Columbine Flowers: How To Plant, Grow And Care For Them!

Petite and colorful, columbine flowers overflow with whimsy and beauty.  

A romantic and old fashioned flower, columbine plants are herbaceous perennials capable of reseeding themselves.  These easy growers burst to life in early spring and can tolerate both partial shade and full sun.  

pink columbine flower up close next to a pink columbine plant with flower stalks

They may look dainty, but columbine flowers pack a gardening punch: they are deer resistant, one of the earliest spring bloomers, and attract hummingbirds and butterflies.  

As short-lived perennials you can count on columbine blooming for several seasons. They will live for 3 to 5 years. Columbine plants are hardy and easy to grow, making them a great perennial plant for any garden.

Columbine are a charming plant with elfin flowers that burst to life in early spring.  These beautiful flowering perennials love moist soil and can tolerate sun. They are a perfect addition for cottage gardens.  

Learn everything you need to grow columbine flowers successfully in this step-by-step guide to planting, growing and caring for columbine flowers.

pink columbine flowers growing in early spring

Get our list of other irresistible spring perennial flowers here.

About Columbine

Columbine grow in fields, meadows and woodland areas. The Latin name for columbine is Aquilegia vulgaris, which means eagle. This is a reference to the spur at the end of the flower hooked plants, which has the appearance an eagle claw.  

Columbine sometimes go by the common name Crowfoot or Granny’s bonnet. These beauties are known for their bonnet shaped flowers that have a hook shape at the end of each petal.  

Columbine plants are in the buttercup family and native species thrive in natural areas across North America.

pink columbine flower that has not opened yet

Though they are a short lived perennial, columbine will self seed easily.  They have shiny black seeds that fall from dry seed pods at the end of the season.  

Columbine flowers are herbaceous perennials and grow best in zones 3-8.  They can also be grown in zone 9 if planted in a shaded area. (Find your zone here).

There are 70 different varieties of columbines, featuring a wide range of colors and different floral shapes. They are considered a perennial herb and can tolerate full sun to shade.  

Wild columbine can be found growing in woodlands, rocky areas and cleared mountainside slopes.  Columbine are native plants throughout Eastern United States and parts of Southern Canada. 

These unique flowers are often used to add charm and a little whimsy to flowers beds.  Since they bloom early in the season, they are perfect for adding color to an early spring flower garden.  The flowers will last until early summer.

Columbine are a great source of food for pollinators: they attract both hummingbirds and bees as a source of delicious nectar. 

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know to grow and care for columbine flowers.

What Do Columbine Flowers Look Like?

Columbine plants feature unique flowers that are unlike any other!   

Columbine flowers showcase elongated flower heads with four to five petals.  These petals are long and tubular in shape, with five backward extending tubes. The hollow tubes are referred to as spurs. Each spur has hooks at the end (these are most apparent before the flower head opens up).  

two photos: a pink columbine about to bloom one one side, then a pink columbine flower that has bloomed on the other side.

The center of the flower features colorful yellow stamen, which produce pollen.  The flower heads sit atop long stems.  The flower stalks are long and thin, adding an elegant touch to this versatile plant.  

Flower petals can feature two different colors, such as light pink and dark pink or two shades of blue.

The flowers are resplendent in red, pink, blue, light blue, yellow, purple and white colors. Some columbine species feature upward-facing flowers, and others bow their flower heads like a bell.

The entire plant is decorated with attractive foliage.  Their ruffled leaves are a bright green in spring and a vibrant red or purple in fall.  

light blue columbine flowers with green foliage

Columbine plants grow between 12-36″ tall and their foliage can take up about 18 inches of space. They are the perfect plant for a small space!

Columbine flowers are short lived perennials, which means they usually live for about 3 years.

They are self seeding and if seed heads are left on the plant and fall on the soil surface, you will probably end up with new volunteer plants the following spring.

Colors + Varieties Of Columbine Plants

Columbine flowers come in a wide variety of different colors and shapes.  There are about 70 different species of columbine to choose from. Here are a few of the more well known columbine flowers:

Golden Columbine

Golden columbine are a perky yellow variety that are held upright on long slender stalks with bi colored yellow flowers. They are native to moisture laden North American canyons.

