Why You Should Grow Peonies

If you're searching for a long-lasting, easy-care bloom, look no further: Peonies delight for years and years.

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Pink double blooms delight in 'Sarah Bernhardt'.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Burpee

Image courtesy of Burpee

Many trees will outlive the gardeners who planted them, but if you want to grow flowers that your children or grandchildren might enjoy, try peonies.

These low-maintenance beauties have been known to survive for 70 to 100 years, but for best results, they must be planted properly in well-prepared soil. Look for peonies in many colors, including white, cream, coral, purple, red and pink.

Herbaceous peonies and tree peonies, which are deciduous shrubs, are the two main types of these plants. They grow best in cool climates, although cultivars have been developed for different regions. If you’re in the South, look for peonies that have a low chilling requirement. Northern gardeners can grow peonies that need more chilling hours.

Because peonies have deep roots and resist transplanting, take time to make a permanent, well-prepped spot in the garden for them. Pick a location that gets full sun, or at least 6 hours of sun each day. They’ll benefit from some afternoon shade in hot climates, and need well-drained soil that is slightly acidic.

Choose tubers with at least 3 eyes, which are the small buds that look like the potato eyes. Work your soil a few days before you plan to plant, amending with 2” to 4” of well-aged manure, pine bark or compost. Use up to ½ cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per tuber, per hole, but avoid letting the fertilizer touch the tuber. Some gardeners also add a ½ cup of bone meal or super phosphate.

Set the tubers into the ground with the eyes up and the roots spread. Don’t plant the eyes more than one to two inches deep.

Fall is the best time to plant, but get the peonies into the ground before the first hard frost. If you absolutely must transplant a peony, do that in autumn, too. Look for flowers to appear in late spring to early summer. Some won’t bloom in the first year they’re planted.

Water the peonies regularly, and mulch lightly for the winter, using shredded bark or pine straw. Don’t pile on too much mulch; remember to keep the eyes just one to two inches deep.

Botrytis is the primary disease that affects these plants; it often appears in cool, wet weather. To help prevent it, again;  plant at the recommended depth and provide good air circulation. Prune if necessary to remove dead wood or old flowers.

Peonies

Peonies

Peonies make for beautiful cut-flower arrangements.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens

Perfect peony tips:

  • Use supports for the large, heavy blossoms, so they don’t break the stems.
  • Don’t worry about ants you see on your peonies and don’t spray them. They’re only eating nectar produced by the buds, and they’ll feast on unwanted pests.
  • For cut flowers that last up to a week, snip stems while the buds are still closed.
  • Don’t divide your peonies for the first few years. Most won’t need dividing, and will refuse to bloom for a couple of years after they’re disturbed. When it’s necessary to divide, lift the roots and cut them into sections with three to five eyes each.
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