How to Grow Aquilegia common name Columbine

Aquilegia is an easy to grow, spring flowering perennial whose common name is Columbine. Aquilegia has delicate, nodding flowers which can be single, as illustrated far left A. vulgaris, double illustrated center A. 'Nora Barlow' and multi coloured illustrated right with Aquilegia 'Swan Lavender' a real favourite. 

 Aquilegia requires very little attention and is not fussy about their growing conditions, making them a green wheelbarrow plant showing they are easy to grow. Aquilegia has attractive leaves at the base of the plant, with a long stem supporting delicate flowers, as shown in the images. The image far left shows the Aquilegia 'Swan lavender' with variegated Euonymus, and a deciduous yellow rhododendron, R luteum (which is one of the few scented Rhododendrons,) which makes a lovely bright yellow spring combination. 

 Aquilegia tends to self seed, and if you do not want them popping up where they are not wanted, it's best to remove the seed heads. In common with some Hellebores, the flower heads hang down, which can make it difficult to see the delicate beauty of the flowers. Although the foliage on Aquilegia fades and dies back, they are not a herbaceous perennial, as they do not die back completely to bare earth in the winter. 

After flowering, the foliage becomes pale and is best cut off and the plant will grow fresh foliage in late summer /autumn. An advantage of growing Aquilegia is that they flower reliably year after year. Aquilegia varies in size. On average, they grow to around 60-70 cms, which suggests Aquilegia they are best placed in the middle of the border in terms of height.

The foliage of Aquilegia is attractive, with delicate leaves illustrated below right.

There is a scented variety called Aquilegia 'fragrans' which has white /cream flowers. There are many varieties to choose from and all Aquilegia flower from flower from April, to June, depending on the variety.

If Aquilegia is not the plant for you, check out summer flowering plantsspring flowering plantsscented plants and climbing plants for more ideas.

How and Where to plant Aquilegia

Aquilegia is a versatile plant which will grow in sun or semishade. It grows best in a light soil, but this is not essential. There is little of note about their growing conditions because Aquilegia is an unfussy plant. The less there is to say about a plant, the easier the plant to grow; which means from this short description that Aquilegia is easy to grow, and is a reliable garden plant flowering year after year. All varieties are fully hardy between H5- H7 which is hardy down to around -15 which covers most of the UK. 

Aquilegia can be planted any time during the growing season from late February through to November and they will establish themselves. Aquilegia are tough plants requiring little attention.  They require no pruning although around June on wards the foliage can look untidy. Cutting it back will tidy up the plant and the plant will soon produce new foliage. 

Aquilegia is pretty and the various images on this page illustrate just a few of the many types and colours. 

Aquilegia vulgaris is the wild species which is usually blue, illustrated above right.

Above in the centre image is one of the double flower varieties, this is A. 'Nora Barlow' also known as 'granny's bonnet' and are one of the shorter lived varieties, although its preponderance to self seed means this is not too much of a problem.

How to Grow Aquilegia from seed

Aquilegia seed heads

Aquilegia is easy to grow from seed, either packet seed purchased from a garden supplier or you can collect seed. Since Aquilegia freely self seed, they also grow themselves from seed.

To grow from seed, sow into trays or small pots in an unheated greenhouse from late winter onward and leave to germinate. Aquilegia often needs a period of cold to encourage germination. You can also sow in the spring or early summer, and if they fail to germinate after a few months, put the seed tray in the fridge with moist compost for at least 4 weeks.  As with all seeds, once they have germinated, Aquilegia seeds need to be thinned out and replanted into small pots. 

Aquilegia seed heads are illustrated in the right of the image, and if you are collecting your own seed, it is best to wait until the seed heads look similar to the image. That is dry and turned brown. Aquilegia seeds are small and black. Small seed is more difficult to handle, but it makes a difference if you can to sow the seed thinly because it will avoid a bunch of seed germinating in a clump which is then difficult to thin out. If collecting your own seed, note that Aquilegias will hybridise and are unlikely to look like the parent plant. This means if you want a particular variety, it is best to buy commercial seed.

Images of Aquilegia

Aquilegia with pretty pink flowers

Aquilegia with pretty pink flowers

Aquilegia alpina

Aquilegia alpina

Aquilegia has attractive foliage

Aquilegia vulgaris plena

Aquilegia vulgaris plena

Aquilegia swan red and white

Aquilegia red and white

Aquilegia caerulea 'Blue Star'

Aquilegia caerulea 'Blue Star'

Green wheelbarrow means easy to grow

Green wheelbarrow shows Aquilegia is easy to grow and maintenance free.

Last updated 16.02.2022