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How to plant and grow Aquilegias (columbine)
Last Updated on April 27, 2020 by John
This is an elegant flower and the good news is they are quite easy to grow so nearly anyone can take advantage of these perennials. It typically reaches a maximum height around 60cm although you can get some alpine rockery style varieties that grow much smaller, this makes it perfect to plant in the middle of a border garden that needs varying vertical plants.
You can also find it in a range of colours and flower styles to some extent, this makes it an ideal companion for any garden design you might have.
These plants bring with them small, rounded leaves with tall flower stems that will make their way high above their foliage. The flowers are quite distinctive and are known for having the five petals that come out from the base of the flower accented by the larger 5 sepals. Many of the varieties also have spurs that arch backward from the flower and it’s the spurs that have the nectar. As mentioned you can make a colourful arrangement with a variety of flowers including yellow, red, pink, purple, even light shades of blue and black/purple shades.
In the springtime, these flowers will flower, usually just after your other spring bulbs have finished but right before your early summer flowers have bloomed. They bring to your garden many pollinating insects and bees at a time of the year when very few other flowers are in bloom so they are great for doing your part to help out bees.
They self-seed easily
These are quite easy to grow from seed and, if you leave them unadulterated in your garden they will seed themselves in your garden so after a few years you start to notice young aquilegia springing up you didn’t plant. If you want to avoid this, you just need to deadhead them when they finish flowering.
The good news is they’re not very fussy and they require very little attention. In the winter they die back as do most perennials but then they come back every year in spring providing colour year after year.
Caring for Aquilegia
They don’t like being crowded
As mentioned, Aquilegias are not a fussy plant. They grow successfully in a variety of conditions but they don’t tolerate being overcrowded. It’s important that you give them enough room and especially take into consideration the fact that they will self-seed every year so they’re going to need extra room to come back or deadhead them to prevent them going to seed.
When you plant them they should be planted deep in the soil but make sure that the crown remains at ground level if planting potted plants which is the best way to get instant results instead of growing from seed.
Water until established
A newly planted variety must be watered until such time as it gets established and starts to show new growth. If you decide to plant more than one variety at a time in the same area be advised that they could cross-pollinate. For a lot of people, this is great because it means a new combination of flowers and colours but if you want to limit yourself to one true variety, don’t plant more than one variety in the same garden.
Alternatively, you can cut your plants back before the seeds are produced to prevent them from seeding and simply try different varieties every year.
Bear in mind that these plants could cross-pollinate with some neighbouring plants and give you a hybrid some years too. Again, this is something to consider when you set up the spacing in your garden and for some gardeners this is a great opportunity to see what nature produces while for others it’s not something they want. The choice is really up to you.
Plant in full sun if possible
Most of the varieties especially those we recommend towards the end of this guide grow in full sun. Many of them prefer full sun in the morning and some need some shade during the warmer afternoon.
Some varieties will grow in a more shady spot
If you have more of a shady spot there are a few varieties that are tolerant of shade but make sure that you know what the light exposure is going to be in the area of your garden where you plan to grow them so that you can find the perfect match.
Feeding and watering
In terms of food, you can add well-rotted manure or homemade compost when you plant the Aquilegia and then apply mulch around the top to help with water retention. Like most plants, they don’t like drying out in the summer and they don’t like drowning in the winter.
To be fair they don’t prefer drowning any time of the year so make sure that you water enough to keep them from drying out but that you don’t overwater them and that the soil if free-draining too.
In terms of soil, they preferred deep well-drained and fertile soil but they will grow well in almost any type of soil, even clay soil, as long as they don’t get waterlogged.
One of the reasons you might consider removing the plant before it has an opportunity to produce seeds is if you have clay soil. In this situation, you can grow one variety quite well but if you can’t amend the soil to give it better drainage overwinter and you live in an area with harsh or very wet winters, they often don’t survive and need to be replaced the following year anyway.
