Columbines are prolific re-seeders, producing hundreds to thousands of viable seeds per plant. However, various environmental factors can prevent them from germinating. That’s why many gardening enthusiasts wonder how long these seeds can last on the ground or in storage.
Columbine seeds typically last three years when stored indoors in cool, dry conditions. Their viability significantly decreases with each passing year, making it almost impossible to germinate seeds older than three years old. On the ground, they last much shorter, depending on various factors.
This article will discuss in more detail the shelf life of columbine seeds and the factors that can affect their viability when stored at home or left in the ground. Read on to learn more about how to make the most out of your seed collection.
The Shelf Life of Columbine Seeds
Not all columbine seeds will grow identically as the mother plant, especially for hybrids. Still, it’s exciting to see what the new plants will look like, and they often come as a wonderful surprise.
Since it’s impossible to have all of them sprout at once, you can store some for future use or send them to friends and family as a gift. But before storing them, it’s essential to understand the mechanism involved in their germination to ensure they remain viable.
Like all plants that require cold stratification to germinate, columbine seeds have a tough seed coat that needs specific chemical reactions to break open and allow the plant to sprout (source). These reactions are sensitive to the following factors:
Under unsuitable conditions, the seeds might germinate prematurely or fail to germinate at all. But if kept in favorable conditions, they can last up to three years (source).
Therefore, it’s crucial to prepare the seeds properly for storage. You can follow the steps below:
- Wait for the flowers to dry up after the flowering season. They usually swell as they go to seed. The petals will become individual seed pods containing ten or more seeds each. When they turn brown and crisp, that’s your sign to harvest them.
- Cut off the pointed tips of the pods. That will reveal the columbine seeds. Pour them out onto a clean and dry paper towel and spread them out evenly. Green seeds must be discarded because they’re not mature enough and likely won’t mature in storage. You’ll want to keep dark, shiny seeds.
- Let the seeds dry for at least one week. Although the pods are dry and crisp, the seeds might still contain some moisture that can invite molds while in storage. Therefore, you must leave them to dry on a paper towel in a well-ventilated area of your home. Keep them away from kids and pets because they can sometimes be toxic (source).
- Store the seeds in airtight containers. Once thoroughly dry, place the seeds in a zip-lock bag or a mason jar and put them inside a cool and dry cabinet.
Although you’re keeping your columbine seeds in a suitable environment, I’d still recommend planting them the following growing season. Otherwise, they’ll gradually lose their vigor, reducing your chances of successfully germinating them.
Don’t worry about disposing of older seeds because columbine plants produce lots of them every year. You can just repeat the process discussed above until you’re ready to use your new batch of seeds.
The Lifespan of Columbine Seeds in the Ground
Columbine seeds can remain viable in the ground for about one to two years, depending on the environmental conditions. This shorter lifespan is primarily due to the fact that they’re exposed to more elements that can significantly reduce their viability, including the following:
- Excess moisture from rainfall or regular watering routine
- Light intensity
- High temperatures
- Low temperatures
- Birds or insects that can feed on them
- Soil pathogens (source)
The seed’s tough coat should be able to withstand some of these factors, but repeated exposure to these stressors can negate its defenses.
When left on the ground, some seeds may germinate. Columbines may even become invasive in regions where the climate and soil conditions are optimal due to their strong re-seeding behavior.
It’s also difficult to determine whether the new growths are from last summer’s seeds or the summer from way back.
How Long Can Columbines Go Before They Need Re-Seeding?
Despite being perennial plants, columbines are relatively short-lived. They typically don’t flower until their second year and often live only three years. That said, an average columbine plant can produce flowers and seeds only twice before they die.
That should also explain why they produce hundreds of seeds after every flowering season. It helps ensure that the species survives. Ironically, however, they cross-pollinate effectively, resulting in seeds often growing into a species entirely different from the mother plant (source).
It’s also worth noting that although most gardeners aim to see beautiful flowers from their columbine plants, the process of producing flowers and seeds can take its toll on the plant, resulting in loss of vigor sooner.
So if you want your columbine to live longer and produce blooms for many more years, deadhead your plant before it goes to seed. That way, the plant can save energy before going dormant in the cold season.
Leave the flowers to dry on the plant only if you want to collect the seeds and grow them in the spring.
Columbine plants are famous for producing lots of seeds, allowing you to share their beauty with friends and family. However, columbine seeds don’t remain viable for a long time, requiring you to plant them as soon as possible if you want better chances of them sprouting.
These seeds are also sensitive to light, moisture, and temperature, which can reduce their viability drastically. In worst cases, improper storage practices may encourage premature germination or prevent sprouting.
So follow the tips above to maximize the shelf life of your columbine seeds.