Columbine the Overlooked Perennial
Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) is one of those low maintenance perennials that is a must for any garden. They produce a delicate flower, which reminds me of dancing butterflies, that only last a short time; however, brings about an abundance of color and adds quite a bit of interest to garden borders, beds and containers.
Columbine come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, so choosing one that complements your garden should not be difficult. Better yet, once established, they are easy to grow because they are self sowers, drought tolerant, and need very little maintenance.
What Columbine Looks Like When the Season Ends
Although their flowers last for only a short time, they have a moderate blooming season, usually from mid spring to early summer; however, a few of mine are still hanging on here in Charleston, SC and it is the end of August! Columbine grow best in zones 3 thru 10 and seem to grow best in sunny to partial shady areas (usually meaning 6 hours of morning sun - not the hot baking sun of the day).
Do keep in mind that once their beautiful blooms begin to die back, they do tend to become quite unattractive, so be sure to pair them with other plants that provide color, either with flowers or foliage, to keep your garden looking its best.
1) Phlox ~ plant along the border
2) Coleus ~ looks fantastic in front of Columbine as long as you keep the Coleus pinched (don’t let it get lanky)
3) Toad Lily ~ an excellent choice because just as Columbine starts to die down, Toad Lily starts to show off its blooms for the fall
4) Coreopsis - the bright yellow flowers make for an interesting contrast
5) Foamflower ~ looks fantastic in front of Columbine once Columbine dies down – it has a nice contrast with Columbines foliage
6) Ferns ~ plant them as a backdrop
7) Columbine ~ there are so many varieties, try mixing a few for different sizes, bloom times and color
These are just a few suggestions - you can pair anything with Columbine, just bear in mind the different light, soil, and water requirements for each plant, and try to pair those that are similar.
They are POISIONOUS
Before going out and purchasing enormous quantities of this beautiful plant there are a few things you should know about it besides the fact that it is beautiful, self sows, or is drought tolerant.
1) Columbines are from the buttercup family and they are poisonous!
2) The seeds that are produced are toxic so if you have young children or pets please be wary of where you place them in the garden. If they are planted where children and pets can reach them, try to eliminate the problem and/or concern by deadheading them so the seed pods are not readily available for those little inquisitive hands to inspect.
3) You may hear that the seeds have a medicinal value for the treatment of liver and gallbladder problems – this was once true; however, it was realized over time that eating, cooking, or developing medicines with the seeds proved to be lethal. Today it is believed that small doses of the seed extract can be used for medicinal values, but please leave this up to the pharmaceutical companies, home gardeners should not delve into home remedies using these seeds – it “will lead to fatal consequences” (Successful Gardening)
1) They self-sow so you will have more next year unless you dead head
2) Sunny to Partial shade is the prime location for growing (morning sun - not hot afternoon sun)
3) Perfect for rock gardens and woodland settings ( I live in the city but have a courtyard in the back that is sunny in the early morning and shady in the afternoon – they love it there)
4) Hummingbirds and Butterflies love Columbine
5) They will grow to about 2 feet tall and 36 inches wide so plant by themselves or in small groups. This depends on the species you purchase - they have dwarf size Columbine that ranges from 6 to 12 inches tall. The flowers range from 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide (across) and they have spurs
6) They like well-drained - hummus-rich soil
7) They last about 3 to 4 years; however if you let them self-sow, you will have an endless supply – you might even end up with some different colors because they cross pollinate
8) Deer resistant
9) Leaf miners tend to be a problem. They create silvery lines (tunnels) under the surface of the leaf. If you see this - just cut away the infected area and do NOT throw it back in the garden - throw it away.
Tips at a Glance
Soil and Water
Sunny to Partially Shady
Well drained soil - yet moist
Sow seeds in early Spring in 65 degree temp
Water well in hot Summer
Transplant in early spring
Maintain moisture and nutrients in soil
Propogate by dividing the root in Spring or early Fall
Once established can survive drought
No winter care - except young plants - mulch first year
Prefers hummus-rich soil
Gardening Zone Map
For those who are still leery about Columbine, it is an excellent choice for the garden, not only because it is a self sower, drought resistant and attracts hummingbirds, it is low maintenance and beautiful too. So why not grace your garden with a few varieties and see what happens.
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