbines do have a few problems. In dry summers, the leaves may show symptoms of powdery mildew (white powder on the leaves) or rust (orange-red blotches on the leaves). Most people who have grown columbines already know about their run-ins with leaf miners. Many species and nearly all hybrids are victims of these insects that eat the tissue inside the cells of the leaves, creating disfiguring, pale-colored tunnels. All these problems are rarely fatal and can be treated with chemicals. But I live with the damage, and after flowering cut the plants way back to encourage a flush of new undamaged foliage.

Columbines are easy and foolproof, but I suppose these few problems keep them from gaining one other hopeful garden characteristic—carefree.

In the Bag

The seedpods of columbines are attractive, upright vessels filled with shiny black seeds. If you are not around on the day the pods split open, the ripe seeds will scatter several feet in every direction. That may be just what you want. But if you are keen to collect seeds from a few of your plants to share or sow in another part of the garden, you have to be vigilant. One of the best ways to bag your quarry is to cover the pods before they ripen.

As the last flowers are fading on a plant, the first seeds will be ripe. Cover the entire cluster of fruits with an inverted brown paper bag and tie it closed around the stems. Leave the bag on the plant until the stalk showing below the tied stem begins to turn brown. Then, cut the stems and bag off the plant, bring the bag inside and hang it right side up in a location with good air circulation. The seeds will fall from the pods into the bag. In a few weeks, when the stalks are dry and brown, shake the bag to free any seeds caught in the pods. Untie and open the bag and carefully remove the stalks.

You may want to store some of these clean, black seeds in paper envelopes to sow later or to give away. For long-term storage, place the envelopes in a closed glass jar and place in the refrigerator. Seeds can be kept viable for years this way.

You can sow these seeds at once on the ground where you want them to grow or in pots to place in a cold frame, or you can sow them in winter on the snow or in early spring either in pots or directly on the ground. (Alpine species may take two years to germinate.)

A Matter of Taste

If a flower is blue, we pine for it. If it is green, brown or black, we’ll kill for it. Two species of columbine satisfy the requirements of both the gardener with refined tastes and the full-blown plant freak: fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellate), Zones 3 to 9, and green columbine (A. viridiflora), above, Zones 4 to 8.

The fan columbine is a Japanese species that grows into an 18-inch-tall, compact, dense plant with thicker, bluer leaves than most species. The flowers also have a compressed appearance in shades of lilac to blue with curved or hooked spurs. There are a few cultivars, including Aquilegia flabellate ‘Nana Alba’, which is shorter than the species, and A. flabellate f. alba, with white flowers. These plants are wonderful in flower borders where the foliage can make a contribution before and after flowering.

Of the green columbine, Alan Armitage writes in his book, Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes, “… for those gardeners who cannot control their columbine habit, there is even a green-flowered species, Aquilegia viridiflora, which no one will like but you.” This plant has bicolored flowers, chocolate-brown petals with pale green sepals. I really like this species, but have to warn that if the subtle flowers are not positioned carefully, perhaps in front of a rock, they will blend into the background.

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Soil and Sun for Columbine Flowers

Columbines, or aquilegia, are lovely woodland plants with blooms in a variety of colors that are surprisingly easy to grow. Since they grow wild in woodland and mountain areas, they do best in a location with partial sun or dappled shade. They will suffer in full afternoon sun, so observe the spot where you want to plant columbine for a few days to see how much sun it will get.

Try to choose a spot that is sunny in the morning and lightly shaded in the afternoon, perhaps near trees. The best soil for columbines is moist and rich. It shouldn’t dry out too quickly, but shouldn’t show puddles after rain, either. A note for high-altitude gardeners: columbine can be planted up to 9,000 feet, and some varieties thrive even at 10,000 feet.

Starting Columbine Flowers from Seed

You may want to try growing columbine on your own from seed. It is a biennial plant that will not flower until its second year, however. Columbine seeds must have a cold period of three to four weeks before germination will occur. Keep your seed packets in the refrigerator before sowing in the spring, or simply plant seeds in the fall and let nature take its course in the spring.

They should be planted in moist soil, and covered with a shallow sprinkling of soil. Then place them in a warm, sunny location until germination, which should take about 30 days. Columbine seedlings can be transplanted outside after they develop their first pair of true leaves and are a few inches tall.

