Denver Plants

This months topic... Aquilegia or Columbines

Columbine's derive their botanical name aquilegia, from the Latin word aquila, meaning "Eagle", which is referring to the claw like spurs at the rear of the flower. Columbines are a very hardy, easy to grow perennials. Columbines are a favorite of Hummingbirds and Bees due to the high nectar content of the flower. 

Columbines produce sizeable single or bi-colored nodding flowers in pastel shades of blues, white, violets, reds, and yellows during early May and often into June if the spent flowers are removed. Columbines may loose their vigor after 3 to 4 years and should be replaced if their health declines.

Rocky Mountain Columbine - AquilegiaAquilegia caerulea... "The Rocky Mountain Columbine" was adopted as the Colorado state flower in 1899. The plant was first discovered by a mountain climber named Edwin James in 1820 while he and his party were climbing Pikes Peak. In 1925 the Colorado legislature enacted a law protecting the plant prohibiting digging, picking or removing Columbines from all public lands.

Now to the fun stuff... How to Buy and Grow Columbines

Buying Pre-started Columbines... or to Grow from Seed?
The answer depends on your patience and skill level. Columbines grown from seed will take two seasons to flower. Pre-started plants may already have flowers on them, or will flower soon.

Growing Columbines from Seed...
To start Columbine plants from seed purchase fresh packaged seed from your favorite garden center. Seed collected from hybrid plants may not produce plants that hold true to the parents.

Columbine seed needs to be chilled for 3 to 4 weeks before it will germinate. This can be done using one of three methods.

  • Place the entire seed package in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks... then sow as usual.
  • Sow your seeds in small containers or flats of moist sterile soil. Columbine seed should be sown so the seed is barley covered with soil. Cover the containers with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. If any seeds sprout while in the refrigerator... remove them to a warm sunny location. After the chilling period, move the containers to a warm sunny location. Germination should occur within 30 days.
  • Seed may be planted directly in the bed during fall for spring growth.

Once your Columbine seedlings have reached 3" or more and have developed some true leaves... they may be planted outdoors after danger of frost has passed.

Pre-started Columbine plants...
Most of us don't have the time or the patience to grow Columbines from seed, nor do we want pots of dirt in our refrigerator. So we purchase pre-started plants. Columbines can be found in several container sizes. I've seen them in packs, 3", 4", 6" and 1 gallon pots. When purchasing pre-started plants... try to find out if the plants were raised in Colorado. Colorado grown Columbines have an edge over imported Columbines usually found in the mass markets. Colorado grown Columbines are already adapted to our unique climate and have a much higher survival rate.

The site...
Columbines will grow in full sun in Colorado, but they perform best where they are lightly shaded from hot afternoon sun. Columbines will adapt to most garden soils providing the soil is well drained. Ideally plant your Columbine in soil that is rich in organic matter, moist, and doesn't dry out to quickly. Planting Columbine's near a south facing wall is generally a death sentience. Radiated heat will surly dry out and cook the plants. Most varieties of Columbine will thrive at elevations as high as 9,000 feet... a few varieties do well up to 10,000 feet.

Planting...
There is no real trick to planting Columbines. Plant them as you would any other plant... taking care not to plant them too deeply. You'll want to keep the surface soil of the transplant even with the surface level of your bed. Space plants 16" to 24" apart. Mix a little Osmocote, a granular time release fertilizer (it will last all season) with the soil in the planting hole.

Feeding...
If you didn't add Osmocote at planting... Columbines should be fertilized several times per season. The top soil could be top-dressed with a granular feed, or the plants could be fed monthly with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Grow. Feeding all your outdoor plants regularly will help to create a healthy root system, lush foliage, and large vibrant flowers.

Propagation...
Once established, your Columbines may be divided before new spring growth emerges. Dividing the plants every 2 to 3 years helps to keep the Columbines vigorous. To divide your Columbines... dig the plants, shake off the soil and gently pull the plants apart being careful not to break the roots. Several varieties of Columbines are profuse re-seeders yielding a new crop of volunteers the following spring. These volunteers may be transplanted... but be patient as they may look a bit unhappy for a while.

Columbine trivia...
Columbine Remembrance

Aquilegia x hybrida 'Colorado' was renamed 'Remembrance' in memory of the victims of the Columbine High School tragedy. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this hybrid Columbine goes to the Jefferson Foundation which provides scholarships for Jeff County students.

Columbine does not require mulching for over wintering, mulching to shade the soil and preserve moisture is beneficial.
Columbine flowers are excellent as cut flowers. Sap from Columbines may irritate sensitive skin.

Notable Columbine cultivars...
Biedermeier Mix - Blue Bird - Blue Jay - Blue Music Formula Denver Gold™ - Music Mix - Remembrance - Rocky Mountain

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Do you know somebody who loves Columbines... or perhaps a friend that might be interested in this site. Send them a link to this page by.

 

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