Columbine: The Pennywise Perennial
Jun 02, 2010 | 1088 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Aquilegia caerulea ‘Colorado Blue Columbine’. Photo credit: Keith Williamson, Little Valley Wholesale Nursery
Aquilegia caerulea ‘Colorado Blue Columbine’. Photo credit: Keith Williamson, Little Valley Wholesale Nursery
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Once you’ve seen columbines blooming in the high country, you won’t forget them. The Columbine, the Colorado State flower, emblematizes our trademark clear blue skies and crisp mountain breezes.

Columbines are not only hardy to most parts of Colorado – they are readily available at local garden centers. Also known as “Granny’s Bonnet,” the flower’s main bloom period is May-July. Deadheading encourages reblooming. The flowers are up to three inches across, with nectar-bearing spurs, five petals, five sepals, and one or two colors. They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. There are various flower forms available in colors that range from pure white to almost black, on plants sized anywhere from eight diminutive inches to a grand four feet tall. Lacy, light-green to blue-green foliage and a soft fern-like texture gives the mounding plants a fresh woodland glen quality.

Columbines can grow in full sun, but do best in part shade, needing moist, well-drained soil, moderately fertile, that’s cooled by mulch. Water regularly until established; they are not xeric, but rather must be watered during drought, and fed with scattered granular organic fertilizer in spring. Use in borders, mass plantings, wildflower meadows, woodland gardens, and as a cut flower.

Unfortunately, they are short-lived perennials, and may also go dormant in summer heat, so be prepared to replace cultivars every three to four years as they lose vigor, or allow reseeding. Unless you have planted only one species, be prepared for the seedlings to bloom in unexpected colors. Plants are available in pots sizes ranging from 2.5 to six inches in diameter, or, directly sow seed in the fall for spring germination.

Disease and insect problems include powdery mildew and leaf miners that require the removal and destruction of infected foliage (do not compost). Wash or pick off sawfly larvae and aphids or find an organic pesticide at your local garden center. Check the soil or watering habits; the roots must be kept healthy.
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