Growing Columbine Flowers in Containers

Columbines do well in containers, but remember they will attract hummingbirds and bees wherever they are placed. If you want to see hummingbirds outside your window, try a window box. If you don’t want bees on your doorstep, place columbine away from entrances. Columbines don’t like deep soil beds, so a shallow container works fine. Be sure you plant them in a rich flower potting mix that will retain enough water, and follow the above guidelines for sun and shade.

Make sure they have lateral room; plant columbines at least a foot apart, as they will spread out quickly once they are established. In a container, columbines will dry out more than usual, so mulch is a good idea to keep the moisture in the soil. Apply a light layer of mulch around the base of the plants. This also has the benefit of keeping the soil cooler, since columbines don’t do well with heat.

Caring for Columbine Flowers

Don’t let columbines dry out too much. Water when the soil is dry, and fertilize about once a month with liquid fertilizer. Regular fertilizing will help the plants produce their brightly colored blooms and grow thick foliage.

Another option is to add a time-release fertilizer in granulated form into the soil at planting time. Deadhead the flowers as they wilt throughout the summer and fall, if you aren’t planning to reseed more columbines with the seedpods. This also will keep the flowers blooming longer.

If your columbines are vigorous enough to overgrow their container or location by midsummer, you may want to prune them back a little for maintenance. Serious pruning of established columbines, however, should be done in the early spring, when it encourages new growth. Don’t prune when the plant is still growing in the fall, as this will signal it to put on more growth, which will likely be damaged by frosts.

Divide columbines every two or three years to help them stay strong, by digging them up, shaking off the soil, and gently pulling the roots apart to yield a new section of plants. Columbines don’t last forever in one planting; you can expect three to five years of good blooms before starting again with new seeds.

Want to learn more about growing columbines?

The Denver Plant Company provides information and seeds from the state whose national flower is columbine.

Colorado State University’s Plant Talk site discusses care of columbines.

See some common varieties of columbine in a directory of perennials from The University of Illinois’ Urban Extension.

Columbine Flower Pruning Tips

The columbine flower is a part of the perennial, columbine bloom. Columbines are usually grown as ornamental plants. Columbines are easy-to-grow plants and their spring-season bloom is very popular, especially to create landscaped borders in household gardens. While columbines are resistant to both drought and wet conditions, they do need some degree of seasonal maintenance in the form of pruning. A proper pruning regimen ensures that the columbine bloom sustains itself for a longer period.

Pruning Basics

Columbine stems are taller and faster growing than that of most flowering plants. Therefore, excessive branching and formation of clustered stems is common among columbines. To avoid this, columbines should be pruned during the onset of every season and periodically thereafter if excessive intertwining is visible. The flowers bloom on top of the leafy foliage, near the top-end of the stems. Thus, precisely pruning the columbine flowers becomes a demanding task. To resolve this issue, selection of the right pruning gear is critical.

Pruning Gear:

  • Lightweight pruning scissors for regular, selective pruning
  • Bypass pruners for minimal deadheading (cutting-back)
  • Hedge shears for intensive pruning (seasonal pruning)

Use the following tips to prune your columbines:

Seasonal Pruning

If the columbine flowerbed is propagating excessively, prune heavily to arrest the growth pattern. You should prune the flowers during the fall season to limit self-seeding in the columbine flowers. However, if you want to spread the columbines, prune them during the onset of spring season. For pruning younger columbines, hedge shears are recommended. They are particularly suited for selectively pruning flowers around the basal foliage. If you are pruning during the spring season, wait a few weeks for the flowers to sprout. Among columbines, spring season blooming is delayed, so you need to wait for some time.

Pruning Method

You can prune the flowers and stem together if seasonal weathering has taken a toll on your columbines. Use pruning scissors to cut-off the spent flowers. To prune the stem, use the bypass pruners to split the stem down to its joint with the main branch. Ensure that you take the cut up to the basal part of the stem and leave some green foliage towards the end. You should not use the Anvil-type pruners for this purpose as they can crush upon the young buds. Hand-held shears can be used for pruning aged stems, but they are rarely used for pruning columbines. For shaping your columbine spread (selective pruning) manually picking the flowers is useful. When pinching-off the flowers, be careful no to harm the young buds.

