Columbine is a fantastic flowering perennial for any Houston area shade garden with partial, dappled, light or open shade. This spring bloomer comes in an array of colors – red, pink, yellow, blue, white, purple and even combinations of these. The flowers conjure an image in my mind of an errant pioneer girl’s bonnet with strings flying behind her as she rides away from her prairie homestead upon her swift and faithful steed. Steely determination is on her face as she leaves her tyrannical father to find her one true love. Can you see the cover of that romance novel in your mind’s eye? Well, sometimes I picture that, but sometimes I see the Lullaby Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz movie. I guess it depends on my mood. Ahhhh, I digress. Anyway, the flowers are very delicate and are born upon very thin stems atop light green to blue-green foliage that is similar in appearance to clover. Columbine do well in part sun (as long as it is morning sun) to dappled shade. The more sun they get, the more blooms they will produce. However, they will bake in our afternoon summer sun. So, an ideal place to plant them is underneath deciduous trees which allow them to get maximum sunlight while they are growing in the late fall, winter and early spring and protects them from the brutal summer sun. Columbine have shallow roots, so they do well under trees with large roots. Water regularly and fertilize with a good organic fertilizer like Microlife. Columbine plants love moist, but well-drained, sandy soil. You may or may not choose to deadhead your columbine flowers. If you don’t deadhead, the resulting seed production will sap the strength of your columbine plants, and they will decline and die out in about 3 years. But, columbine flowers are prolific re-seeders, so not deadheading will result in plenty of replacement plants. Of course, if you have the same images I do about the munchkins or the young pioneer girl, you probably won’t have the heart to deadhead anyway.
Columbine can be grown from seed or transplant. Columbine seeds need to go through stratification before planting (stratification = simulated winter). This is easier to do than it sounds. Just place the seeds in a sealed plastic bag with moistened vermiculite, sand or a moist paper towel and refrigerate it. Slightly dampen the vermiculite sand or paper to because excessive moisture can cause mold to grow in the bag. These seeds should be left in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks before planting. It is recommended that Yellow Spotlight Columbine seeds be sown indoors (10-12 weeks before average last frost). Yellow Spotlight Columbine is a very hardy variety closely related to the native Hinkley Columbine. Seedlings can be planted outside when they are a few inches tall and have their first pair of leaves.
Columbine plants can be transplanted to a container planting or flowerbed. Columbine are really terrific fillers for container plantings because they have both beautiful flowers and foliage and can even be used in very shallow containers because of their roots do not grow deep. Columbine flowers attract hummingbirds and bees to your garden, so be sure to remember this when deciding where to place your columbine in your garden whether in a pot or in the ground. Columbine plants will dry out more than usual in a container, so mulch is a good idea to keep the moisture in the soil. Using a light layer of mulch around columbine will help prevent drying out and will keep the soil around the plants a little cooler as well.
Columbine will spread quickly once they are established in a garden, so plant them about 1 foot apart in a raised bed. Pruning of established columbine plants can be done in early spring before buds emerge. Don’t be afraid to prune because pruning will encourage lots of new growth. Don’t prune in the fall, new growth will be very cold sensitive. Columbine are perennial and you can extend their short lives a little by digging them up and dividing every couple of years, but they will not last forever. No worries, it’s so easy to start them again and their amazing blooms are so worth the effort.