Columbine plants produce colorful blooms in the spring. When planted from seeds, it can take up to two years for columbine plants to flower. That’s why some gardeners are curious if it’s possible to propagate columbine by taking cuttings and rooting them in water.
Columbine can be rooted in water, although it isn’t necessary because the plant actively reseeds in the summer or fall. Still, if you want to skip cold stratifying the seeds, you can root healthy cuttings in water. However, this doesn’t guarantee that your plant will bloom in the next season.
This article will explain how to ensure columbine cuttings grow healthy roots in water. I’ll also share the best way to propagate columbines.
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How Do You Root Columbine?
Rooting columbine in water is extremely challenging but still possible for some cultivars. However, most varieties are difficult or impossible to propagate vegetatively (source).
Since there are over 60 varieties of this plant, it’s hard to give a definitive list of those that can root in water successfully. Finding the suitable species and the best method of vegetative propagation takes patience and lots of trial and error.
In addition, columbines are predominantly short-lived perennial plants that typically only last three years. Proper care and environmental conditions can help the plant live well over five years.
Still, being short-lived perennials, columbines tend to lose vigor after having two blooming seasons. That’s why taking cuttings as a method of propagation isn’t recommended.
If you want to try rooting columbine in water, you can follow the steps below:
- Choose a healthy, mature plant. Collect healthy cuttings from mature plants that had one successful blooming season. In addition, choose a plant that’s at least two years old and free of pests and diseases. A plant over four years old isn’t a good idea because the plant might already be too weak.
- Collect 6-inch (15 cm) cuttings. In spring or early summer, when the plants are actively growing and at least a foot (30 cm) tall, find a stem with at least three healthy compound leaves. Cut at least 6 inches (15 cm) of stem at a 45-degree angle using a sterile pair of pruning shears. Cut just a quarter inch (0.6 cm) below the node.
- Soak the cutting in a clear glass of water. Remove the bottom leaves and place the cutting in a glass of room temperature (68–77°F / 20–25°C) distilled water. Ensure that none of the remaining leaves are touching the water. You can place a pair of chopsticks on either side of the stem to prevent the bottom from touching the glass. Replace the water every three days.
- Place the setup in moderate sunlight indoors. Don’t place the glass immediately next to a bright window. Too much sunlight can be bad for columbines. You can set it at least a meter (3.3 ft) away from an eastern window. If the sun is too bright, you can place a light curtain to filter it.
In about two weeks, your cutting should grow roots. But don’t worry if it doesn’t. It might be because the cultivar isn’t suited for propagation through stems or the plant has lost its vigor. As previously mentioned, it can take plenty of trial and error.
But if your columbine successfully roots, wait until the roots are at least 4 inches (10 cm) long. Columbines have long fibrous roots and need healthy ones to establish themselves in the soil. Even sprouted seedlings and rhizome cuttings may struggle to survive when transplanted (source).
Transplant your rooted cuttings in a breathable pot with a drainage hole. Use a fertile and well-draining substrate for better chances of your young plant surviving (source).
Keep the young plant indoors until it grows more leaves and reaches about a foot (30 cm) tall. You can then move the pot outdoors in a partially shaded area of your garden. If the conditions are right, your plant might even bloom in the late summer or early fall.
What Is the Best Way To Propagate Columbines?
The best way to propagate columbines is through seeds. After the blooming season, the plant drops its seeds to the ground (source). If your area has a suitable climate to give the seeds the cold period they need to germinate, they’ll happily sprout in the spring.
Columbine plants can even be invasive and quickly fill your garden with seedlings. Although the new ones might not produce blooms their first year, their blue-green foliage can still add a distinct appeal to your garden. And by the following year, your garden will be filled with colorful blooms.
Cold-Stratifying Columbine Seeds at Home
If your region has warm winters, columbine seeds might struggle to germinate and remain dormant in the soil. In that case, you can cold-stratify the seeds yourself. It can be troublesome, but it’ll be worth it. Here’s how:
- Wait until the seed pods dry up enough on the plant.
- Collect the seed pods before the seeds fall off.
- Nip the tip of the pods to release the dark seeds.
- Store the seeds in a mason jar in a cool, dry place (away from direct sunlight) in your home until January or February.
- Transfer the seeds to a zip lock bag with moistened vermiculite.
- Place the bag in the refrigerator and keep it at 40°F (4.4°C) for four to six weeks.
After the last spring frost, when temperatures remain stable above 68°F (20°C), you can sow the seeds directly into your garden. Depending on the columbine cultivar, you may need to choose a partially shaded part of your garden. Don’t cover the seeds with soil to allow them to germinate.
Alternatively, you can plant the seeds in a pot of rich, well-draining soil. In this case, however, you may need to replenish the soil nutrients when the plant starts blooming.
You can use a balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the blooming season or a granular fertilizer once when the buds start to form.
Columbines have a higher chance of success when grown from seeds. Not many cultivars respond well to vegetative reproduction and, therefore, won’t root in water. Still, some hybrids may show favorable growth when rooted in water.
Follow the steps detailed above, and your columbine just might successfully grow healthy roots and be ready for transplant.
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