Pruning Columbine mainly involves cutting back the plant when it goes dormant in the summer. Columbine is an herbaceous perennial that dies back all the way to the ground at dormancy. Plants can be cut back hard after blooming to clean up the foliage. This early cutting back will also help to curb the prolific self-seeding some Columbines do. If self-seeding is desired, then the flower heads can be left until the fall and cleaned up with the rest of the perennials in the garden.
When to Prune Columbine
The best time to cut back the whole Columbine plant is in the summer after blooming and when the plant is visibly starting to go dormant. Often the leaves turn brown and the stems get crunchy and brittle. To prevent self-seeding, keep your plants deadheaded in the spring. Oftentimes, regular deadheading will help Columbine to stay bushy and tidier until the regular die-back begins.
Early in the growing season, pinching back new growth will encourage Columbine to be bushier and form more bloom stems. Cut the first flowering stems back to a set of leaves so that side shoots will form.
Why Prune Columbine
Regular deadheading will keep Columbine much tidier, while also increasing the air circulation around the plant. Air circulation is very important for Columbine. This plant can be susceptible to mildew and fungal diseases later in the spring. In cool, damp springs, preventing mildew may not be possible. If the Columbine is mature, cutting the whole plant back early will not bother it, and next year it will return as strong as ever. A newly planted Columbine may not tolerate severe pruning early in the season. If your plant develops mildew, remove the affected foliage and stems to slow the spread of disease to surrounding plants. Powdery mildew spreads when water sprays off infected leaves in a planting.
How to Prune Columbine
Step 1 - Use sharp hand pruners and make sure to disinfect them between plants if there are any diseases present.
Step 2 - Cut stems to within 2 inches of the soil. The plant will have just enough top growth to keep the crown from getting damaged in the winter.
Step 3 - Deadheading will keep the columbine compact and tidy. Prune bloom stems down to a set of leaves.
Step 4 - Make sure to mark the plant location, so they are not disturbed or accidently dug up during dormancy.
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