In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2011
Regional Report

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3682

Attracting bees to my landscape is just one of the reasons for growing columbine!

Plant Columbines for Early Spring Color

Despite their delicate appearance, columbines are tough garden plants. They perform well in full sun to part shade, grow in practically any soil, and start blooming in early to mid-spring. They bloom for weeks and weeks whether or not you deadhead the spent flowers. A plant like this is a winner in my garden!

The Choice is Yours
Common columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is hardy in zones 3-8, returning year after year to grace my garden with beautiful color. They have a penchant for cross pollinating, which means their offspring will be a combination of both parents. This translates into surprising flower colors if you allow their seedlings to grow and mature. I like these kinds of surprises, so I allow my columbines to grow at will.

There are over 40 species of columbines and even more hybrids. If you want the colors of your columbines to stay true, choose hybrids such as Rocky Mountain (Aquilegia caerulea) with broad, blue and white flowers, or any of the McKana Hybrids which come in blue, yellow, pink or red. Of this group, 'Maxistar,' 'Spring Song,' and 'Biedermeier' are my favorites.

Outstanding Combinations
Common columbines, which bloom in a gentle range of pastel colors, mix with just about anything in the garden. My favorites are the blues because they combine so well with my lemon-yellow daylilies, pure white Shasta daisies, and golden yellow irises. In my cottage garden, which is a jumble of colors, the pastel pinks and yellows are perfect companions to my blue flax, baby's breath, delphiniums, bee balm, and cosmos.

Avoiding Problems
Columbines grow happily with a minimum of care. They don't need fertilizer and won't require extra watering during dry spells. Their willowy stems stand tall after windy weather or spring storms, so staking isn't necessary.

They can be troubled by leaf miners and can develop powdery mildew towards the end of the season. Leaf miners only affect the foliage, not the flowers, so I tend to leave the plants alone. However, if you find their squiggly tunnels unattractive, you can cut the plants down to soil level after flowering has finished and they will produce healthy new foliage. If you see a whitish coating on the leaves, a sure sign of powdery mildew, snip off the affected leaves. This will open up the plant to better air circulation which can help it maintain good health. If the entire plant is affected, cut it down to ground level and dispose of the plant parts in the trash, not in the compost pile.

Whether scattered in a cottage or wildflower garden or planted in a perennial border, columbines are perfect for filling the gap between spring bulbs and summer roses. They can soften the look of any design, and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.


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