My Flowers

Harvesting Columbine Seeds

The columbines (Latin name: Aquilegia) finished blooming several weeks ago and have been busy making seeds. Here's how the plants looked in May - covered with flowers in all bloom stages from bud, to flower, to unripened seed pods.

Making Seeds - Blue Columbines

Columbines will self sow freely once established and there is often a lot of diversity among their offspring. It's quite normal to find that you've got a particularly stunning plant in your garden - the kind where you just have to save seeds so you can sow them and find out what their seed babies will look like.

My garden has a mix of columbines. I have my "starter set" grown from seeds purchased from places like Thompson and Morgan Seeds and Swallowtail Seeds. They have a number of beautiful varieties and I was so pleased with my columbines that I just had to expand my garden's genetic diversity further. That's when I went shopping for seeds at Touchwood Aquilegias and picked out a colorful mix of their very fanciest columbines.

Now I'm starting the process of encouraging my most favorite colors and styles of columbines and gradually weeding out ones that I like a little less. I clip the ripe seed heads off my common types and toss their seeds around the edge of the yard. With the fancy ones, I harvest seeds and then scatter them wherever there's a bit of empty space in the main garden beds. Then I wait until next spring to see how things look, and repeat the process year after year. I could fuss over it more than that but this kind of casual, cottage garden approach is easy and ensures that each year's bloom season will come with a few surprises.




Here's what columbine seed pods look like when they are ready to harvest. The multi-chambered pod and attached stem are dry and crispy. The pod itself is starting to split in places to make openings big enough for the seeds to fall out. The plant holds the pods with the open part facing upwards, and Mother Nature takes care of the rest. A lot of seeds get self sown by the gusty winds that form on the leading edge of storm systems. The winds tip the seeds from the pods and the rains water them into the soil.



This is what you should see when seeds are ripe and ready to harvest. Notice how easily they tip right out of the pod. They should be shiny, black and firm and you shouldn't need to dig them out of the pod. If the pod is sticky and greenish, or the seeds are pale colored and don't want to come out of the seed pod, you should wait another week or so and check again.




Here's a second look at how easy it is to harvest fully ripened seeds. They just flow right out of the seed pod with nothing more than a jiggle or a gentle tap.



Columbines seeds are a good garden investment. Some of the fancy types are rather pricey by the packet, but once they bloom and set seed you shouldn't need to buy seeds again - unless you need collect all of the colors and petal types. I checked one of my fancy new seed-grown Touchwood columbine plants as I was writing this article. The first year plant has over 25 seed ripe seed pods on it, and the single pod I checked had 95 ripe seeds in it.

Even though my garden beds are getting quite crowded I'm still plucking columbine seed pods and scattering the seeds all over. They are not pushy plants and if they can find a comfy little space between other perennials they's settle in and grow. Many of them will be ready to flower next spring, though a few slower siblings might wait until the following spring to bloom.