Tips on Growing Peonies

growing peonies

As far back as I can recall I’ve watched peonies grown. My father, bought his first collection of peonies when I was only three years old.

This was the beginning of the hobby that he said developed into a “horse.” So from the time I was small I have loved peonies.

When used singly or in a mass planting there is nothing so lovely as the peony. Flowers range in color from the purest white to the darkest red, varying in shades of pink, rose and magenta.

The only true yellow herbaceous peonies are Paeonia mlokosewitschii and a few of its offspring, yet there are many others which have a decided yellow cast. A few of these are Moonglow, Primevere, Golden Bracelet and Thura Hires. Their color can be retained if cut when blooms are half developed and allowed to flower indoors.

Peonies In The Landscape

When using peonies in landscape work, keep in mind that the three to five-eye division you are planting will be a good-sized bush in a few years. Allow at least 3 feet between plants.

Many varieties are tall enough to use as a background, whereas others may be used quite effectively where a fairly low planting is desired. By tall I mean approximately 3-1/2 feet, and by low, about 18 inches.

Something to keep in mind when, setting out peonies is the fact that after the blooming season the foliage isn’t too attractive.

The leaves do stay green through the early summer months, but as fall nears they begin to turn a brownish color; that is the time to cut off the stems at the ground.

Never cut the foliage before the leaves begin to die down. It is a good idea to work in other flowers to fill the void after the peony blooms are gone.

Peonies Need Lots of Care?

Many people feel peonies are difficult to plant and require a lot of care, but this is a mistaken belief for there are few perennials you can plant and just let grow as easily as you can the peony.

However, in all places where they are used, whether in a border, as a group along a driveway or as specimen plants be certain they have full sun the greater portion of the day.

You have probably seen peonies growing at a 90° angle from under a tree, trying desperately to drink in a little sunshine.

All the fertilizer you could put around this plant could not be a substitute for the sun’s rays. Peonies will grow in most any type soil that suits a tomato plant.

They also do well in almost every region except where the weather is extremely hot and dry and there is a short dormant season.

Soil Preparation

After selecting the right spot in the garden, spade the ground well to loosen the soil to a depth of from 10 to 12 inches. It is wise to tamp this down before you actually start to plant.

Unless you do this, the peony roots will settle as the ground settles and your peony will be deeper than it should be. This settling will cause a water pocket and may induce rot.

In either an old or new planting the ground level should be kept even with or slightly higher than the surrounding ground. so that proper drainage may be maintained.

Now that you have your ground in condition you’ll want a good fertilizer. Most growers use organic fertilizers such as Milorganite, or bone-meal.

This is far safer, as there is no danger of burning the roots, which is so often the consequence when a chemical fertilizer is not mixed well with the soil.

The following spring a side dressing of quick-acting plant food can be used with excellent results. Any chemical material worked in should be kept well away from the roots or there will be a lot of rotted foliage and stems if the weather is hot.

To proceed with your planting, lift out enough soil so the root can be placed with ease. Remember that the topmost eye of the division should not be deeper than 2-1/2 inches below the level of the ground.

If the ground is damp it probably won’t be necessary to use water, but should it be necessary, pull in enough soil to cover the eyes, water well and finish covering. Further watering is seldom necessary.

Winter Mulch

For the first winter a mulch is always wise, as freezing and thawing in late winter can play havoc with newly set plants.

In the spring the mulch can be pulled away from the center and left in a ring around the plant. You will find it holds moisture during dry weather and eliminates a lot of weeding.

Straw, peatmoss or mounds of soil may also serve as a mulch, but if soil is used remember to get it leveled off early enough to avoid damage to the eyes as they start to push up.

The following spring you may or may not have any blooms, but don’t be alarmed. Many growers pinch off the buds the first season, thus throwing more strength to the roots.

By the third year as a general rule, you should have many lovely flowers. In a few varieties. however, your true blooms won’t show until the fourth year.

If after a few years you have had no good blooms from your peonies it is possible that they were planted too deep. In the fall dig down and raise them a bit or replant if necessary. Once your plants are blooming well do not disturb them, as moving them only slows down their progress.

Cutting peony blooms with too much of the stem can do great damage. Always leave two or more leaves on the growing stem and never cut more than half the blooms.

Severe cutting saps the strength and the following year there will be only a few blooms. After blooming the appearance of the plants will be neater if the old bloom stems are cut back a bit.

Once you’ve tried your hand at raising peonies, your desire to add a few each year will be greater. This will prove interesting, as there are many colors and varieties to choose from.

The single and Japanese types are becoming more popular with the home gardener, as they are very showy, with their bright yellow stamens and petalodes surrounded by a halo of white, pink or red petals.

They are excellent for cutting and hold up well while in bloom in the garden, as the blooms will not fill up with rain and topple over as the doubles have a tendency to do.

The hybrids are most unusual in their exotic coloring. Tree peonies are becoming more prevalent and will no doubt get a lot of “oh’s” and “ales” from those who see them for the first time.

Many of you have probably wondered why peonies displayed’ at a peony show or exhibit are so large when the same varieties grown in your own garden never look as good. These show flowers have been disbudded.

By this I mean that all the side buds have been pinched off early, leaving only the terminal bud. This will, of course, make the main bloom larger than when a stem is allowed to produce four or five blooms.

Some people like a multitude of flowers, while others prefer large specimen blooms. You could disbud half of your plants using some for cutting and the rest for show in your yard.

Remember, too, that the exhibition flower is the product of loving care.

There are so many fine peonies on the market today it would be difficult to include them all in one list. Unlike other standard perennials, peonies do not become obsolete a few years after they have been introduced.

At the end of a long day’s work many a relaxing hour will be found among flowers and working the soil. Give peonies a chance in your garden and you will find growing them one of the most fascinating hobbies to be had.

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