Texas Agrilife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

September 2009

Growing Columbines (Aquilegia)

by Cynthia W. Mueller

Native Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Columbines are a favorite spring wildflower for Texas gardeners. They have the ability to grow in both sun and light shade, and under good growing circumstances will survive for several years. Flower types range from the dainty bloom with "spurs" projecting to fully double bells composed of many petals in contrasting colors.

Not all varieties of columbines are suitable for Texas gardens. Two of the best are the hybrid 'Texas Gold' and the native species Aquilegia canadensis. 'Texas Gold' is a very heat resistant plant with golden-yellow flowers that was bred from the rare Aquilegia hinckleyana which grows only along a few mountainous streambeds in West Texas. Its tough qualities and many large, showy flowers have earned it the right to be called one of the "Texas Super Stars".

The native A. canadensis produces a mound of foliage and delicate red-and-gold flowers several feet in height over a long period in the spring. It is found in nature from Canada through the US into Texas. These two columbines often will cross with each other, creating a range of softly colored hybrids. The classic English columbines, such as the McKana strains, the blue-flowered European varieties or the doubles such as 'Nora Barlow' are more suited to moist soils in light shade and would prefer cooler temperatures than most Texas gardens have to offer.

Set out plants in the spring to early summer. They may be placed from one to two feet apart with generous mulching between plants. During the blooming season the mounds of finely cut, soft green foliage with flowers may reach as much as three feet in height. Trim off spent flower stalks before the capsules shatter to release seed, or leave them to provide fresh plants for a later season. In times of drought the plants may go dormant for a time in the midst of the summer.

Seeds shed into the flower bed have a bad habit of trying to germinate after odd summer rains, then perishing in the heat of the summer, so it's a good idea to save some seeds for sowing in flats or in place near established plants in the late fall. These should have no trouble becoming established.

Fertilize established columbines monthly during the growing season with a good soluble all-purpose fertilizer. There are few pests to be reckoned with. Low-growing shrub roses, perennial coreopsis, penstemons or ferns make good growing companions.

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