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How Long Does it Take for Columbine Seeds to Germinate?

Columbine is the common name for the Aquilegia genus, a Northern Hemisphere herbaceous perennial that includes more than 60 species and numerous hybrids according to Missouri Botanical Garden. Most Aquilegia varieties thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8 or 9, although Aquilegia ‘Swallowtail’ prefers USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 10. Some Aquilegia varieties so closely resemble one another as to be nearly indistinguishable, creating a bit of trouble when it comes to determining how best to germinate the seeds.

The germination time varies and depends on whether the columbine seeds are nonhybrid or hybrid. Nonhybrid columbine seeds germinate after overwintering. Hybrid seeds take 14 days to 28 days to germinate.

Germination of Aquilegia Varieties

Wild columbines often require significant preparation before their seeds will germinate, whereas seeds from columbine hybrids can sometimes be started without any additional preparation. Some columbine seeds, especially those that come from nonhybrid plants, can be stratified in order to germinate faster. In nature, seeds fall to the ground and lie dormant until spring. They have internal mechanisms in place that activate after a certain amount of time in cold temperatures.

For wild columbine plants to be started indoors, these winter conditions have to be mimicked. Prechill seeds for three days, after which scattered them directly into the garden or plant the seeds in containers in a sterile, soilless seed-starting medium such as a peat-based commercial mix. In either situation, cover the seeds with a very thin layer or soil or weed-free mulch and keep moist. Check the seeds regularly to prevent them from drying out and the seeds should germinate in two to four weeks according to University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

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The ideal germination temperature for columbines is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Many gardeners give up on columbine prematurely, thinking the seeds are bad, not realizing that columbine requires a long germination period. Depending on the type and conditions, even hybrid columbines may take 30 days for seedlings to emerge although they don’t require stratification to germinate. Columbine seeds may be stored in a dark, dry, cool place for up to five years before planting.

Columbine Seedling Care

Columbines grow well in a wide range of soil conditions if they are kept moist. Water the seedlings daily but make sure the potting mix drains completely so the plants aren’t in soggy soil or standing water. Columbines prefer full sun to part shade, depending on variety, but would do well among your morning sun plants in the garden. Since columbines are not year round flowers and will die back after blooming, plant where the fading foliage will be hidden by other plants according to Cornell University.

Plan far ahead for spring columbine seedlings because, ideally, they should be about 6 weeks old before being planted in the garden after the last spring frost has passed. Transplant seedlings and divide clumps carefully because columbine plants don’t like to be disturbed and may be slow to recover. Deadhead plants to encourage continued blooms and prevent self-seeding, especially with hybrid varieties. An adventurous gardener, however, might enjoy growing unknown types of columbine flowers.

Nonhybrid columbines retain many of their wild characteristics so if you plan to plant your columbines in a meadow or mixed border setting, don’t bother with starting them indoors. Simply sow the ripened seeds on top of the ground where you wish for the new plants to emerge. As long as your area gets some cold nights and a little bit of frost, the seeds will spend their winter chilling and emerge naturally in the spring. Hybrid columbines may reemerge, but seeds saved from them rarely breed true to the parent plant.

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