Growing and Cultivating Columbines
by Jane Lake
There are dozens of species of wild columbines, and many cultivars of the perennial Aquilegia Ranunculus, which is part of the Buttercup family, native to Asia, Europe and North America.
Columbine flowers – equally attractive to people, butterflies, moths, bees and humming-birds, feature five long-spurred petals and five petal-like sepals which appear in spring and early-summer and can persist through the summer on established plants. Most of the flowers are nodding, but some newer cultivars face upwards. Colors vary from single to bicolors in shades of purple, blue, white, pink and yellow.
Growing Columbine from Seed
Columbines self-seed quite successfully, but tend to interbreed quite successfully as well, so for this reason, it is best to begin cultivation with purchased seeds, or by collecting seed from established columbine plants that are isolated from other aquilegia species. Some older aquilegia cultivars don’t
flower the first year from seed.
Sew seed outdoors, in fall or spring, covering with a light layer of soil, or start the seeds indoors over the winter, after storing in the fridge for a month or so.
Columbine hybrids tend to be short-lived, so grow new plants every couple of years for a constant landscape display.
Seeds are widely available at local nurseries or seed suppliers. You’ll also find a nice selection of Columbine Seeds at Amazon.
Cultivation and Pests
Columbines thrive in sun or partial shade and are generally hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 8, with some zone variations depending on species. Most garden soil, providing it is well-drained, is suitable for aquilegia cultivation. Mulching around the plants if you like, but it isn’t necessary.
Leafminers can be a problem, so if you find any infected leaves displaying pale blotches or tunnels, remove and destroy them immediately. If the problem persists, try a weekly application of insecticidal soap. Borers can also attack, causing infected plants to fail rapidly; you must remove and destroy all parts of the affected plant to help prevent further infestation.
More Information on Aquilegia:
Production Tips For Top Performers: Aquilegia vulgaris – from the Floriculture Program at Michigan State University. Trial results and cultivation tips for Winky cultivars with upward-facing flowers.
Wikipedia – Aquilegia – list of species, general information, evolutionary background.
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials – available at Amazon.
USDA: Aquilegia L. columbine Plant Profile – maps of the United States, identifying native and introduced columbine species in each area, images and classification.