Columbine – planting, care and tips

columbine ©

Where the columbine flower once settled, it wanders through the garden over the years. After all, the distinctive garden flower decorates even precarious locations with a true color spectacle over several years. The plant is not as harmless as it gives itself. Anyone who wants to care for them properly, should always think of the very high toxin. Apart from that, the columbine is so adaptable that it sets lovely accents in the bed, on the edge of the wood or in the rock garden.

Profile of columbine:

Scientific name: Aquilegia

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: aquilegia

Sowing time / Planting time: Self-sowing from August

Flowering period: May – June/July

Harvest time:

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: permeable, nutrient-rich and moderately moist to moist

Use as a medicinal herb: toxic

Use as spice herb: toxic

Use in: small gardens, combined with roses, stone garden (e.g. Apennines columbine)

Winter hardiness: hardy to -28 ° C (-18 ºF)

Bee and insect friendly: yes

Plant characteristics of columbine


The genus Aquilegia includes about 120 species, all of which are native to the Northern Hemisphere. While native North American species often turn yellow or red and are pollinated by hummingbirds at their natural habitat, those from Europe and Asia tend to have blue, purple, white or pink flowers and are very popular with insects.

Appearance and growth

Depending on the species and variety the flower belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) grows between 15 and 90 cm (6 and 35 inches) high. The dwarf columbine ‘Ministar’ (Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila), for example, grows rather low, while hybrids from the McKana group belong to the higher growing columbines. Incidentally, one of the most popular columbine flowers is the common columbine ‘Nora Barlow’ (Aquilegia vulgaris) with its pompom-shaped, pink flowers whose flower tips are colored white. The striking flowers are 3 to 5 cm (1-2 inches) tall and appear from May to July in blue, blue violet, yellow, blue and white, red and white. The leaves of the columbine are already starting to emerge in March, with the young bright green foliage standing together like a rosette. From its center protrudes the smooth or sometimes hairy, stable stems. Later, the foliage changes its color into a rich blue-green.

columbine flowers
columbine flowers ©

Location and soil

The selection of possible locations is broad.

  • Sunny to partially shaded location.
  • Full sun to shade also accepts the columbine.
  • The darker the light conditions, the lower the height of growth will be.
  • Best growth offers the plant in the wandering shade under higher perennials.
  • The aquilegia was spotted even in the cracks of dry stone walls.

Within the types and varieties of columbine, the most diverse specialists have developed. Therefore, when buying the experienced hobby gardener puts an eye on the special preferences of the selected flower and assigns it a appropriate location in the garden. Basically There is no reason not to cultivate this botanical universal talent in the bucket. However, that such a way of life is at the disadvantage of the flowering period, which is usually limited to May.

Watering and fertilizing

If the columbine has firmly established itself after planting at the site, it needs plenty of irrigation water, especially during periods of drought.

  • Adjust the water balance to the variety
  • Basically do not let the columbine dry out
  • Mulching with grass clippings, leaves or gravel
  • From time to time incorporate some compost for nutrient supply
  • Let the rotted plant parts rot in the bed

Regular weeding is indispensable in the growing phase for newly planted columbines.


If the flowering season is over, the look of the foliage leaves something to be desired. As a result, the hobby gardener now uses pruning shears to cut back the columbine to just above the ground. With a little luck, the flowers will shoot out one more time and flower again in late summer. In addition, a cut immediately after flowering is required if self-sowing is not desired. Otherwise follicles with 10 to 36 black seeds form, which take over the surrounding area.

For those who can not have enough colorfulness in its home garden, let the aquilegia allow spreading, whereby there are always new hybrids. Before the winter or at the latest in the spring before the new sprouting, the plants should be cut in any case up to a hand’s breadth above the ground, so that they again form a graceful eye-catcher in the next season.

Due to the toxin of columbine, expert hobby gardeners never give up protective gloves when taking care and cutting.


