The Columbine flower is perfect if you like old-fashioned flowers you can easily naturalize. Aquilegia x hybrida is a hardy, pretty wildflower which comes in flower colors of yellow, orange, pink, red, violet, deep purple, some bi-colors and even cherished blue flower colors.
The tall flowers grow on slender stems with lots of pretty, lacy green foliage. Mature plants range in height from eighteen inches to three feet. The Columbine grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.
This article describes this easy-to-naturalize plant and shares advice on planting, growing and caring for it in your yard and garden. Read on to learn more.
Columbine Flower Facts
Origin: Eastern North America, United States
Botanical Name: Aquilegia x hybrida
The botanical name comes from the Latin word, aquila, which means eagle. It is so named because of the long spur-like petals extending from the flower’s underside.
Common Names: Columbine, Granny’s Bonnet
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Size: Height: 2′-3′ feet, Spread: 1′-2′ feet
Flowers: Showy blooms have a bonnet-like top with “claws” on the underside. Colors range widely from palest yellow to deepest purple.
The blossoms do well in cut flower arrangements. Seed pods make a nice addition to dried flower arrangements.
Bloom Time: April through June
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Exposure: Thrives in partial shade to full sun
Water Requirements: Moderate
Fertilizer: Liquid feed monthly throughout the growing season
Attracts: Many pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds enjoy the flowers.
Best Uses: Naturalize or use in wooded areas, lightly shaded garden settings, hummingbird/butterfly gardens, cottage gardens and borders.
Resists or Tolerates: Dry soil, drought tolerant conditions, rabbits and deer.
Maintenance Requirements: Light to moderate.
Medicinal uses: Native Americans had many uses for this native plant. The flowers and leaves are edible and were used by Native Americans as a condiment. They used crushed seeds and roots to treat a range of ailments, including sore throats, heart trouble and headache.
Crushed seeds were also used to concoct a love potion. Roots and seeds taste sweet and are toxic. It is safe to consume them in moderation. Excessive consumption can cause heart palpitations and severe gastroenteritis.
How to Grow Columbine Flowers From Seed
Columbine propagation couldn’t be easier. You can either allow these garden plants to self-sow themselves and come up naturally in the spring or start seeds inside six or eight weeks before your last expected frost.
Alternately, you can sow the flower seeds directly into the soil outdoors after the last frost.
Understand if your plants are hybrids, and they reseed themselves or you gather seed to plant, the resulting offspring may not look like the parents.
Nonetheless, they are sure to be pretty!
To plant Columbine seeds indoors or out, you’ll need rich, well-drained soil.
The seeds should be sown on the surface of the soil and pressed down lightly to prevent having them blow or wash away.
Don’t cover them with soil, they need light to germinate.
Seeds should sprout within a couple of weeks. When they have attained their first pair of true leaves, thin them back a bit.
Keep only the strongest Columbine seedlings.
When you are ready to transplant the seedlings to their permanent bed, choose a location that gets full-to-partial sun.
Give each seedling plenty of space to spread by digging a hole two times the size of the diameter of its root ball.
Place the plants one or two feet apart to allow for a spread and to provide good air circulation.
After planting, water thoroughly and keep the plants well watered until they become established and begin growing new leaves.
At this point, reduce watering to keep the soil lightly and uniformly moist.
How To Care For Columbine Plant – Growing Conditions
Columbine plant care is easy with these native flowers as they grow in almost any well-draining soil.
They do well in full sun, but bear in mind their natural habitat is in woodland clearings. Therefore, they are most at home in areas of dappled shade.
In a lightly shaded area, you will get the best results with a slightly rich, moist, soil, and remember to place the plants in a way that provides good drainage.
Keep the soil mix light and avoid having the plants stand in water.
Keep the soil uniformly moist to encourage the prettiest and most abundant blooms.
Throughout the blooming season, deadhead the spent flowers to encourage more blooming.
Regular deadheading allows you to extend the blooming season to as long as six weeks.
If you want the plants to reseed themselves, or if you want to gather seeds, allow the late blooms to mature, wither and go to seed.
When the flowers have finished blooming and the foliage begins to fade or look ragged, cut the plants all the way to the ground.
Keep them mowed for the rest of the summer and into the autumn.
This will not harm them and will prevent some types of pests from taking hold.
The reseeded plants will make a sprightly appearance in the coming year.
