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How to grow May-flowering aquilegias

Val Bourne / 03 May 2012

Aquilegias produce bee-pleasing flowers in May, a month when flowers tend to be in short supply. Val Bourne advises on the best varieties to grow, plus tips on planting and care

Aquilegia vulgaris
Most aquilegias are promiscuous plants and seedlings can produce a whole range of flower colours

Aquilegias, also known as columbines, are members of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, named after 'Rana', the genus of frogs. The May-flowering, hardy perennial aquilegias prefer cool, dappled shade (rather like frogs) and they grow in a range of soils, up to a height of around 18in (0,5m).

They often produce flowers with spurs full of nectar in both single and double forms. They set copious amounts of seed when happy and self-seed, rather too freely, often producing a range of different seedlings.

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When to plant aquilegias

Plant aquilegias in late-summer for flowers the following spring.

Where to plant aquilegias

Tap-rooted plants such as aquilegias tolerate poor soil, but they need deep soil to thrive. Close to trees and shrubs is ideal.

How to plant aquilegias

If you have plenty of aquilegias seed (from a gardening friend) start by sprinkling seeds straight onto the ground in late-summer. These will germinate by the following spring. However, aquilegias will self-sow into choice plants, so only sprinkle the seeds where it will not matter.

If it’s hard to find seed from someone’s garden, order three or four plants from a good nursery and plant those. They will soon multiply. If you want more, it is easier to scatter the mature seed on the ground, once the seedpods split slightly, than sowing seeds in pots, as commercial packets of seeds are often not very successful because aquilegias have a short period of viability

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When aquilegias bloom

Aquilegias produce bee-pleasing flowers in May, a month when flowers tend to be in short supply.


Bees love aquilegias.

Grow with…

May-flowering aquilegias provide good vertical accents in woodland settings. They are superb with tulips and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. They can also be used with hellebores and trollius to great effect.



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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.