Known also as Granny’s Bonnet (because your granny still wears one?), Columbines are a diverse group of perennial flowers that are sought after due to their unique flower shape and the ability to have multi-colored blooms.
*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
Typically these flowers are found in woodland and meadow environments. Their distinct flowers sit on top of long stems that stretch out from the dainty foliage below. Adding them to your garden will help bring that “woodsy” feel to any landscape. They are a perfect bridge between low lying plants at the front of the border and larger specimens behind them. I find that they look best in little clusters dotting the landscape, rather than in a straight line border.
There are many varieties to choose from and all can be easily propagated by seed. They are becoming more popular and are now frequently found in even big-store nurseries. You will likely find more options there than with seeds, but take some time to look around. The color options are extensive, and many of the varieties produce flowers with more than one color.
Columbine are also very hardy flowers, best suited to zones 3-8, but I have had great success in my zone 9 garden by ensuring they are placed where a little shade will help them during some part of the day in the summer months. They can tolerate a wide range of soils, but don’t like soggy or overly dry soils. They are not entirely drought tolerant, but don’t require a lot of water. I strategically place them where they are in slightly wetter areas of the yard from the sprinklers to help them through the hot days we have here.
Columbine flowers will readily self-sow if they have the opportunity, but I have not had any issues with them overtaking any space. This could be due to the conditions of my garden, though. I have found that they are more likely to propagate by roots in a manner similar to bulbs. The end result is that the plant cluster will spread outwards and form a larger clump. This makes them great for filling in smaller spaces that other plants may be too large for.
Columbine are perennials, but some may be short lived depending on the conditions of your area. They also die back when temperatures drop, which is why you will want to place them among other plants, rather than be a large focal point. While they are blooming, deadheading the spent flowers will help to encourage more blooms to be produced, and will cut back on seeds that might grow where you don’t want them. Cut the flower stalk all the way down at the base, as the stalk will not produce more flowers but will dry out and die. Not the most attractive look, you know.
Pests seem to be minimal and I’ve not experienced problems with anything so far. They are toxic to many organisms, so they seem to be deer, rabbit, and other similar critter tolerant. There are caterpillars of some moth species that can eat the leaves, but the plants are still very resilient. I’ve had little issue with slugs and snails eating them, as well. The flowers are a good source of nectar for certain bumblebee species, and hummingbirds love them, too.
- Perennial: Plants will live for 2 or more years, depending on conditions
- Deciduous: leaves may stay on in milder winter areas
- Height: depends on variety, about 1-2 feet
- Width: depends on variety, about 1-2 feet
- Sun: full sun, will want some morning or afternoon shade in hot areas
- Water: regularly, do not let soil get dry, does not like excessive water, moderately drought tolerant
- Soil pH: neutral to slightly acidic
- Soil type: amend heavy clay or loose sandy soil
- Key nutrients: fertilize as you would for other flowers
- Planting time: best to start in fall or spring during cooler weather
- Zones: 3-8, but can tolerate warmer zones if cared for