Once you have an established patch of Columbine, you’ll need to feed it from time-to-time.
In early spring, when you begin to see new growth, fertilize using a complete, water-soluble plant food. Feed once a month throughout the growing season.
Because these are wildflowers, they do well with deep, occasional watering.
As a general rule, apply an inch of water once a week.
Monitor carefully and make adjustments as needed to avoid having either excessively dry or soggy soil.
Keep the soil uniformly moist by applying a couple of inches of mulch around the plants.
Apply mulch late in the fall to enrich the soil and protect plant roots from freezing during the winter.
You may also wish to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth (DE) around the base of the plants to enrich the soil and discourage snails and other pests.
What Pests And Diseases Affect Columbine (Aquilegia) Flowers?
The Columbine Sawfly
The larvae of these flies eat the plants’ foliage late in the spring. They may strip the leaves off entirely in a rapid fashion.
When the larvae attain full growth, they drop from the plants to pupate in the soil. A few weeks later, they emerge as grown flies and start the cycle over again.
An application of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) early in the season may help avoid problems with these pests altogether.
It works best on very small caterpillars. If you miss the opportunity to get them while they are small, you may have to resort to manual removal.
To reduce their numbers, prune away affected leaves and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag in the trash.
Pick off the small, green caterpillars eating the leaves when you see them and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
The Stalk Borer
Both the larvae and the mature moth are called stalk borers. The moth lays its eggs on Columbine stems in the early fall, and they overwinter there.
In the springtime, the eggs hatch and the larvae bore tunnels into the plant stems.
They then eat their way up and down the inside of the stems, gradually killing the plant.
Luckily, these pests are easily controlled. Just remember to cut your Columbine down to the ground at the end of the growing season and stalk borers will never have a chance.
Since they also attack other herbaceous perennials, it’s a good idea to cut all of these (both cultivated plants and weeds) back before winter.
You may find colonies of tiny green aphids on the undersides of your plants’ leaves.
They cause damage by sucking the juices out of plants, and a heavy infestation can kill a plant.
When you see aphids, treat them immediately with a very strong spray of water to simply knock them off.
Keep an eye on the plant and apply a Neem oil and/or insecticidal soap solution as needed.
Be sure to encourage beneficial insects, such as:
- Tachinid Flies
- Praying mantis
- Damsel bugs
- Parasitic wasps
- Assassin bugs
- Spiders and others
.. to help keep your aphid problem under control.
Avoid using pesticides as these will kill off your garden helpers, along with your aphids.
Are There Many Varieties Of Columbine?
There are over sixty-five different Columbine species.
These pretty plants are easy to grow and provide a colorful, varied and delightful ambiance to settings ranging from a small garden space or large planter to a rolling woodland setting.
Choose from some of the most colorful and popular varieties for a dramatic effect. These include:
- Eastern Red Columbine variety is a North American native. It has interesting, elongated, upward pointing tubes within the blossom.
- Little Lanterns – a dwarf variety that grows only about ten inches high. It has pretty red and yellow blossoms and blue/green leaves.
- The Corbett Columbine is another dwarf variety with yellow flowers.
- A series of hybrids known as the Swan Series offers several different bi-colors, including:
- Swan Red & White, which has white inner petals and red outer petals
- Swan Pink & Yellow, which has pale yellow inner petals and pastel pink outer petals
Some of the Aquilegia or Columbine Species include:
- Aquilegia coerulea – aka Rocky Mountain Columbine and the Colorado official state flower
- Aquilegia vulgaris
- Aquilegia chrysantha
- Aquilegia flabellata
Why Grow Columbine Plants?
This pretty wildflower grows abundantly and naturally in many states, and in most settings it blooms beautifully from the middle of the spring to early summer. For the rest of the summer months, you can enjoy the pretty, delicate foliage.
When Columbine’s spurred, bell-shaped flowers are in bloom, they present a riot of colors and attract pollinators, including hummingbirds, moths, butterflies and bees.
When the blossoms fade, the flowers drop hundreds of seeds to ensure an abundant planting in the coming year.
You can also easily collect the seeds, store them for winter and plant them in a new location in the springtime.
Whether you are planting in an open meadow, a light shade garden, a hummingbird and butterfly garden or a border, the many varieties of Columbine have something wonderful to offer.
Getting them established takes only a little effort, and once they have made themselves at home, they are practically carefree.