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Columbines are prized for their unique flowers that people liken to a bonnet or rocket. They’re also highly likely to cross-pollinate with nearby columbines of various cultivars, leading to hybrids with even more beautiful blooms. So, if you can’t wait for your plant to bloom, you’ve come to the right place!
You can get your columbine to bloom the first year by dividing mature plants in late spring or early summer. You can then grow these plants in a cool, shady area in your garden. If the conditions are right, they’ll bloom in the fall. Otherwise, they’ll produce flowers next spring.
Although there’s no guarantee that your columbine will bloom the first year regardless of the propagation method, there are still ways to improve your chances of seeing these sought-after blooms sooner. This article will guide you through it, so read until the end.
1. Look for Healthy Divisions Alongside Your Mature Plant
If you’ve recently been to a friend’s home in spring and were in awe of their colorful columbine flowers, you may be dreaming of the same plants gracing your garden.
You can ask your friend if you can collect some small plants around the mother plant. And if your friend permits, you don’t have to wait until next spring to get them to bloom in your garden.
Remember that columbine plants need a certain size and level of maturity to produce flowers — neither of which they can get in their first year when grown from seeds (source). Unfortunately, there’s no way around it.
On the other hand, collecting small divisions from a friend’s or a neighbor’s mature plant will likely give you columbine flowers the first year you transplant them in your garden. Although it’s technically not the plant’s first year, it’s your first year.
You can get divisions until early in the summer, but for best results, do it in mid-spring — ideally May or June, depending on your region. A good rule of thumb is not to wait until temperatures exceed 86 °F (30°C).
Aim for divisions with at least five healthy stems, each containing at least two leaves. They should also be six inches (15 cm) tall for shorter varieties and one foot (30 cm) for taller varieties.
Also, avoid stems with yellowing and pest-infested leaves. Choose sections with healthy bluish-green leaves.
Water the plant deeply and wait three days before collecting the chosen section.
2. Carefully Separate the Roots
Some people may think it’s better to propagate some cuttings instead. Although this propagation method works well for some plants, most Aquilegia species don’t reproduce vegetatively (source).
They’re best propagated through seeds or root division, with each method having its downsides.
A major challenge when propagating columbines through division is how difficult it is to separate the long, fibrous roots without injuring the plant. However, with enough patience, you can collect healthy divisions.
Uprooting the plant to get suitable divisions may seem like the best course of action to reduce plant injury, but you’ll be surprised how sturdy some cultivars can be.
Using a well-oiled and sharpened shovel, you can dig at least four inches (10 cm) deep and a few inches around the section you want to get. The shovel will neatly separate the roots of your division from the mother plant.
Dig the soil out along with the root ball, and refill the hole with fresh soil.
3. Plant the Division in a Pot With Moist Soil
With the root ball still bound to the soil, transplant the division into a large pot with moist soil similar to the one in the garden. Alternatively, you can use a well-draining potting mix rich in organic matter, such as compost. The compost will provide the plant with nutrients for healthy growth.
The pot should be at least 12 inches (30 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) deep. Remember that columbine plants grow long roots that bury deep into the ground. As such, they need enough space to spread.
Water the plant deeply to help it settle into its new pot. Keep the soil moist for three to four weeks as the plant develops new shoots. However, you must avoid waterlogging in the soil. You can use a breathable pot with adequate drainage holes to remove excess water.
4. Place the Pot in a Partially Shaded Area
An advantage of growing your columbine division in a pot is that you can move it conveniently around your garden to meet its light requirements. Although some columbine cultivars can thrive in full sun (source), many prefer partial shade, especially in the middle of summer.
An eastern part of your garden that receives adequate morning sunlight and afternoon shade is the perfect spot for your columbine. But if you don’t have such a setup at home, you can move the pot under the shade after giving it at least six hours of light daily.
5. Water the Plant Adequately
Established columbines can tolerate dry soil between watering. Conversely, newly divided ones need constantly moist but not soggy soil. Water your plant when the soil’s top 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) is dry.
Once the plant has grown at least six inches (15 cm) more, you can revert to normal watering. This means you can deeply water the plant once a week.
However, if the temperatures are too high, make it a habit to check the soil and see if the upper 2 (5 cm) is dry. If so, it’s time to water your plant deeply again.
Read our guide on the signs of overwatering plants to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
6. Add a Balanced Fertilizer
When planted in rich soil, columbines don’t require regular fertilizer feedings. However, actively growing potted columbines may need more nutrients, especially if you hope to see them bloom in the first year.
Wait until the plant has grown more stems and around six inches (15 cm) more in height before feeding it fertilizer. You can apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer only once during the growing season.
If your plant doesn’t bloom in the summer, it’ll likely bloom in early fall if the temperatures are warm enough. This is highly like in regions with moderate summers and winters.
Growing columbines and hoping they bloom in their first year requires patience and, sometimes, a series of trials and errors. In addition, the climate in your region can also play a significant role in whether or not you’ll succeed in your goal.
Still, it’s worth trying using the steps discussed above. Even if you fail to make your columbines bloom in the summer or early fall, rest assured that they will bloom the following spring.