Who plants the columbine in his garden, should note that it is poisonous. Even the consumption of 20 grams (0.7 oz) of leaves causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, heart complaints and dizziness. Similarly, the plant contains irritant toxins that can cause severe skin irritation such as burning, redness, or blistering. In the wild, the native, blue-violet or pink-flowering common columbine is under nature protection.


The best time for sowing is spring. After that, this easy-care plant is self-sowing.

Where no columbine immigrated from Neighbor’s garden, the amateur botanist will quickly find many varieties in the nearest garden center or in online shops.

  • Best planting time is from mid-May
  • In a vessel with water, the root ball become saturated fully
  • Now the pot is easier to peel off
  • The planting hole is 1.5 to 2 times larger than the root ball
  • At a very humid location, put a drain at the bottom of the pit
  • Suitable materials are gravel, perlite, pumice or crushed potsherds
  • While the columbine is being planted, just press the substrate lightly
  • Water well in the last step

A classic mistake when planting the aquilegia is the far too small distance, in which the young perennials put into the earth. The result is that not only the columbine, but also the neighboring perennials press each other after a short time and the garden friend has to step in by removing or transplant plants. Experienced hobby gardeners can therefore not be irritated at the beginning of the still quite large open spaces between, because these will close at a rapid pace.

Experienced gardeners first lay the columbine and its plant neighbors on the ground in the designated places, step back and inspect the arrangement before they go forward.

a columbine flower in a garden
a columbine flower in a garden ©


As soon as the soil is no longer frozen, sowing is possible. Although this form of planting is much cheaper than buying a finished columbine, it has the disadvantage that it will hardly reach its full size this season. A sowing in the house from February / March therefor delivers already rather developed plants, which can be put from the middle of May in the field.

  • Mix the tiny seeds with sand and sprinkle in the bed.
  • For sowing in the house, fill a pot with potting soil.
  • Thinly cover the dark germs with soil and moisten.
  • The germination temperature is between 17 ° and 20 °C (62 and 68 °F).
  • The germination period is on average between 5 and 6 weeks.
  • Keep constantly moist without wetting the substrate.
  • Prick out, if after the cotyledons the first leaves show.
  • Separate in the bed to a distance of 25 cm to 30 cm (10 to 12 inches).

A few varieties of columbine are cold germs. This means that after sowing, they need to be exposed to a cold stimulus for about 1 month for the seeds to germinate. In February / March, the seed pot is simply placed on the balcony. Where that’s not possible, find a place in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. So that the seed container does not take up too much space, clever hobby gardeners spread the moistened potting soil on a cling film, put the seeds on it, twist everything together to a sausage and tie the ends together with string.

Diseases and pests

Except for an infection by powdery or downy mildew, no other diseases are known to columbine flowers. Pruning immediately after flowering, this problem is done by itself. With regard to the pests, in which the lice are particularly prominent, the situation is similar; However, it should be remembered that the pests can spread quickly throughout the garden. For this reason, immediate control measures are required.

  • If white webs appear, the plant parts are immediately cut off.
  • In the early stage of infestation, a vigorous shower may remove the mealybugs.
  • Disposal is via the household waste and not on the compost heap.

Amongst the pests, the columbine-gall midge, which infests the young plants in early spring, has become specialized. Where the tiny orange larvae appear, buds should be snapped off and disposed of.


The colorful shrub that produces good cut flowers for wildflower bouquets is also very suitable for small gardens. With their beautiful flowers, columbines are predestined for planting in romantically designed gardens, for example together with roses (Rosa) or Canterbury bells (Campanula). High growing species are particularly suitable for humid locations on the woody edge or on the open space and can be combined with a variety of other perennials.

A nice contrast arises when one combines the filigree plants with large-leaved species such as alumroot (Heuchera) or Siberian bugloss (Brunnera). American yellow flowering species such as the yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) or the golden columbine (Aquilegia flavescens) prefer a drier, more open location. Smaller species such as the Apennines columbine (Aquilegia bertolonii) are also very suitable for the rock garden and the alpine garden, but here are most like turned-away from sun. Since the foliage is not very attractive after flowering, it is best to place some columbines into a plantation so that the foliage is later covered by the other plants.

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