This columbine variety does not enjoy excessive sunlight and attracts many pollinators: moths, butterflies and hummingbirds to name a few!  They are adaptable to gardens, but add a layer of mulch to help conserve moisture during hot summer months.

Eastern Red Columbine

This popular columbine features red bell shaped flowers.  According to the University of Wisconsin:  “Red Columbine have 1-2 inch long flowers with 5 yellow petals each with a long, upward pointing, red, nectar-bearing spur”.

This versatile columbine variety can tolerate many different soil types and can thrive in part shade to full sun.  Make sure to give it well drained soil! 

Wild Red Columbine

the flowers and stamen of a pink columbine flower

Nora Barlow Columbine

Nora Barlow columbine feature lovely pink double flowers that sit atop long slender stems. They were bred for cut flower production and do not have spurs.

These flowers are romantic and stunning! As an added bonus Nora Barlow are very easy to grow and can be planted in flower beds and rock gardens. This low maintenance columbine variety will bloom for 4-6 weeks.

When Do Columbine Bloom?

Columbine flowers bloom from mid spring to early summer (or late spring, depending on how hot your climate is!).  They typically bloom in the months of April, May, and early June.

Columbine plants may bloom for 4 to 6 weeks in one season.

These enchanting plants are self seeding and will easily spread if you choose not to dead head the plant.  Columbine can tolerate shade, dappled sunlight, and in cooler climates can handle full sun.

Growing tip:  Establish a colony of plants for a bold impact in early spring. Planting columbine flowers in masse will provide a lovely swatch of color in early spring. Not only that, but hundreds of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will flock to your columbine garden!

Caring For Columbine

Columinbe plants are low maintenance and easy to grow. Learn how to provide the right soil, light and water for them here:


Columbine prefer part shade or dappled shade, but they can also grow in full sun. As early bloomers they prefer a cool place in which to grow.

 Full sun with lots of heat can cause Columbine to become dormant and the foliage to burn, and an overly shaded area can limit the beautiful blooms of the columbine. 

The best light for columbine flowers is a spot where they will get lots of morning sun with some afternoon shade to cool them down.  

Keep in mind your local environment.  If you live in a zone with moderate temperatures, you may be able to grow columbine in full sun with no problem!  And if you live in a hot climate, full sun may slow down columbine’s bloom time and burn the foliage of the plant. 

Remember, columbine flowers can do well in a sunny location but do not enjoy excessive heat.

Get more beginner flower gardening tips here!

yellow and pink columbine flowers


Columbine flowers crave moist soil that is well draining.  Though they enjoy lots of water and soil that is kept damp, they do NOT like swampy soil and soil that does not drain well. 

Look for soil that is humus rich and has average fertility.  This means that the nutrient level is balanced, and the soil is full of organic matter.  You do not need a super rich soil chock full of nutrients in order for columbine to thrive!   

Amend clay soils with organic matter and perlite to increase drainage and nutrients.  If the soil is sandy, add in compost and organic matter to improve the nutrients in the soil.

The soil pH level for columbine should be between 6.8 and 7.  For best results, always use well draining soil and avoid soggy areas and clay soils. 

If you need more shade plant ideas, read about wild bleeding heart here!

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blooming pink columbine flowers

Watering Columbine

Young columbine plants need watered regularly. Established plants are drought tolerant!

In order to thrive, columbine flowers need to be watered regularly while becoming established. Their root system needs to have sufficient drainage and air flow in order to develop.

Young plants need to be kept consistently moist.

Columbine flowers thrive in moist soil and new columbine plants should be checked regularly to make sure they have plenty of water.  As the plants grow and mature they will require less water.  

Water columbine plants with a long, deep drink.  This is preferable to short soaks because a deeper drink will encourage the plant to develop a larger root system.

Shallow watering sessions will cause the plant to develop a shallow root system.  The plant will be less drought tolerant and more prone to disease.

Once established, columbine are actually drought tolerant!

During hot weather you can water columbine flowers about once a week.  Check the soil for dampness and when the top few inches of soil are dry give the plant a deep soak.  As the weather cools in late fall and rains come in you can stop watering the plant.