Pruning Precautions

You should never prune off the leafy foliage around the basal stem. This could interfere with the fundamental survival mechanism of the plant. The buds are often mistaken for seedpods and pruned. This could drastically reduce the flowering pattern. You should understand that perennial flowering plants like columbine don’t need intensive but sustained pruning. Columbine garden beds propagate through a quick, self-seeding system. The presence of some aged flowers is vital to ensure that the seeding mechanism is sustained. Therefore, exhaustive deadheading is not advisable. Flowers showing minimal signs of aging, like a slightly bent appearance, shouldn’t be pruned. Even if the winter frost has destroyed the flowers, don’t prune them immediately. Let these flowers to dieback to some extent and then cut-off the flowers from the uppermost section.

Aquilegia

Common Name

Columbine, Grannys Bonnet

Traits

  • Sun
  • Shade
  • Rockery

Flowering Season

Summer, Spring

Genus

This genus belongs to the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family, and contains around 70 species found over much of the temperate and subarctic Northern Hemisphere. This is an adaptable genus, with species and varieties suitable for a range of situations including woodlands, rockeries, and perennial borders, and they are well known for their dainty long-spurred flowers, which are borne in clusters atop wiry stems. The genus name is derived from the Latin aquila, meaning eagle, and lego, meaning to gather, suggesting that the spurs situated at the base of the flower resemble the closing talons of an eagle. The nectar-rich flowers of columbines are very sweet and can be used as an unusual edible garnish. Native Americans used some Aquilegia species for medicinal purposes.

Appearance

Aquilegia species are clump-forming perennials with fine-stemmed, often blue-green foliage that emerges from a woody rootstock. The leaves are divided into small fan-shaped leaflets, often resembling maidenhair-fern fronds in shape, if not in size. The flowering stems usually reach above the foliage and carry spurred, bell-shaped, often pendulous flowers in shades of blue and purple, as well as red, yellow, and white. The flowering period can vary among the species; some bloom through much of late spring and summer, others are short-flowering.

Cultivation

Columbines are mostly quite adaptable and very hardy, but will do best in a cool-winter climate in a position in partial shade with cool, moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. These plants may self-sow, and can be invasive. Certain species can be very attractive to aphids. Propagation is usually by seed, though some species can be divided when dormant.

Gardening Australia suggests you check with your local authorities regarding the weed potential of any plants for your particular area.

© Global Book Publishing (Australia) Pty Ltd from Flora’s Gardening Cards

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Aquilegia vulgaris, commonly known as ‘Columbine’ is one of my favourites. Often referred to as ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ because of their bonnet shape, they are a mainstay of cottage gardens. Aquilegias are easy to grow and have a wonderful range of colours.

In ranges of purple, pink, white and yellow and often two different colours there is always a flower to fit the colour scheme you are looking for. There are also “double flowers’ and some have particularly long ‘spurs’ protruding from the flowers.

Aquiligeas flower in early summer before a lot of the other summer flowering perennials get underway.

Aquilegeas are also great in the garden for their pretty, fresh springtime foliage which is amongst the first to appear after the rigours of winter. It provides useful background colour for your spring bulbs.

Aquilegia growing guide

Aquilegias are easy to please and will grow in most soil types and either sun or partial shade.

Planting is very straightforward, just dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball, plant your aquilegia and put back in the garden soil mixed with some compost. After planting water well. The best time to divide aquilegias is spring-time – March to May.

Many aquilegias will grow from seed and so once seed has formed and dried collect the seeds and put in an envelope and store somewhere dry until spring. Then scatter over some well prepared soil and wait for nature to take its course.

You will probably find that your aquilegias self-seed readily even without your help. The offspring may be different to the parent though. If you want to keep your aquilegias pure then snip off the flower stalks after flowering to prevent seed forming and increase your stocks by dividing clumps in the spring time.

Aquilegias work well in many plant combinations and the traditional cottage mainstay of aquilegias and roses is always popular.

Columbine Flowers: How To Grow Columbines

The columbine plant (Aquilegia) is an easy-to-grow perennial that offers seasonal interest throughout much of the year. It blooms in a variety of colors during spring, which emerge from its attractive dark green foliage that turns maroon-colored in fall. The bell-shaped flowers are also a favorite to hummingbirds and may be used in cut-flower arrangements as well.

