Vail Landscape Logic column: Make room in your garden for our state flower
As the hiking season gets underway, we’ll stroll past columbine growing entirely on their own in the high country without support from humans. It’s a miracle of nature that a spec of a seed matures to this stately and elegant flower that survives in the wild without added soil amendments, rototilling or drip irrigation.
Mother Nature knows what she’s doing, and in the case of the Rocky Mountain columbine, it’s not hard to emulate her. Being a Colorado native, Rocky Mountain columbine is well-suited to Colorado gardens, whether in the high country or along the Front Range. Other varieties also grow well here in a variety of elevations and conditions.
Columbine are easy-to-grow perennials. They grow to a mature height of 18 inches and a width of 15 inches. They bloom from late spring to early summer, attract hummingbirds and are somewhat resistant to deer and rabbits.
Though seed is available, you will have faster and easier results with a nursery plant that is already blooming. Growing from seed requires some know-how and patience to wait a few years until the plant reaches the maturity to bloom.
Columbine can be grown as a companion plant with other perennials — but not with plants that require minimal water. Columbine needs regular summer watering, so place it among other perennials with similar moisture needs and with good drainage.
Ideal light is in an area that offers morning sun and afternoon shade. A half-day of sunlight promotes blooming.
Longevity and pests
Columbine plants last for about four to five years, but because they are self-seeding, you might see new plants emerging in the garden as the original ones decline.
The most common pest problems are aphids and powdery mildew. Stunted foliage and misshapen flowers are signs of aphids. Dealing with both aphids and powdery mildew simply involves applying insecticidal soaps, which are available at local garden centers.
For higher elevations and rock gardens, Colorado State University Extension recommends two other varieties to consider:
• Saximontana has blue and white flowers with hooked spurs
• A. laramiensis is a white-flowered dwarf from Wyoming.
Colorado’s state flower
In 1899 when school children selected the Rocky Mountain columbine to become the official flower of Colorado, they saw how the flower’s attributes are reflective of our state. The flower’s blue symbolizes the sky, the white symbolizes snow, and the gold reflects Colorado’s gold mining history.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.