How to Grow Stunning, Spurred Columbine Flowers for Butterflies to Love

Updated on July 15, 2019
Casey White profile image

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

If you've admired these unusual flowers in botanical gardens, you don't have to be can grow beautiful columbine flowers just like this one!
If you've admired these unusual flowers in botanical gardens, you don't have to be can grow beautiful columbine flowers just like this one! | Source

Location, Location, Location

How many times have we heard that phrase when determining whether or not a new business will thrive? Location, location, location! If you've read many of my articles, you probably already realize that I find that to be very important when determining if a flower will grow successfully and flourish. By location, however, I'm not talking about the location of the plant in your garden; I am referring to planting the proper flowers in the zones in which they can succeed.

There are thousands of articles on gardening and it is so tempting to try and grow some of the beautiful flowers that we see, but is sometimes not to be (unless you have a greenhouse). If the experts recommend that a flower will grow well in zones 5-8, you are setting yourself up for failure if you insist on trying to successfully grow that flower in zone 3...or zone 10, etc.

Columbine flowers are most successful when they are grown in zones 4-8, and they are very inviting to butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as being resistant to rabbits and deer. You are likely to find them growing all over the United States but they are notorious for interbreeding, which often produces some pretty interesting flowers.

The Fully Bloomed and the Unopened Columbine Flower

There are several different colors of Columbine flowers that you could plant, but as you can see, I tend to favor the yellow ones.
There are several different colors of Columbine flowers that you could plant, but as you can see, I tend to favor the yellow ones. | Source

Easy to Grow From Seed

Columbine plants are pretty easy to grow from seed, and once they are established, you can count on them to multiply. The seeds don't have a short lifespan, so they need not be sown when they are fresh, although fresh seeds may germinate quicker.

I love seeds that can just be strewn about in the garden and don't even require soil on top of them, and Columbine plants can be started just that way. You can toss them about beginning in early spring or mid-summer, and they need plenty of light; however, if you start them from seed, as easy as it is, you still won't see flowers the first year, so if you are not a patient gardener, go ahead and buy some small plants.

The spacing for seeds and pre-established plants is the same—they need to be about 1-2 feet apart.

After your flowers are planted, you must keep them moist until they are well established. Once they are established, simply water them weekly unless you are experiencing a drought period, during which you may need to water them a little more often. If you desire thick foliage and you want bright yellow flowers, you will need to use a water-soluble fertilizer monthly (and, who wants dull flowers)?

Note: Propagation by division is possible but has a low success rate. If, however, you want to try this method, the plants can be gently prized apart in late winter before any new growth starts, then replanted.

Columbine Seeds

Deadheading Columbine Flowers

One thing I truly believe is important in order to have a lovely, successful garden—deadheading. If you don't deadhead your Columbine plants, all that great energy they receive from the sun is just going to waste—learn as much as you can about deadheading and you will be a happy gardener.

I find a lot of people don't understand how to deadhead, so they don't realize the importance of it. The best book I have on columbine plants, which includes detailed information on deadheading, is called Columbines: Aquilegia, Paraquilegia, and Semiaquilegia by Robert Nold. The book has a wealth of information on native and non-native species and Nold uses easy-to-understand language for gardeners with all levels of expertise.

Rocky Mountain columbine flower in blue.
Rocky Mountain columbine flower in blue.

Pesky Pests You Might Find on Your Flowers

Leaf miners are ugly, and they can keep you from having a gorgeous, healthy plant, so be on the lookout for them. Actually, they look like you might have given your three-year-old child a yellowish marker so that they could make squigly designs on the leaves of your Columbine plants. Very unsightly, indeed.

A leaf miner is simply a black fly and the fly itself does no damage to your plant; it's the larva they leave behind that causes the problems. The larva actually bores into the leaf and makes a trail similar to one made on the highway by someone who's had one too many drinks. Once you've identified them as the problem, you can begin working on a solution.

If you have a general pesticide, it can be used on your plants, but timing is everything, and this is not the most effective solution. If you spray too early, you won't affect the larva; and if you spray too late, the damage is already done, so here's a way to determine if the time is right: When you find some infected leaves, pull a few and place them in a zip-lock plastic bag. At some point, you will see some black flies appearing and that simply means that the larva are becoming adults. When you see those black flies, it is time to spray the plants about every day or so for about a week. This will help to control any new adults from causing more damage.

Leaf Miners and the Ugly Trail They Leave Behind

What to Do When It's Winter

When it turns cold, your Columbine plants will need to be insulated, and I always use mulch for that job. Protect your plants!


  1. Nold, Robert (2004), All-American Columbines, Horticulture Magazine (Special Centennial Issue), March/April, 2004

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney


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    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image


      2 years ago from New York

      A fabulous article with such beautiful photos. We have blue, yellow, and pink Spurred Columbines growing in our gardens, too. I am especially appreciative about the info you supplied on leaf miners. Never knew they are black fly larva!

    • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

      3 years ago from United States

      I would love to see blue ones; almost all of the ones I've seen are yellow. Thanks Sally!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      3 years ago from Norfolk

      Beautiful flower, article and images. The yellow Columbine is not one which I have seen but the blue ones seem to seed themselves year after year in our garden.

    • Casey White profile imageAUTHOR

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

      3 years ago from United States

      We moved to New Mexico from Arkansas and I'm discovering flowers now that I never knew existed. Thanks for stopping by.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      3 years ago from United States

      I recently bought columbine at a local native plant sale, so I was happy to find your article. I planted the columbine in an area that is comparable to where red columbine grows here as a wildflower and am hoping for great things. lol. Thanks for an informative article and great photos! --Jill


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