How to Grow Columbines

Columbine plants aren’t too particular about soil as long it’s well-draining and not too dry. While they enjoy full sun in most areas, they don’t like it very hot, especially during summer. Therefore, in warmer areas like the south, grow them in partial shade and give them plenty of mulch to help keep the soil moist.

Mulch will also help insulate and protect these plants during winter in other regions.

Columbine Planting Tips

Columbines start easily from seed and will readily multiply once established. Columbine flower seeds can be directly sown in the garden anytime between early spring and mid-summer. There’s no need to even cover them as long as they receive plenty of light.

Put pre-established plants in the ground at the same time, with the crown placed at soil level. Spacing for both seeds and plants should be anywhere from 1 to 2 feet (.3-.6 m.). Note: Blooms will not appear on seed-grown plants until their second year.

How to Care for Columbine Plant

Keep the plants moist following columbine planting until well established. Then only weekly watering is necessary with exception to extended periods of drought in which they will require additional watering.

Provide a water-soluble fertilizer monthly. Regular fertilizing will help produce brighter blooms and thicker foliage.

Regular deadheading can also be performed to encourage additional blooming. If self-seeding becomes an issue, both the foliage and remaining seedpods can be cut back in the fall. While some people prefer not to allow them to self-sow, it is often recommended, as columbine plants are generally short-lived with an average lifespan of about three or four years. If desired, these plants can also be divided every few years.

Although columbine doesn’t suffer from too many problems, leaf miners can become an issue on occasion. Treating plants with neem oil is a good way to control these pests. Pruning columbine plants back to the basal foliage just after blooming can usually help alleviate any problems with insect pests as well. You may even be lucky enough to get a second set of stem growth within a few weeks so that you may enjoy another wave of blooms.

The Columbine flower is perfect if you like old-fashioned flowers you can easily naturalize.

Aquilegia x hybrida is a hardy, pretty wildflower which comes in flower colors of yellow, orange, pink, red, violet, deep purple, some bi-colors and even cherished blue flower colors.

The tall flowers grow on slender stems with lots of pretty, lacy green foliage.

Mature plants range in height from eighteen inches to three feet.

According to the Columbine grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.

In this article, we describe this easy-to-naturalize plant and share advice on planting, growing and caring for it in your yard and garden. Read on to learn more.

Columbine Flower Facts

Origin: Eastern North America, United States
Family: Ranunculaceae
Botanical Name: Aquilegia x hybrida

The botanical name comes from the Latin word, aquila, which means eagle. It is so named because of the long spur-like petals that extend from the underside of the flower.

Common Names: Columbine, Granny’s Bonnet
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Size: Height: 2′-3′ feet, Spread: 1′-2′ feet

Flowers: Showy blooms have a bonnet-like top with “claws” on the underside. Colors range widely from palest yellow to deepest purple.

The blossoms do well in cut flower arrangements. Seed pods make a nice addition to dried flower arrangements.

Bloom Time: April through June
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Exposure: Thrives in partial shade to full sun
Water Requirements: Moderate
Fertilizer: Liquid feed monthly throughout the growing season
Attracts: Many pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds enjoy the flowers.
Best Uses: Naturalize or use in wooded areas, lightly shaded garden settings, hummingbird/butterfly gardens, cottage gardens and borders.
Resists or Tolerates: Dry soil, drought tolerant conditions, rabbits and deer.
Maintenance Requirements: Light to moderate.

Medicinal uses: Native Americans had many uses for this native plant. The flowers and leaves are edible and were used by Native Americans as a condiment. They used crushed seeds and roots to treat a range of ailments, including sore throats, heart trouble and headache.

Crushed seeds were also used to concoct a love potion. Roots and seeds taste sweet and are toxic. It is safe to consume them in moderation. Excessive consumption can cause heart palpitations and severe gastroenteritis.

How to Grow Columbine Flowers From Seed

Columbine propagation couldn’t be easier. You can either allow these garden plants to self-sow themselves and come up naturally in the spring or start seeds inside six or eight weeks before your last expected frost.

Alternately, you can sow the flower seeds directly into the soil outdoors after the last frost.