If grown in a pot or container, columbine flowers will need more water. Containers do not retain water as well as ground soil does.  Make sure the container has drainage holes at the bottom and check the soil moisture regularly.  Water deeply when the top few inches are dry.

Temperatures For Columbine Flowers

Columbine plants thrive in moderate temperatures.  They bloom in spring to early summer when the temperatures are still gentle and mild!

 As summer heats up, the plant stops blooming.  And columbine plants become dormant when frosts begin to hit in late fall.

As a herbaceous perennial, Columbine will die back to the ground every year when frosts hit. The foliage will decay in the cold temperatures but the plant’s deep root system will remain viable, and ready to bloom in the second year.

Columbine plants are a hardy perennial and can typically handle frosts, though they lose their foliage in autumn.  In climates with cold temperatures, you can mulch around the base of the plant to protect it from harsh frosts.  This can be especially beneficial during the plant’s first year.  

In warmer areas, no special treatment is needed to over winter columbine plants.


Generally speaking columbine are light feeders and do not need fertilizer if grown in adequate soil.  When growing in pots and containers, fertilizer can be added to support bloom reproduction. 

If desired, a light fertilizer can be applied to columbine to encourage robust blooming.  The best time to do this is in early spring when the plant is just beginning to grow.  

During early spring the plant can use the extra nutrients to building it’s root system and flower development.  We recommend using a balanced fertilizer such as Dr. Earth Flower Bud + Bloom.

Deadheading Columbine Flowers

Deadheading spent flowers on a columbine plant may extend the flowering season.  The plant can take the energy it was using on seed production and use it for flower production.

Watch for the flowers to wilt and fade.  Then pinch the flower at the base of the plant to remove it.  Make sure to remove the entire flower head, not just the petals.

If you remove all the flowers from the parent plant, it will not have seeds to spread.  You can leave a few flowers or plants to develop ripened seed pods for additional plants the following year.

Pruning flower stalks: Once all of the flowers have bloomed, cut all the flower stalks back to their base leaves.  This may encourage another rush of beautiful flowers.

 pink and white columbine flowers

The Best Place To Plant Columbine

The best spot to plant Columbine is in an area with well draining humus rich soil.

An area where the plant will receive morning sun and afternoon shade can be ideal- especially if you live in a hot climate!   Look for partial or dappled light.  

A tip from the garden: Columbine can grow well if you have a spot that will be full sun in early spring but shade later in the season.  Look for a spot that has a tree that hasn’t fully leafed out yet.  This spot can give the columbine flowers ample sun when they are blooming, and shade as the season gets hotter.  

Columbine are popularly featured in romantic cottage gardens, rock gardens, and English styled gardens.

How To Plant Columbine

Planting columbine is very simple, follow these steps to plant your columbine flowers from a pot:

  • First make sure you pick the right location for your new plants.  Moderately fertile and well-drained soil is a must.  Choose a spot with dappled or light shade.  
    Plant columbine starts in the spring after the last frost.
  • Dig a hole that is twice as big as the container. 
  • Add bone meal to the bottom of the hole and mix into the soil.  (Bone meal adds nutrients to the soil that will help the roots thrive).
  • Adjust the plant so the root ball is level with the surface of the soil.  The base of the plant should be level with the top of the hole.  Fill in with additional soil, patting it down as you go.
  • Water in your newly planted columbine by giving it a deep soak. 

Water frequently for the first few months while your new columbine plant gets established. Once the plant is established water just once a week during dry weather!

Planting Columbine In Pots + Containers

Brighten up your doorstep in spring with a beautiful display of flowering columbine! Columbine can easily be grown in medium sized pots and containers.  

Growing columbine in a pot has several advantages: you can easily check the water level of the plant and you can move it into a shaded area when the heat of summer intensifies!

