How to Grow and Care for Aquilegia Columbines

Aquilegia Columbines
WerbeFabrik / Pixabay / CC By 0

Overview and Description:

Aquilegia, or Columbine, plants have an airy appearance, with small, rounded leaves and tall flower stalks that hold the blooms above the foliage. Aquilegia's bell-shaped flowers are popular with hummingbirds, bees and gardeners. The mid-spring blooms fill the void between early spring bulbs and peak garden season. They are associated with woodland gardens, but most are widely adaptable.

Many of the species are native to areas throughout North America, from Canada to Texas.

Most varieties of aquilegia will bloom for at least 4 weeks. They are tougher plants than they appear, but they tend to be short-lived perennials. However, they will seed and spread, remaining in your garden for years.

  • Leaves: Flat fans of oval dark green leaves that turn red in the fall.
  • Flowers: Each dangling, bell-shaped flower has 5 petals that flare out from the base, surrounded by a collar of 5 larger sepals. The long, nectar holding spurs arch backward out of the flowers. Petals and sepals come in a variety of colors and combinations, in shade of light blue, pink, purple, red, white and yellow

Botanical Name:

Aquilegia x hybrida Pronounced a-kwi-LEE-jee-a

Common Name:

Columbine

Hardiness Zone:

USDA Hardiness Zones 3- 9. The species are wildflowers native to many areas of North America.

Exposure

Full sun to Partial Shade.

They can handle full sun in spring, but appreciate some shade in summer's heat.

Mature Size:

Size can vary greatly, by variety. There are dwarf varieties that don't get much taller than 4-6 inches and taller varieties than can top 3 feet. In general, expect plants to be about 24 - 36 inches (h) x 6 - 12 inches (w)

Bloom Period

Late spring to early summer. Columbines will remain in bloom 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the weather.

Suggested Varieties:

  • ‛Sunshine' - Long blooming with large, fluffy, double pale yellow flowers. (24-28")
  • ‛Songbird Mix' - bicolored flowers; white paired with shades of blue, purple and violet (24-36")
  • 'Texas Gold' - Tough, heat tolerant hybrid with gold flowers

Species

  • Aquilegia bertolonii - Light blue and white compact alpine plant (6-8")
  • Aquilegia canadensis> - Pretty native red and yellow species that naturalizes. (15-18")
  • Aquilegia vulgaris plena - ‛Black Barlow' - Double, spurless flowers in almost black purple (28-32")

Design Suggestions:

Aquilegia is a natural in woodland and rock gardens. Their delicate fan-shaped foliage is a nice contrast to ferns and Hostas and since they hold their flowers high above the base of the plant, they blend well with other shade lovers, like Hellebores and bleeding hearts.

You can use aquilegia in containers, but they'll need regular watering. Place the containers somewhere where hummingbirds will feel welcome because this is one of their favorite plants.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Aquilegia is adaptable, but it prefers an acidic soil pH of about 5.0 to 6.0.

Planting: You can start aquilegia from seed or plant. Seeds can be direct sown throughout spring. The seeds need light to germinate, so simply press them on the soil surface and barely cover with soil. Since aquilegia is a perennial, it will take 2 years from planting seed, for them to bloom.

If you are starting your seeds indoors, they will do better with some pre-chilling. Place the seeds in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with some damp potting soil, 8-12 weeks before your last frost date. Then pot them up and move them to a warmer spot.

Aquilegia plants should be planted with their crown at soil level. Water well and mulch. New plants will need to be kept moist until they become established. You'll know when they start putting out a lot of new growth. Even then, keep your aquilegia plants well water during dry spells.

Maintenance:

Columbine plants can handle full sun. It's the combination of heat and dry soil they don't like and mulching will help alleviate that.

Columbine will self-sow, but new plants can be lost if the summer gets too hot. Also, plants tend to be short-lived, fading out within 3 years. Hedge your bets and save some seed to sow in the fall or falling spring.

Keep in mind that aquilegia varieties readily cross pollinate. If you plant more than one variety, be prepared to see new colors and combinations.

If self-sowing becomes a nuisance, shear the plants back in mid-summer, to prevent seed pods from forming.

Pests & Problems:

Aphids, Caterpillars and Leaf Miners - Leaf miners are by far the biggest problem. They tunnel inside the leaves and can quickly make an unsightly mess. Shearing the plants, after blooming, will usually avoid the problem. Since aquilegia doesn't usually rebloom, shearing is the best way to control insect problems. The leaves will eventually fill back in.