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Master Gardener: Growing columbine

Columbine hybrids
Courtesy

A while back, I wrote about some tough plants growing in my yard: golden currant (Ribes aureum), creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) and columbine (Aquilegia ssp). The columbine, sprouted from seeds I had collected from deadheaded plants, grew so beautifully that I’ve repeated the process in several areas in my yard.

There are 60 to 70 species of columbine found in the Northern Hemisphere with flowers in a wide range of colors. Three species native to our area include Colorado’s state flower, the Blue or Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia caerulia), Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) and Western Red Columbine (Aquilegia elegantula). It is the stunning Colorado Columbine we see most often in our High Country, with its large and delicate looking spurred flowers, the petals ranging from white to deep blue/purple.

It may look delicate, but columbine is a tough plant. In our area, it will grow in the sun if its roots are shaded, as well as in mostly shady areas. It prefers moist soil, is an early bloomer and can withstand some wintry weather. 

It appears I have a few varieties of columbine growing in my yard. Showy blooms of the Colorado Columbine have shot up here and there. Other columbine plants are also blooming, with masses of smaller flowers in deep pink or purple hanging from their stems. These likely are hybrids, perhaps European natives or hybrids with names like Biedermeier, Songbird and McKana. Some were planted by a previous owner, and others have grown from seedheads I’ve scattered about.

Colorado Columbine
Courtesy

The early blooming columbines add color in the yard, sending up flower stalks that may need staking. Alternatively, flowers may be cut and brought indoors. Once the flowers are spent, the stalks may be cut down, leaving a mound of green foliage that stays attractive for several weeks. Plants can even withstand pruning to the ground. Individual plants last a few years but most varieties will reseed and thrive for many years. If there are several varieties in the yard, they will cross pollinate and may produce different colored flowers in subsequent years.

Master Gardener: For more

Colorado State University Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions. Email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us or call the CSU Extension office at 970-879-0825 and ask to leave a message for the Master Gardeners. Thursday morning office hours and scheduled site visits are currently suspended.

Additionally, columbines in bloom feed early arriving pollinators — bees, hummingbirds and perhaps even long-tongued butterflies. Fortunately, the flowers are not very tasty to rabbits and deer, so may survive until midseason flowers arrive to replenish the pollinators’ pantry.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.


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