In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2012
Regional Report

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Columbines are easy to start from seed. Scatter the tiny seed, but don't cover them with soil.

Perennials On the Cheap

I like flowers that come back year after year and those that are not fussy about their care. Buying them potted, even bare root, can get expensive. There is an alternative -- starting them from seed.

There are many perennials that can be started from seed and it is relatively easy. There are a couple of my favorites that need to be started soon.

Columbines grow well in my flower garden and I like to try some of the newer varieties for both foliage and unique blooms. Columbines can grow in full sun to partial shade and are hardy to zone 3. They will bloom from their second year on, so be patient. Seeds need to be started about eight weeks before your last frost date.

I sow columbine seed indoors in a good seed-starting mix with the tray placed on a heat mat (70 degrees F.). Just scatter the seed and don't cover them. It takes the seed 20 days to germinate and then the seedlings are moved to bright light with cooler conditions (60 degrees F.) without the heat mat. If you prefer, direct-seed columbines in the garden in late spring to early summer.

Some people complain about problems with leaf miners on their columbines. These pests tunnel through the leaves giving foliage a variegated look. Allan Armitage notes in his book, Herbaceous Perennial Plants (Varsity Press, 1989), that the Canadian columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is less susceptible to leaf miner damage than other species and the new hybrids. Note: Columbines cross-pollinate readily, so remove spent flowers unless you want mixed colors that result from the hundreds of tiny seeds that self-sow.

Blooms of crimson, orange, yellow, or a combination of these colors make Gaillardia spp., also known as blanket flower, a favorite in my garden. They need a well-drained soil and full sun to thrive. The hybrids, G. x grandiflora, are short-lived, lasting only two to three years. Gaillardia aristata is much longer-lived, so you might like to give it a try. Blanket flowers are abundant bloomers and they self-seed freely. You will get plenty of replacement plants even if some are short-lived. Just be aware that those seedlings from hybrids will be of mixed colors and forms.

Gallardia seeds are sown eight weeks before last frost on the surface of the seed-starting mix (another "don't cover" seed). Again, use a seed starting heat mat to keep bottom heat around 70 degrees F. The seedlings will pop up in about 14 to 20 days. Then move to light.

Both columbine and blanket flower transplants will need to be hardened-off around the date of the last expected spring frost. Then plant them into the garden one to two weeks later.

Perennial flowers from seed -- it's easier than you might think, and it will save you money.

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