Looking for a beautiful yet, hardy addition to your garden? Your search is over.
Columbines are a lovely woodland plant from the genus Aquilegia. They consist of roughly 100 species and cultivars spread across the Northern Hemisphere.
They are native to the woodland and mountain areas of Europe and North America. And thrive in areas with partial sun or dappled shade.
“A flower’s appeal is in its contradictions – so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long in effect.”
Common names for the flowers include the actual botanical name, Aquilegia, and Granny’s Bonnet.
Columbine plants are popular because of their bell-shaped, spurred flowers. The flowers have a wide range of colors varying from muted pastels to bright reds, purples, and bi-colors.
Are Columbine Flowers Perennials?
The columbine plant is a perennial from the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
Although they might look delicate, columbines are hardy and offer seasonal interest for most of the year.
Rated for Zones 3 to 9 on the USDA plant Hardiness scale, they are adaptable and will do well in most areas of the United States.
When planting Aquilegia in your garden, search for spots that are sunny in the morning and lightly shaded in the afternoon.
The columbine plant flourishes in moist, fertile soil that doesn’t dry out quickly, or show puddles after the rains.
You can plant columbine up to 9,000 feet, with some varieties growing as high as 10,000 feet.
Popular Varieties and Cultivars
There are countless good varieties for you to choose from. There are even hybrids specially created for American gardens.
Some of the features to consider when picking the right variety for your garden include:
- Disease and pest resistance
- Unique color
- Double petals
- Varying spur lengths
- Upward facing blossoms
Some popular choices amongst American gardeners include:
1. A. caerulea
Blue Star, botanical name Aquilegia caerulea, is a cultivar with gorgeous blue flowers and a contrasting white center. Perfect for any garden focal point.
Blue star blossoms measure 3-4 inches in diameter, with the plant reaching a height of about 30 inches.
2. A. canadensis
Aquilegia canadensis, also known as Wild Columbine or the Eastern Red Columbine, is a native Canadian species.
It is generally shorter with smaller flowers than hybrid varieties. Its flowers are only 1-2 inches across and grow to a height of 1-2 feet.
Aquilegia canadensis has red flowers, with red spurs, and contrasting yellow centers.
Another notable feature of red columbine is that the blossoms of this variety are “nodding blossoms.” This means that the flower blooms facing downward rather than upward or outward, and the spurs point up.
3. A. hybrida
Commonly referred to as Mckana Giant, A. hybrida is a stunning Aquilegia cultivar that offers multicolor blossoms bursting with color.
It has stunning bi-color patterns and eye-catching long spurs that make it ideal for garden and indoor flower arrangements.
The upward-facing flowers bloom in shades of red, purple, yellow, and white. The blossoms measure 2-3 inches across with the plant growing to about 2-3 feet in height.
4. A. vulgaris
Commonly known as granny’s nightcap, Aquilegia vulgaris is a variety of columbine native to Europe.
Its blossoms bloom in a variety of different shades ranging from purple to white.
A. vulgaris also has spreading sepals and short hooked spurs and grows to a height of about 18-36 inches.
It does not have a long lifespan but will prolifically self seed and form large colonies in favourable conditions.
5. Swan Burgundy and White
A stunning cultivar with vibrant burgundy sepals, long spurs, and a white center.
It measures 2-3 inches in diameter, with the plant reaching a moderate height of 18-20 inches.
How Do You Plant Columbine Flowers?
Columbine is surprisingly easy to plant as it will readily grow from seeds. You can also divide established plants to make new ones. However, the rootstock and foliage are very fragile and might not survive the process.
If you intend to plant Aquilegia from seed, keep in mind that it is a biennial plant. It will not flower until its second year.Columbine seeds also have a stratification period of between 3-4 weeks before germination.
Stratification refers to the process of breaking the seeds dormancy to stimulate germination. The stratification process simulates the natural conditions in nature before germination. For instance, prolonged cold temperatures in winter before germination in spring.
To stratify columbine flowers, place the seed packets in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks before sowing in the spring.
This works best if the seeds are sown in seed trays or pots and chilled at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alternatively, you can plant the seeds in the late fall and allow nature to run its course. Seed dormancy will break over winter, and your new flowers will germinate come spring.
When sowing the seeds, plant them in moist soil and cover them with a light sprinkling of soil. Then place them in a warm sunny location until they germinate. This takes about thirty days.
Transplant the seedlings outside after they develop their first pair of true leaves and are a few inches tall.
Note, however, that before planting the seedlings in the garden, they first need to be “hardened off.”
This refers to a process where the young plants become accustomed to outdoor conditions.
You can do this by moving the seedlings to a sheltered outdoor area for a week. Ensure that the space is protected from the wind and afternoon sun. Bring the seedlings indoors if there is a risk of frost overnight.
