Aquilegia – planting and care, growing from seeds

Aquilegia flowerAquilegia plant, or columbine, or granny’s bonnet, belongs to the genus of herbaceous perennials in the family Ranunculaceae. According to various sources, there are from 60 to 120 species of this plant that grow in the mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere. About 35 species are cultivated. There are different points of views as for the origin of the Latin name: some argue that it is formed by the words “aqua” (water) and “legere” (to collect), while others believe that the name is derived from the word “aquila” that means "eagle". Aquilegia has long been known in the floriculture and beyond. It is mentioned in literature, for example, in “Hamlet” Ophelia offers her brother Laertes a columbine flower (aquilegia in England). And the flower of aquilegia symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit in the paintings of medieval artists.

Description of aquilegia flower

Aquilegia flowers have a two-year cycle of development: in the first year, at the base of the shoot, there is a bud of growth from which after flowering a basal rosette is formed in autumn. In spring the leaves of this rosette die off and a second generation of leaves appears forming a rosette from the center of which a flower stalk appears with stem leaves and flowers. Rosette leaves of aquilegia are on long petioles, twice or thrice triple-dissected, and the stem leaves are sessile, triple. Flowers of aquilegia are single, drooping. Depending on the species and varieties, the flowers differ in size and color as they can be blue, yellow, white, crimson, violet, bicoloured, and also they can be of a mixture of colors. The flowers of many species have spurs that are hollow outgrowths of petals or sepals, in which nectar accumulates. Spur species include European and American species of aquilegia – Alpine, glandulosa, olympica and European, as well as blue, Canadian, skinneri, golden and Californian aquilegia. The Japanese and Chinese species of aquilegia have flowers without spurs. The fruit of aquilegia is a follicle, small shiny black poisonous seeds retain their germination qualities for about a year.

Purple Aquilegia

Growing of aquilegia from seeds

How to grow aquilegia from seeds? The best time to sow aquilegia seeds in the soil is immediately after their harvesting, and in spring, when the sprouts emerge, transplant them to a permanent place. But if you have to postpone the sowing until spring, then store the seeds at a low temperature. For the aquilegia seeds not to loose their germination qualities, they are mixed with the soil and stored in a refrigerator. In March, the seeds are cleaned from the soil, sown in boxes with a well-tamped, poured, light substrate of humus, sand and leaf soil in equal proportions. The seeds are covered with a 0.11 inch layer of sieved soil and the box is covered with a newspaper or a piece of cloth. Keep containers in a shaded room at a temperature of 61-64 °F, moistening the topsoil from the spray gun as needed. Sprouts usually emerge in a week or two after the day of sowing. When the first pair of true leaves appears, and this usually happens in late April or early May, the seedlings are transplanted into more nutritious loamy soil.

Aquilegia flower

Planting of aquilegia

When to plant aquilegia.

In the open ground the shoots of aquilegia are planted in June to grow up in size, so the place is not permanent. Be sure to protect the young shoots from the scorching sun. The young aquilegias that have become stronger are planted on the place where they will grow for several years in August or next spring. An adult aquilegia can grow in a half-shade or in full sun. If growing on brightly lit places, the period of flowering is somewhat shorter, and the flowers are smaller and weaker than of those that grow in the half-shade. Grown from seeds, aquilegia blooms in the second year, and reaches full maturity in the third year.

Аквилегия прекрасная / Crimson columbine

How to plant aquilegia.

Aquilegia is the plant that does not require a good soil, but still it grows better on loose, light, humid humus soils. To improve the composition of the soil, before planting aquilegia, dig over the soil with adding humus or compost at the rate of one bucket of fertilizer per 11 ft³. The depth of digging is about 8 inches. Depending on the variety, there should be 10-12 plants per 11 ft³. Tall species of aquilegia are planted at a distance of 16 inches from each other, short ones are planted at a distance of 10 inches. Note that aquilegia has the ability to scatter seeds into the soil, so be prepared to fight with self-seeding. But some gardeners allow plants to grow self-sown since in 5-6 years, when the bushes grow old and lose their ornamental qualities, they can be removed, leaving the newly grown young plants on the flower bed.

Aquilegia – care

How to take care of aquilegia.

As usual, the main care for aquilegia implies watering, fertilizing, loosening and weeding the soil around the plant during a period of an active growth. Aquilegia likes water, but since the root system goes deep into the ground, it rarely suffers from a lack of moisture, except during a severe drought. Remove the weeds in time, especially when the shoots are young and low; loosen the soil after watering or rain for the moisture not to evaporate from the soil surface quickly and feed the aquilegia to get its best shape. Twice a summer fertilize aquilegia with mineral fertilizers at the beginning of an active growth – 1.8 oz of superphosphate, 0.5 oz of potassium salt and 0.8 oz of saltpeter on 11 ft² and an unconcentrated solution of mullein at a rate of 1 bucket per 11 ft². Two feeding a summer is enough.

Pink aquilegia

Propagation of aquilegia.

In addition to the seed method for propagation aquilegia is also propagated vegetatively through the division of the bush and cuttings. Division of the bush is used only in extreme cases, when it is necessary to preserve some particularly valuable species or variety. The fact is that the root system of aquilegia is placed very deeply, and fragile roots do not tolerate the procedure of transplantation and division. If you still have to apply this method, take 3-5 year old bush in early spring or early autumn, dig it out, very carefully not to damage the small roots, wash them off the soil, cut off all leaves and shoots at a height of 2-2.7 inches, except for two or three the youngest ones, then cut the stem root along in half so that on each side there are two or three buds of growth and a few small roots, the place of cut is processed with crushed coal and plant the pieces into boxes with light but nutritious soil. It is very likely that they will be ill for a long time.

