I love having shade trees in my garden when the summer days get long and hot. The only
problem with lots of shade is I also like flowers. Many flowers need full sun and do not do well in the shade. One flower that does do well in the shade and is native to my region of the United States is Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha). I have lots of this flower in one of my shady locations and it has now gotten to the point where it has naturalized in that spot. Getting it established in that location took more than one plant and I had to start it from seed since it was not readily available in local nurseries.
Golden Columbine is perennial so it does not need replanting every year. Still it if you want it to last indefinitely you will want it to naturalize. Naturalizing is the process where the plant establishes in a manner that keeps it reproducing new plants and the new plants, once established produce more plants after the original plant has died. To achieve this with Golden Columbine I had to first acquired plants I wanted established in my shady location.
I purchased my Golden Columbine seed from a business that sells native seed. The instructions on the packet said to put the seed in the ground in the fall and barely cover it hoping for a moist winter or I need to cold stratify the seed for 30 days and plant seed in the spring. I chose the latter since winters in my garden are unpredictable and we only get a wet enough winter to germinate desirable seeds every half dozen years.
To stratify my seed I placed it on a moist paper towel in a sealed sandwich bag. Then I placed this bag in the refrigerator for 30 days. After thirty days, I spread the moist seeds on the surface of potting soil in a seedling tray in the greenhouse. I sprinkled a small amount of potting soil over the seed being careful not to put too much because columbine seed need filtered light in order to germinate.
Once germinated the seedlings are very small and delicate. They require considerable maturation before being set out in the garden. In the case of my columbine seedlings, I let them mature in my greenhouse for at least a year before setting them out in the garden.
There are two good times to transplant columbine into the garden. The first time for transplanting young columbine plants raised in a greenhouse is spring when the weather has warmed up enough that the ground is workable but before the weather gets hot and dry. The other time is in the fall after the weather has cooled and a couple of weeks before the first killing frost. Be sure to plant a large enough cluster of columbine to ensure pollination between plants and seed set.
Individual plants will last a few years and require regeneration to maintain the species in a perennial flowerbed indefinitely. To do this I let the flowers go to seed and fall naturally between the established plants. Additionally I let leaves and other plant residues pile up between these plants. This residue combined with keeping the soil moist until the first killing frost when I discontinue watering until the next growing season. The leaves and other plant residues keep moisture in the soil thus creating a good environment for natural cold stratification of seeds.
In the spring when I clear out the previous season’s residues and leaves, I take care not to uproot the newly germinated seedlings. By following these cultural practices, I have established a naturalized perennial bed of Golden Columbine that requires very little maintenance and no replanting.