Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
June, 2011
Regional Report

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I successfully grow this native columbine by creating conditions similar to those of its native environment.

Cultivating the Enchanting Columbine

Recently I was checking out a garden center and was tempted by one-gallon columbines in full bloom. There were various colors ranging from the traditional blue Colorado columbine to violet, white, yellow, and red.

Columbines belong the genus Aquilegia, in the buttercup family. They occur naturally throughout the mountain regions of our region and are generally found blooming as early as June to mid-August. With all the snow in the mountains this year, blooming may be delayed by a few weeks. But the breathtaking view of the meadows enchanted by columbines is worth a trip to the mountains in mid to late June.

Growing columbines in the home garden is not hard. The secret to success with columbines is to realize that the plants are short-lived perennials. Mimicking their natural growing conditions of open meadows and forests will allow you to add them to specific areas of your landscape.

I've found they grow and bloom very well in semi-shade to full sun, as long as the location is not a heat trap. Good air circulation is a must to reduce the incidence of powdery mildew on the foliage. Contrary to common suggestions, columbines do well in clay soils as long as drainage is good. They will not tolerate boggy conditions. In reality, they are great drought-enduring plants.

Classified as a perennial, an individual columbine is not long lived. After three or so years, established columbine plants start to die out. They are prolific seed producers and once a columbine bed is established, new seedlings will appear in my garden. It's a good time to transplant them and enchant other parts of the perennial flower garden. Locate them in spots that have good air circulation and among plants that won't overpower them.

Just remember that planting several different varieties of columbines in the same garden will result in cross-pollination. The seedlings the result will grow into plants with characteristics of both parents. So expect color variations to show up in the garden. To prevent cross-pollination, you can deadhead the blossoms as soon as they wane.

If your goal is to keep a columbine bed with the exact varieties you began with, you'll need to add new plants to replace the originals as they die out.

Some of my favorite companions with columbines include perennial geraniums (cranebills), coral bells, and lady's mantle. The scalloped and colorful foliage creates a handsome accent in the perennial garden.

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