Columbine (Aquilegia) has been a gardening favorite for generations. This genus of 60 to 70 different varieties native to North America have dainty, bell-shaped blooms and an elongated nectar spur. Columbine plays an important role in the ecosystem, being one of the first providers of food for hummingbirds, insects and butterflies in the spring. Gardeners have long planted them to lure little flying beauties to the garden. Columbine can be found growing wild in fields and mountainsides all over North America.
How to Plant Columbine
Columbines are so robust that they adapt to just about any growing conditions as long as the soil drains well. Plant columbine in full-sun to part-shade conditions, keeping new plants 1 foot apart. The spring bloomer prefers moist soil, so water regularly during dry spells. Check with your local garden center for varieties best suited to your growing zone.
Columbine's bell-shaped blooms are available in many different shades of blue, red and yellow, with the light blue Rocky Mountain columbine named as Colorado's state flower. Columbines bloom in early April through June, producing a fruit when finished and finally a large black seed before going dormant in early fall.
How to Propagate
Columbines are easily cross-pollinated by bees, so don't be surprised to find new variations of the colors you've planted. While considered a perennial, columbines usually last only four to five years, but dropped seeds will keep columbines growing in your garden for generations.
Propagate new columbines by seed in spring. Plants grown from seed will not produce blooms until their second year of growth. Columbines available for sale at garden centers are usually established and ready to bloom when planted. They can be divided with care in spring.
Care and Maintenance
Columbines grown in more sun will produce more blooms than its counterparts in shadier areas. Deadheading fading blooms can prolong the bloom time. Allow plants to go dormant on their own instead of cutting down unless they're infected with leaf miners.
A relatively pest-resistant plant, columbines can fall victim to leaf miners, the larvae of the brown fly. Leaf miners do not kill the plant but damage the leaf, stressing the plant and leading to a shorter lifespan. Remove infected leaves at the first sight of their brown trails and throw away in a plastic bag to ensure no cross-contamination. Never put infected leaves in the composter. Pesticides also can kill the leaf miner. In extreme cases, cut the plant to the ground and get rid of the whole thing in a sealed plastic bag. Your columbine will come back pest-free next year.
What to Plant with Columbine
Columbines are excellent plants to use in gardens as transitions from spring bulbs to summer blooms. Mix columbines among bulbs in rock gardens or along paths. Planting annuals along the base of columbines allow color all growing season between the two plants.