Deadheading to prevent self-seeding
If you don’t want the Aquilegia plant to self-seed, you should cut it back in the middle of summer before any seed pods start to form. You can remove the seeds of course before they dispersed and then plant them elsewhere in your garden or sow into seed trays if you don’t want the original plant to get overcrowded but you do still want more plants to grow.
Just as you need to consider how much sun and shade they will get where you’re growing Aquilegia, you need to consider the position in your garden. Despite the fact that they are tall they are very light plants and are better for the middle of a border and often look well growing between shrubs and roses.
Very little care and maintenance needed
Once you have planted and they are established, there’s very little in terms of care and maintenance required because they will happily grow year after year without much attention. You should water them regularly during any dry spells and make sure that they have the right growing conditions when you first plant them in your garden.
Adding Mulch on top will keep the roots cool and will go a long way toward helping your plant survive by retaining moisture in the soil as they prefer moist but free-draining soil.
As mentioned, if you are going to propagate Aquilegias, you can’t allow the plant to produce seeds during the final flowering position and simply drop as they may or you can collect them before they disperse and scatter the seeds where you want them to germinate.
Seeds to two years from germinating to flowering
The seeds do require light in order to germinate so if you have them you can simply press them into a weed-free area in your garden at the end of summer and they will germinate the following spring. Bear in mind though it will take two years from the time you plant the seed for them to produce flowers but after that they will come back year after year.
Sowing seeds indoors
Alternatively, you can start cultivating the seeds indoors by placing them in a bag of seed compost in your refrigerator for about two or three months before you plant them outside. This makes the seeds think they have been through winter
Then, take the bag out of your refrigerator, scatter the contents into a seed tray or a pot and put it somewhere warm with indirect sunlight until the plants germinate.
Transplant the strongest seedlings and harden them off in a sheltered location before you put them directly in the ground.
Common Aquilegia Problems
These plants are not prone to a lot of pests because the leaves are poisonous so most animals leave them alone. In fact, you don’t usually even have problems with snails or slugs.
However the biggest problem you will notice include leaf miners which tunnel inside the leaves and result in an unsightly mess of shrivelled leaves that you can easily cut away.
You also want to look out for powdery mildew. As mentioned these plants need a lot of space and air circulation to grow well and if they’re overcrowded this can lead to powdery mildew.
Similarly, be on the lookout for downy mildew. As soon as you find any type of mildew, be sure to remove the affected leaves, even those that have already fallen off the plant and dispose of them. Then spray with a fungicide to help control the mildew.
Some of our favourite varieties
A native of Britain, they grow quite well in all UK Gardens and there are ample varieties from which to choose from with some of our favourite varieties listed below.
This produces long, red and yellow flowers at the end of spring and prefers full sun. It reaches an ultimate height of 80cm so is one of the taller varieties.
Aquilegia ‘Heavenly Blue’
This variety blooms in light blue and white colours between May and June and grows to a height of 85cm and is another taller variety.
Aquilegia ‘Rose Queen’
This variety gives you pink flowers with many-branched, flowering stems Each of which reaches about 80cm in height and usually flower between May and June.
Aquilegia ‘White Star’
If you are looking for pure white flowers, this is the one to choose with stunning white flowers.
Aquilegia ‘Yellow Star’
If you want lemon-yellow flowers sitting at top blue-green foliage and you need something that’s slightly shorter, around 60cm in height, this is the perfect plant and is one of the slightly medium-size varieties.
This variety is one of the earlier bloomers and produces flowering stems in April. It likes full shade and gives you white blooms on stems that reach 80cm in height.
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guinness’ (‘Magpie’)
Just like the bird, this variety has deep purple and white as well as black flowers and it is unique because it prefers shade and grows a little bit taller than other varieties, around 90cm.
Aquilegia ‘Petticoat Pink’
As the name suggests, this one looks like a frilly petticoat with pink flowers and is perfect for someone looking for a variety that is a little destinctive.
Last update on 2020-09-23 at 11:22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API