Columbine is a cute perennial, discreet but very ornamental when planted in bunches.
A summary of key Columbine facts
Name – Aquilegia
Family – Ranunculaceae
Type – perennial
Height – 8 to 32 inches (20 to 80 cm)
Exposure – full sun, part sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained
Flowering – April to June
From sowing to blooming, care is very easy and the impact is very ornamental.
Planting, sowing columbine
First of all, you should know that “placing is everything” because columbine loves both sun and cool soil. Part sun may be important wherever the climate is warm and dry in summer.
Columbine flowers re-seed themselves spontaneously year after year.
When purchased in nursery pots, columbine is planted in fall or in spring, what counts is that it doesn’t freeze.
If you wish to sow, sow directly in the plot. This is possible during April, provided soil temperature rises above 55°F (12°C).
If ever the climate in your area doesn’t allow for this, prefer covered sowing and transplant to the ground 2 months later.
To speed germination up, keep your seeds in the bottom level of your refrigerator for 15 days and sow upon taking them out.
- These are short-lived plants, but they re-seed themselves abundantly.
- Let your columbine spread its seeds on its own, it will stud your days with beautiful surprises.
- Propagation through crown division in fall or at the beginning of spring also works, but this technique should be avoided because the roots are fragile and columbine doesn’t like being disturbed.
Pruning and caring for columbine
Remove wilted flowers regularly in order to boost flower-bearing and avoid having the plant dispense energy into preparing too many seeds.
- Cutting wilted flowers off will help reduce self-sowing, which is useful when it starts growing invasive.
Cut leaves back at the end of the blooming. Especially if your columbine has contracted powdery mildew: cutting all the leaves out bares the space for new leaves and new flowers, too.
- You can cut the plant back several times a year without fearing for the plant.
Hundreds of columbine varieties
Columbine is a plant that naturalizes anywhere quite readily. The speed with which it bears flowers and goes to seed, as well as the fact that it can sometimes accomplish several cycles within a single season make this a plant that has mutated many times over centuries of cultivation.
There are flowers of almost every color, and although most retain a dove-like shape due to the five outer petals, many are truly surprising. Some develop long, dainty spurs like the Aquilegia longissima or Longspur columbine.
Shown just here is the ‘Nora Barlow’ (Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’). This is a double-flowered columbine variety and petals are shaped to form blossoms similar to clematis – which gives the common name for this type of columbine: “clematis-flowered columbine”.
All there is to know about columbine
Most often, you’ll be placing them in a flower bed, but they can also be used along edges or on rocky ground.
Columbine develops a bunch-like bearing, with blue-green leaves, and although alpine varieties stay rather close to the ground, flower bed varieties can tower up to 3 feet (1 meter) tall.
Lastly, columbine tolerates acidic soil very well, and is a great pairing for all types of heather and heath plants.
Enemies and parasites that frequently attack columbine
Columbine is very vulnerable to powdery mildew and getting rid of it is often quite difficult. Best do everything you can to avoid contamination in the first place.
- Don’t water the foliage, especially in summer.
- Cut infected foliage off regularly.
- Here are our tips on how to fend powdery mildew off.
As for parasites, this plant is targeted by snails and slugs.
Smart tip about columbine
Avoid chalky soil for this type of plant.
Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Blue columbine shared by Curt Smith under © CC BY 2.0
Columbine ‘Nora Barow’ shared by Hagen Wilbanks from Rocky Top Farms
Double-spurred columbine shared by Waldo Jaquith under © CC BY-SA 2.0