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Past Articles Library | An Old-Time Garden Favorite: Peonies

Many gardens of yesteryear have or had peonies.  Today, peonies are having a resurgence in the home landscape.  But did know that there are two different kinds of peonies and with a little planning, one can be blessed with six to eight weeks of blooms.

Peonies can either be garden or tree form.  Both types grow in a shrub shape but the tree (Paeonia suffruticosa) variety’s stems do not die back and they produce large amounts of blooms.  Garden peonies (Paeonia valbifloraor or Paeonia officinalis), on the other hand, produce a smaller amount of blooms on stems that dieback in the fall.

When planning to use peonies in a landscape design, consider their blooming period.  Early, mid-season, and late bloomers can be found which can provide the gardener with six to eight weeks of blooms if all three blooming periods are planted.

Peony blooms come in several different colors and shapes.   Yellow, black, rose, scarlet, white, cream, pink, coral, crimson, and purple are the common colors that can be in blooms that are shaped as a single, semidouble, double, Japanese, and anemone.

Planting Peonies

Peonies should be planted in the fall, which gives you plenty of time to prepare the garden soil.  This herbaceous perennial likes to be in full sun but can tolerate some shade.  It requires a well-drained soil.  If this is not possible, consider planting in a raised bed to prevent root rot.

Planting peonies so that they receive northern exposure will increase the number flowers.  Also, do not place this plant where peonies had been before or near other shrubs or trees.  The roots of these plants can compete with peonies for nutrients.

Once the location has been selected, the next step is to prepare the garden space.  Each peony you plan to plant will require a hole that is 18 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches deep and 3 to 4 feet apart.  After the hole has been dug, add 2 to 4 inches of compost along with ¼ to ½ cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer to the bottom of the hole.  Mix together prior to placing peony in hole.  To the remaining soil left from the hole, mix in compost and bonemeal. 

Now that the hole has been prepared, the next step is to plant the peonies.  Garden peonies are sold as “eyes,” which are divisions.  A good division is one that contains 3 to 4 eyes.  A division that contains 1 to 2 eyes will grow but the lack of “eyes” will cause the plant to delay blooming.

Peony “eyes” are planted so that they are no deeper than 2 inches below the soil surface.  Once you have that depth, backfill with the soil, compost, and bonemeal mixture described above.  Water in to help the plant take hold before the winter winds blow.

Tree peonies are grafted plants.  This variety needs its graft covered with soil, which typically means that the rootstock will need to be planted at least 4 to 5 inches deep.

In the spring, clean up any garden debris and mulch the peony with 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch.  This will finish off the landscape design and help conserve soil moisture but in the fall remove this mulch and garden debris.  This simple step will become part of a peony’s pest management practice.

To increase bloom size, one must perform a technique referred to as “debudding.”  This practice consists of leaving the terminal buds alone while removing any side buds as soon as they appear.  While performing this practice will make the plant produce larger blooms, it can cause the blooms to become too heavy for the plant.  If this happens, simply place a stake behind the plant and secure the peony’s stems to this stake.

Once the showy blooms have faded, deadhead them.  This will prevent the plant from sending energy to dying blooms.

While a peony is a show stopping plant by itself, what can you add to your garden space to enhance that beauty?  There are many different flowering plants that can be planted alongside a peony without being a floral or vegetative competitor.

Daffodils are one of the plants that do well with peonies.  Depending on the variety will determine when they bloom and their color, which can be white, yellow, salmon or a combination.

Pin cushion flower is another companion that blooms from early spring to fall.  It produces small lavender blue blooms that compliment peony’s floral and/or vegetative color.

Yarrow provides a double whammy when it comes to companion plantings.  It greets the garden space with yellow, salmon, red, and pink blooms that appear midsummer to fall.  The fern-like leaves of this plant add a textural element to the garden space.

Iris is a plant that works well with peonies.  They bloom early to late spring and then return with another splash of color before the growing season is over.  This blooming cycle covers times when a peony is not in bloom and the vast choices in colors making finding a complementary shade easy. 

If you are looking for something to take up the vertical space behind a peony, clematis is in order.   This vine’s vegetation is perfect as a backdrop to the emerald green leaves of peony.  The clematis blooms can range in color from white to deep purple, depending on the variety.

A famous pest that can be found on peonies and that is the ant.  While ants under normal circumstances would pose a problem, they are not one for the peony.  Ants are attracted to the sugary covering that protects the bloom until it is ready to open.  Once the bloom has matured, the sugary substance attracts ants so that they can eat it and free the bloom.  In doing so, if you see ants on your peony do not destroy.

Other diseases that attack peonies include mosaic virus, leaf spot, phytophthora and botrytis blight.  Symptoms of these diseases include black, soft or leathery buds, yellow rings or blotches and/or reddish brown spots that turn purple on leaves.  All of these indicate there is a disease problem and the plant material should be removed and thrown away.


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Keep Some Birds Away

When you have worked very hard to grow your grapes, fruits and vegetables, it's hard to not be bothered when birds come in and take the best of everything!

A few tricks that work well are: netting over grapes, mylar strips tied to branches of your fruit trees, even blow up owls work.

If you use a blow up owl, or scarecrow, keep in mind to move them every few days so they appear to "move." Othewise the birds get wise fast and they are no good.

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