Understand if your plants are hybrids, and they reseed themselves or you gather seed to plant, the resulting offspring may not look like the parents.

Nonetheless, they are sure to be pretty!

To plant Columbine seeds indoors or out, you’ll need rich, well-drained soil.

The seeds should be sown on the surface of the soil and pressed down lightly to prevent having them blow or wash away.

Don’t cover them with soil, they need light to germinate.

Seeds should sprout within a couple of weeks. When they have attained their first pair of true leaves, thin them back a bit.

Keep only the strongest Columbine seedlings.

When you are ready to transplant the seedlings to their permanent bed, choose a location that gets full-to-partial sun.

Give each seedling plenty of space to spread by digging a hole two times the size of the diameter of its root ball.

Place the plants one or two feet apart to allow for a spread and to provide good air circulation.

After planting, water thoroughly and keep the plants well watered until they become established and begin growing new leaves.

At this point, reduce watering to keep the soil lightly and uniformly moist.

How To Care For Columbine Plant – Growing Conditions

Columbine plant care is easy with these native flowers as they grow in almost any well-draining soil.

They do well in full sun, but bear in mind their natural habitat is in woodland clearings. Therefore, they are most at home in areas of dappled shade.

In a lightly shaded area, you will get the best results with a slightly rich, moist, soil, and remember to place the plants in a way that provides good drainage.

Keep the soil mix light and avoid having the plants stand in water.

Keep the soil uniformly moist to encourage the prettiest and most abundant blooms.

Throughout the blooming season, deadhead the spent flowers to encourage more blooming.

Regular deadheading allows you to extend the blooming season to as long as six weeks.

If you want the plants to reseed themselves, or if you want to gather seeds, allow the late blooms to mature, wither and go to seed.

When the flowers have finished blooming and the foliage begins to fade or look ragged, cut the plants all the way to the ground.

Keep them mowed for the rest of the summer and into the autumn.

This will not harm them and will prevent some types of pests from taking hold.

The reseeded plants will make a sprightly appearance in the coming year.

Columbine Care

Once you have an established patch of Columbine, you’ll need to feed it from time-to-time.

In early spring, when you begin to see new growth, fertilize using a complete, water-soluble plant food. Feed once a month throughout the growing season.

Because these are wildflowers, they do well with deep, occasional watering.

As a general rule, apply an inch of water once a week.

Monitor carefully and make adjustments as needed to avoid having either excessively dry or soggy soil.

Keep the soil uniformly moist by applying a couple of inches of mulch around the plants.

Apply mulch late in the fall to enrich the soil and protect plant roots from freezing during the winter.

You may also wish to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth (DE) around the base of the plants to enrich the soil and discourage snails and other pests.

What Pests And Diseases Affect Columbine (Aquilegia) Flowers?

The Columbine Sawfly

The larvae of these flies eat the plants’ foliage late in the spring. They may strip the leaves off entirely in a rapid fashion.

When the larvae attain full growth, they drop from the plants to pupate in the soil. A few weeks later, they emerge as grown flies and start the cycle over again.

An application of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) early in the season may help avoid problems with these pests altogether.

It works best on very small caterpillars. If you miss the opportunity to get them while they are small, you may have to resort to manual removal.

To reduce their numbers, prune away affected leaves and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag in the trash.

Pick off the small, green caterpillars eating the leaves when you see them and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

The Stalk Borer

Both the larvae and the mature moth are called stalk borers. The moth lays its eggs on Columbine stems in the early fall, and they overwinter there.

In the springtime, the eggs hatch and the larvae bore tunnels into the plant stems.

They then eat their way up and down the inside of the stems, gradually killing the plant.

Luckily, these pests are easily controlled. Just remember to cut your Columbine down to the ground at the end of the growing season and stalk borers will never have a chance.

Since they also attack other herbaceous perennials, it’s a good idea to cut all of these (both cultivated plants and weeds) back before winter.

Aphids

You may find colonies of tiny green aphids on the undersides of your plants’ leaves.

They cause damage by sucking the juices out of plants, and a heavy infestation can kill a plant.

When you see aphids, treat them immediately with a very strong spray of water to simply knock them off.

Keep an eye on the plant and apply a Neem oil and/or insecticidal soap solution as needed.