How To Plant Columbine In A Container:

  • Choose a container that has visible drainage holes.  Never use a pot that has not drainage available!
  • Make sure to use a container that is at least three times as large as the plant’s root ball
  • Use a reputable potting mix that has good drainage and moderate fertility.  We have used Miracle Gro with good results.  (Do not use dirt from your yard or garden, please!).
  • Mix bone meal into the soil for an added boost of nutrients for the plants roots
  • Gently break up the roots of your plant before placing into pot
  • Fill in the container with potting soil

Always give a newly potted plant a deep drink!

When To Prune Columbine Foliage 

Pruning columbine can be done in late fall when the plant begins to go dormant.  The old dead foliage can also be pruned in early spring, which will make way for the new growth that springtime brings.  

Did you know?  If you let the seed pods on a columbine plant develop and dry, you can collect and sow seeds throughout your garden.   Seeds can typically be collected in mid to late summer.  Store columbine seedlings in plastic bags and give them to friends or plant in new locations.

red and white columbine flower

Using Columbine As Cut Flowers

Columbine can make an excellent cut flower!  Vase life can last for up to a week, and the flowers are available in a wide variety of colors.  

These excellent perennials will re appear each spring, giving you a fresh batch of spring color for spring decor.  

Extend the vase life of your flowers by removing any foliage submerged in water.  It’s also a good idea to keep your arrangement out of direct sunlight and in a cool area.

Growing Columbine From Seeds

Columbine flowers naturally and easily re seed themselves.  You can join in the fun by collecting columbine seeds and re planting them.  You can also purchase columbine seeds and plant them yourself!

pink columbine flowers

Common Pests + Diseases

Though Columbine are hardy and easy to grow, there are a few pests and diseases to watch out for.  Fungal disease and leaf miners are two common columbine plights to keep an eye out for.
Leaf miners:  Columbine leaf miners are small black insects that lay their eggs on columbine leaves.  The larvae of leaf miners feed on the columbine plant leaves, disfiguring them.  They then cut a crescent shaped hole and pupate on the leaves.  

The insects live inside the leaves, wrecking destruction within. The plant can endure up to five life cycles of leaf miner during their growing season!

​Leaf miners can be managed naturally with Neem oil.  You can also pick off any leaves that show signs of leaf miners early in the season and continue to keep an eye on the plants.   The best way to is to keep the garden clean and to remove any signs of the insects at the beginning of the season.

You can cut off badly damaged leaves, otherwise the leaf damage will not go away until new foliage emerges the following spring.  

Fungal disease:

Columbine can be prone to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.  Powdery mildew causes white powdery spots to form on the leaves. Spores spread from leaf to leaf and plant to plant.

The best way to prevent powdery mildew is to make sure plants have adequate spacing and good air circulation.  Milk water can be an effective remedy for powdery mildew.  Dilute milk with water and spray on plants at the beginning of the season. 

Hot, dry summers can encourage powdery mildew.  

The easiest way to treat pests and disease on columbine is to prevent it in the first place!  Give your plant good air circulation, the right amount of water and good drainage.  Water your plant in the morning to prevent powdery mildew and other fungal infections.  Use organic pesticides at the first sign of an infestation.  

FAQ’s On Columbine Flowers

Do columbines like full sun or shade?

Columbine flowers are flexible: they can tolerate full sun, light shade, and dappled shade. They do not like heat, however. So choose a spot that will be cool all summer long. In cooler climates columbine can tolerate full sun!

Do columbine come back every year?

Columbine flowers are a short lived perennial. They will come back every year for 3-5 years. After this time frame the plant will die. Luckily columbine self seed and will readily plant new seeds that can grow and mature into new plants.

Do you cut back columbine after blooming?

Yes, once the flowers have bloomed you can cut the flower stalk at the nearest set of healthy leaves. This may promote the growth of new flowers, extending the columbine bloom time!

Final Thoughts

Columbine flowers light up spring with their gorgeous flowers.  

These plants may look dainty and feminine, but they are a resilient perennial: columbine are deer resistant, relatively disease resistant, and tolerate dappled shade to full sun.  Columbine require very little care but offer a bright and eye-catching display of flowers each year. 

To care for columbine, give them them well drained soil with moderate fertility. Space them well. Water new plants well and keep an eye out for pests!

​Columbine flowers are a delight to the eye and so easy to grow- give them a try this spring!

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