Aquilegia buergeriana

Propagation of aquilegia by cuttings is much easier. In spring, when there are no leaves yet, the young shoot of the aquilegia is cut with a bud of growth, the lower end is processed with a root stimulant and planted in a greenhouse or in the loose soil under a plastic bottle, though river sand somewhere in a shade would be better. It is necessary to water the cutting, without removing the cover that can be removed only in ten days for airing. The rooting takes place in 3-4 weeks, after which the cutting is taken away and transplanted to a permanent place.

Pests and diseases of aquilegia.

The diseases that affect aquilegia are powdery mildew, gray rot and rust. Parts of the plant infected by gray rot should be removed and burned, as well as the leaves covered with stains of rust. Gray rot cannot be cured. Rust can be sprayed with drugs containing sulfur or with a soap solution and copper sulfate. But aquilegia mostly suffers from powdery mildew – on the leaves and stems there is a white fungus deposit, under which the leaves twist, become brown and die. To get rid of the fungus, you need to spray plants with a solution of colloidal sulfur with green soap.

Aquilegia jonesii

The insect enemies of aquilegia are aphids, spider mites, cutworms, and nematodes. To get rid of aphids and spider mite, you should use the drugs containing pirimiphos-methyl, melathion, or yarrow paste that have proved to be very effective. But it is very difficult to fight with nematodes and, as a result, you just have to change the site, and grow on this place the plants that are not afraid of nematodes (they are onions, cereals, garlic). Sick plants are destroyed.

Aquilegia after flowering

When the aquilegia fades, the stems that have lost their ornamentality are cut to the very rosette of the leaves. Parts of healthy plants can be used for compost, and sick plants should be burned to avoid contamination of soil and other plants. If you want to try the seed method of propagation, leave the peduncles with the flowers of the varieties you need for the seeds to ripen, and to avoid self-seeding you should put gauze pouches on the fruit. After flowering, you can do the division of the bush while planting out the plants. At the same time, in September-October, you can sow the seeds.

Purple aquilegia

Aquilegia in winter

There is one more thing that should be done after aquilegia flowering. The fact is that four-five-year-old plants have the roots that stick out from the soil that makes young leaves and shoots suffer, so after removing the peduncle you need to add peat manure compost with humus under the bush to cover these roots. Thus, aquilegia will receive top dressing before winter and at the same time mulch will protect it from frost.

Aquilegia plant

Species of aquilegia

Despite the fact that in the wild there are about 120 species of aquilegia, not so many of them have been cultivated. Mostly cultivated species are:

Alpine aquilegia (Aquilegia alpina)

is a low plant (up to 12 inches) that can grow up to 32 inches in height, if the soil is fertile. The flower of Alpine aquilegia is large, up to 3 inches in diameter, of different shades of blue, spurs are short and curled. This species blooms in late June-early July;

Alpine aquilegia / Aquilegia alpina

Dwarf columbine (Aquilegia flabellata),

or fan columbine is a plant, up to 24 inches in height, with triple long-petioled leaves of the basal rosette. The flowers are 2-2.4 inches in diameter with long, strongly curved spurs. There are from one to five flowers on the peduncle, they are blue-lilac with a white fuzzy trim along the edge. This species of aquilegia is winter hardy, and it quickly grows in size as it is mainly propagated through self-sowing.

Dwarf columbine, or fan columbine / Aquilegia flabellata

European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

is the species that is 16-32 inches tall, the flowers are 2 inches in diameter of different shades of blue and violet, but usually the varieties with flowers of various colors are cultivated. The flowers can be simple, double, with or without spurs. This is the most frost-resistant species of aquilegia and it can tolerate up to -31ºF;

European columbine / Aquilegia vulgaris

Hybrid aquilegia (Aquilegia hybrida),

combines the various varieties obtained mostly through crossing of American and European species. Depending on the variety, it can be from 20 to 40 inches in height. Hybrid aquilegia has the spurs of different length, though there are also varieties without spurs. The flowers are large, up to 3.5 inches in diameter, both simple and double;

Hybrid aquilegia / Aquilegia hybrida

Golden columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)

is the species native to North America that is characterized by large non-drooping golden flowers with long spurs. It is highly winter-hardy, drought-resistant. In our climate zone it is not very popular, but more and more gardeners are getting interested in it.

Golden columbine / Aquilegia chrysantha

Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

is also a North American species with straight spurs and red-yellow flowers. It does not like dry soil, but grows well in the shade. Also, it is not very popular in European gardens;

Canadian columbine / Aquilegia canadensis

Dark columbine (Aquilegia atrata)

is a European species that is 12-32 inches in height. It has bluish leaves and dark purple flowers that are 1.1-1.5 inches in diameter, short curved spurs and prominent stamens. It blooms in late May or early June. It loves half-shade. It is the parent species for breeding varieties with dark flowers. It looks good in floral design and as a cut flower;

Dark columbine / Aquilegia atrata

Aquilegia olympica

is native to the Caucasus, Iran and Asia Minor. It is 12-24 inches tall with densely pubescent stem. The flowers are large, up to 4 inches in diameter, light blue with long spurs. It blooms from mid-May to mid-June;

Aquilegia olympica

Aquilegia skinneri

comes from North America. It is winter-hardy (to 10º F). Flowers are drooping, red-yellow with straight spurs.

Aquilegia skinneri

In addition to the abovementioned species of aquilegia that are of interest to flower growers, there are also such cultivars as oriental columbine, aquilegia parviflora, blue columbine, bicolored aquilegia, Bertoloni columbine, aquilegia glandulosa, aquilegia viridiflora, aquilegia sibirica, aquilegia ecalcarata and some others.

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