Be sure to encourage beneficial insects, such as:

  • Ladybugs
  • Tachinid Flies
  • Praying mantis
  • Lacewings
  • Damsel bugs
  • Parasitic wasps
  • Assassin bugs
  • Spiders and others

.. to help keep your aphid problem under control.

Avoid using pesticides as these will kill off your garden helpers, along with your aphids.

Are There Many Varieties Of Columbine?

There are over sixty-five different Columbine species.

These pretty plants are easy to grow and provide a colorful, varied and delightful ambiance to settings ranging from a small garden space or large planter to a rolling woodland setting.

Choose from some of the most colorful and popular varieties for a dramatic effect. These include:

  • Eastern Red Columbine variety is a North American native. It has interesting, elongated, upward pointing tubes within the blossom.
  • Little Lanterns – a dwarf variety that grows only about ten inches high. It has pretty red and yellow blossoms and blue/green leaves.
  • The Corbett Columbine is another dwarf variety with yellow flowers.
  • A series of hybrids known as the Swan Series offers several different bi-colors, including:
  • Swan Red & White, which has white inner petals and red outer petals
  • Swan Pink & Yellow, which has pale yellow inner petals and pastel pink outer petals

Some of the Aquilegia or Columbine Species include:

  • Aquilegia coerulea – aka Rocky Mountain Columbine and the Colorado official state flower
  • Aquilegia vulgaris
  • Aquilegia chrysantha
  • Aquilegia flabellata

Why Grow Columbine Plants?

This pretty wildflower grows abundantly and naturally in many states, and in most settings it blooms beautifully from the middle of the spring to early summer. For the rest of the summer months, you can enjoy the pretty, delicate foliage.

When Columbine’s spurred, bell-shaped flowers are in bloom, they present a riot of colors and attract pollinators, including hummingbirds, moths, butterflies and bees.

When the blossoms fade, the flowers drop hundreds of seeds to ensure an abundant planting in the coming year.

You can also easily collect the seeds, store them for winter and plant them in a new location in the springtime.

Whether you are planting in an open meadow, a light shade garden, a hummingbird and butterfly garden or a border, the many varieties of Columbine have something wonderful to offer.

Getting them established takes only a little effort, and once they have made themselves at home, they are practically carefree.

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Growing Columbine Flowers in Containers

Also known as Aquilegia, columbine flowers are delicate yet hardy perennials native to Europe, North America, and Asia. They can reach a height of 15 to 20 inches tall with flowers in red, white, purple, pink or blue. These low maintenance flowers add a splash of color when planted inside or outdoors, and are a favorite with fluttering hummingbirds that feed on their nectar.

Columbines bloom in mid to late spring or early summer, but you can plant them in containers in late winter to get a head start of this beautiful flower. Keep these steps in mind to successfully grow columbine flowers in containers.

Step 1 – Purchase and Sow Seeds

Purchase columbine seeds and peat pots from your local nursery or garden supply center. Columbines have a long taproot and will need to be transplanted to bigger pots after they germinate.

Columbine flowers require well-drained soil, so fill the pots with good quality potting soil until a few inches below the rim. Plant a few seeds per pot, and lightly cover them with soil to ensure good seed to soil contact. Planting them too deep will prevent germination.

Step 2 – Provide Optimal Conditions for Germination

Water the seeds frequently to ensure the soil is evenly moist. Keep the pots in a window that gets filtered sunlight to shade. Avoid placing them in a southward facing window where sunlight is the strongest. Germination occurs in 20 days to a month.

Step 3 – Transplant Columbines

Once the flowers are several inches high, you can transplant them. Plant individual flowers in medium-sized containers, or group several together if the container is large, spacing them 14 to 18 inches apart. Choose containers of your choice from clay, plastic, wood, stone or any material that looks aesthetically pleasing indoors and compliments the columbines. You will have to drill holes in their base if they lack adequate drainage holes, and place ceramic plates under them that will collect drained water.

Fill each container with good quality potting soil. Carefully remove the small columbines from the peat pot and place it in the middle of the container, spreading their roots to encourage them to grow.

