Colorado blue columbine – planting, care and tips

Colorado blue columbine
Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) - by Rob Duval

The long-spurred blossoms of the Colorado blue columbine are a unique eye-catcher in May and June. Here are tips on planting and care.

Profile of Colorado blue columbine:

Scientific name: Aquilegia caerulea

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: Rocky Mountain columbine

Sowing time: spring or summer

Planting time: May, after frosts

Flowering period: May to June

Location: partially shaded

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, bouquets, underplanting, flower garden, rock garden, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3 (-40 °C / -35 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of Colorado blue columbine

Plant order, origin and occurrence of Colorado blue columbine

Aquilegia caerulea is native to North America. The pretty perennial, which is also refered to as Rocky Mountain columbine, is widespread in places that are not too dry in light forests such as trembling poplar forests. Its distribution area in the USA extends from Montana in the north to New Mexico in the south, to the west it occurs to Arizona. North American botanists call the species as Aquilegia coerulea. Like the common columbine, it belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

Characteristics of Colorado blue columbine


The finely hairy stems of the multi-flowered Colorado blue columbine grow 30 to 60 centimeters (12 to 24 in) in height, whereby the hybrids like to grow up to 80 centimeters (32 in) high. The growth width is 25 to 30 centimeters (10 to 12 in).


The basal leaves of Aquilegia caerulea are double three-part. The individual leaflets appear trilobate and bluish pruinated.


The unique flowers of the Colorado blue columbine open between May and June. They become up to 8 centimeters (3.2 in) wide and 7 centimeters (2.8 in) long. The inner and outer flower parts stand together in a beautiful color contrast: While the buds initially appear pink, the sepals shine light to dark blue and the petals white. The straight spur can be up to 5 centimeters (2 in) long.


The Colorado blue columbine forms so-called follicles fruits, which contain the seeds.

Colorado blue columbine – cultivation and care


Similar to its natural location, the Colorado blue columbine prefers a partially shaded location in the garden. If the water supply is sufficient, the perennial can also be planted in a sunny place.


A fresh, loose and humus rich soil is important for Aquilegia caerulea.


Because columbines contain toxic substances, they should be planted and cared for with appropriate care. A good time to plant the perennials is in May after nor more frost are being expected. The planting distance is about 30 centimeters (12 in).


Because of their deep, pile-like roots, columbines are difficult to divide. The best way to propagate is by sowing. The seeds are sown immediately after ripening in summer, bought seeds come into the soil in spring. The first flowers usually appear from the second year after germination.

Care / Watering / Fertilization

The maintenance effort for the Colorado blue columbine is manageable. On hot days it needs some attention and should be watered sufficiently. If you want to prevent self-seeding, cut off the flower stalks after flowering.

The plant can be cut back a hand’s breadth after flowering in spring or autumn. During the flowering period, the columbine should be regularly watered and fertilized. For this compost or horn shavings are suitable.

Diseases and pests

Like its relatives, the Rocky Mountain columbine can also be affected by the columbine sawfly. Their voracious caterpillars occur mainly in May and June. Columbine leafminers and aphids can also occur.


Once grown, Aquilegia caerulea is sufficiently hardy and does not require any special winter protection.

Use in the garden

The flowers of the Colorado blue columbine against a dark background such as deciduous trees are particularly appealing. Beautiful companions are the bleeding heart, rattle root, Culver’s root, foxglove and ferns. In places that are not too dry and sunny, the Colorado blue columbine also thrives in the rock garden. The hybrids are also often used as cut flowers. The best time to harvest is when the first buds are opened.


  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘Blue Star’: light blue outside, white inside, height 60 centimeters (24 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘Crimson Star’: red outside, white inside, 60 centimeters (24 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘crystal’: pure white, 70 centimeters (28 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘Maxistar’: yellow, 70 centimeters (28 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘McKana’: mixed colors, 75 centimeters (30 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘Olympia Blue and White’: blue and white flowers, 75 centimeters (30 in)
  • Aquilegia caerulea ‘Red Hobbit’: purple outside, white inside, 30 centimeters (12 in)

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