The hardening process is essential for the seedlings. It toughens the plants’ cell structure and reduces the chances of transplant shock.
Growing Columbine Flowers in Containers
Columbine plants grow well in containers, but remember, they will attract hummingbirds in search of sustenance. This makes them the ideal flower for your window box if you wish to see hummingbirds outside your window.
However, they can also attract other pollinators such as bees on the search for nectar. If you don’t want bees on your doorstep, place your columbine plants away from entrances.
For potted columbine plants, note that they don’t like deep soil beds. Search your garden shed for a shallow container. Just be sure to plant them in a rich potting mix that will retain enough moisture.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when growing columbine in containers:
- Keep the soil moist and between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Provide plenty of light for the young plant, at least 6 hours of morning sun.
- Columbines don’t need much fertilizer. Feed them when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution.
- Potted columbines dry out faster, water regularly, but be careful not to overwater.
Additionally, you can apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant. Mulch helps regulate soil moisture and has the added advantage of keeping the soil cool.
Another critical factor to consider when planting Aquilegias is lateral room, as columbine can spread quickly. Sow the columbine plants at least a foot apart, they will spread out fast once established.
Growing Columbines Directly in the Garden
When sowing columbine flowers directly in the garden, do it in mid to late spring through to early summer.
Ensure that your seeds are well stratified and ready for sowing before planting. You can do this by following the stratification procedure mentioned above.
Prepare the garden by removing any weeds and working in organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil.
You can then sow the columbine seeds using the following steps:
- Sprinkle the seeds over the dirt and cover thinly with fine soil.
- Lightly firm the soil and keep it evenly moist, but not soggy.
- Seedlings emerge in 22-30 days, thin them to at least 10 inches to allow space for spreading.
- Water regularly, but don’t soak the plants.
- DON’T let the young seedlings dry out.
How to Care for Columbine Flowers
Once established, columbines are easy to maintain. All you need to do is ensure the plants don’t dry out.
Water them when the soil is dry, and add liquid fertilizer about once a month.
Regular fertilizing helps the plants produce their brightly colored blossoms and grow thick foliage.
If your columbine plants overgrow their container or location by midsummer, don’t be afraid to prune them back. Pruning can help your columbine bloom all summer.
However, save the pruning of established stalks for early spring. Pruning the plants in the fall will stimulate new growth, which will likely get damaged by frost.
Consider the following quick guide for caring for columbine plants:
|Plant Location||Cultivation||Soil and Water Needs|
|Containers||Seed sowing, propagation by dividing the roots in the spring||Regular watering when young|
|Once established, they can survive a drought|
|Rock Gardens||Sow seeds in early spring – around 65 degrees Fahrenheit weather||Water well in hot summer weather|
|Woodlands||Transplant seedlings in early spring||Maintain moisture and nutrients in the soil|
|Sunny to Partly Shady||Self-sower||Moist well-drained soil|
The table shows possible locations you may plant columbines, vital cultivation tips, and how to maintain soil moisture in each scenario.
Further to this, you can divide columbine plants every 2-3 years to help them stay healthy. This is especially important if self-sowing becomes an issue with your plants.
Dig them up, shake off the soil, and gently pull the roots apart to make a new section of plants.
What to Do With Columbine After it Flowers?
Once your plants have flowered you will need to deadhead the finished flowers.
Deadheading refers to the removal of dead or faded flowers from plants. In columbines, deadheading aims to encourage growth and new blossoms and can keep your columbines blooming all summer.
As the flowers mature and start to form seed heads, more energy goes towards seed development rather than flowering.
Deadheading channels this energy to the flowers resulting in healthier plants and continuous blossoms.
Columbine Flower Pests and Diseases
Although Columbine (Aquilegia) does not suffer from many pests or diseases, there are a couple of things you should watch out for. These are:
Columbine (Aquilegia) is susceptible to leaf miners. These are small brown or black flies that lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves.
When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way through the leaves, causing unsightly trails. But they don’t kill the plant.
You can control leaf miners by using neem oil insecticide.
Powdery mildew refers to a fungal disease that causes a dusty white coat on leaf surfaces.
Aside from being unattractive, powdery mildew can stunt your columbines’ growth, and even kill them.
It thrives in areas with warm temperatures and high humidity (around the plants). An easy way to control the spread of mildew is to ensure that your plants’ leaves stay dry.
You can do this by watering at the base of the plants to avoid getting the leaves wet. Also, observe the recommended distance between plants to enhance air circulation.
For more persistent problems, you can use neem oil. It is an effective fungicide as well.
If you suspect you have an invasive species growing in your garden or on your land you can contact the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Inventory to report suspicious or alien species at the following email address: [email protected]
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