Step 4 – Care for the Columbines

Water the containers frequently, until water drains from the holes and collects in the ceramic plates. Although mulching is not necessary, applying a layer will retain moisture, keep the roots cool and enhance the look of the container. Do not place them in direct sunlight. Keep the containers in a shaded patio or near a window with a blind to filter the sunlight. Feed the columbines with a liquid fertilizer twice during the growing season to have healthy roots and flowers.

Pinch off faded flowers or seed heads to prolong bloom season. Spray your columbines with a mild insecticide if aphids become a problem, and remove snails or slugs by picking them off with tweezers. Leaf miners, or leaves with marks in them, can ruin the appearance of your columbines. Promptly remove and discard any leaves you notice with marks. Cover containers with mulch or straw after the first frost and all through the winter to prevent them from freezing.

Growing Aquilegia (Columbine)

Latin Name Pronunciation: ak-wee-lee’jee-uh

Columbines are very floriferous, compact perennials whose graceful flowers are beloved of hummingbirds. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, Columbines bloom in early to mid-spring in solid colors and bicolors, including pink, red, blue, purple, yellow, and white. Foliage ranges from bright green to blue green and is quite attractive in the border when the plants are not in bloom. Columbines are particularly long lasting as cut flowers, and are admired for their delicacy and lovely range of soft colors. Although somewhat short-lived, these plants often self-sow.

Light/Watering: Drought-tolerant once established, these plants are at their best in evenly moist soil in partial shade, although they do well in full sun with sufficient water.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Columbines can thrive in average, well-drained soil that is slightly acid to neutral and will benefit from a light application of fertilizer in early spring.

Pests/Diseases: Columbine leaf miners leave tell-tale white serpentine trails on the foliage. Handpick affected leaves at the first sign of damage and dispose of away from the garden area. These pests overwinter in the soil, so cultivating around the plants in early spring while they are dormant may help with control. Another common pest is the Columbine sawfly, capable of completely defoliating plants quite quickly. Look for these small green, caterpillar-like larvae as soon as the leaves fully emerge and handpick or treat with soap spray. Unsightly foliage may be cut back entirely after the plant blooms, resulting in fresh, new leaves.

Companions: Columbines are lovely with other denizens of light shade such as Ferns, Tiarella, Campanula, Alchemilla, Phlox divaricata, and Pulmonaria, and truly enliven woodland gardens. The dwarf varieties are ideal for trough and rock gardens while the larger, more exuberant cultivars are a great addition to the herbaceous border.

Reflowering: If the gardener is devout with deadheading, new buds will develop along the stems and the bloom season can extend to as long as six weeks. Some varieties may be short-lived, but most self-sow with abandon if some flowers are left on the plant to maturity.

Dividing/Transplanting: Columbines transplant easily when taken up with a generous amount of soil and then watered well. Old clumps of Aquilegia may be divided but the results are often disappointing; new plants can be grown from seed but will take a year or two to bloom and will not come true to type when seed is harvested from open-pollinated plants. Purchasing mature plants will guarantee earlier blooms of the variety or species desired.

End-of-Season Care: Foliage should be cut back in the fall and removed from the premises to discourage overwintering of pests. In some soils, plants may be heaved out of the ground during freeze-thaw cycles in winter; mulch with salt marsh hay or evergreen boughs in late fall to prevent this.

Calendar of Care – Aquilegia

Early Spring: Apply a light application of balanced or slow-release fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears. Supplement nitrogen during periods of prolonged rain to counter natural leaching. Water well if it is unseasonably dry, as plants prefer evenly moist soil.

Late Spring: Watch for leaf miner activity and handpick affected leaves. If infestation is severe, simply cut the foliage down to the ground after flowering; new growth is quick to reappear with regular watering. Remove foliage from garden (do not compost). Inspect the undersides of leaves for small green, caterpillar-like larvae of the Columbine sawfly. Handpick or spray with insecticidal soap. Watch for aphid infestations; spray with insecticidal soap. Mulch plants as soil warms to buffer soil moisture and temperature. Plants can be carefully divided but this is not required.

Summer: Pull out any unwanted new seedlings as hybrid cultivars may not come true from seed; move desirable species seedlings to permanent locations. Pinch off dead flowers to encourage longer bloom period and prevent self-sowing. Groom plants by removing yellow or dead leaves.

Fall: Cut foliage back to soil level. After the ground is frozen, mulch to protect plants from heaving out of the soil in winter.

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