GROWING GLORIOUS PEONIES
No doubt, your Grandmother’s garden was a showcase for growing glorious peonies! This flower has been grown and cherished by generations of avid gardeners.
When choosing your plant, it comes down to the color or blend of colors that you like best. The variety is wide: Pink, red, white, coral, raspberry, rose, purple, yellow, or a combination of deep pink with either white or pale pink splashes.
Fragrance is the next thing I covet when I choose my plant. In spite of the multitude of ants that like to congregate on the fat little buds, I still love to bury my nose in the exquisitely perfumed flowers
TYPES OF PEONIES
Herbaceous Peonies, better known as Bush Peonies, are the most readily available varieties on the market. They typically grow between 2 and 4 feet tall.
Tree Peonies have woody stems that lose their foliage in the Fall. They are slow-growing, but well worth the wait. They come in diminutive varieties that are less than 2 feet tall, with others topping 8 feet tall. These peonies are always best when grown on their own roots.
Itoh or Intersectional Peonies are a cross between the herbaceous (bush) peony and the tree peony. They have wonderfully complicated leaves that I think resemble fans. Itoh Peonies form a nice round bush, but are generally smaller than most bush peonies. They die back in the Winter, and the dead foliage must be cut back to the ground.
THE SHAPE OF PEONY BLOSSOMS
When selecting the flower shape you prefer, I think you’ll be surprised at the variety. And many of them are adorned with wonderfully ruffled petals. Without getting too technical about it, peony shapes come in the following categories:
Single Peonies have a few broad petals, and many shorter petals in the middle.
Japanese-type Peonies have even more broad petals with many large petals in the center.
Semi-Double Peonies have several rows of wide, irregular petals with a cluster of shorter petals in the center.
Bomb-type Peonies have large, broad petals which surround a large fluffy center.
Fully Double Peonies resemble cheerleader’s pom poms.
The bloom time for peonies can be Early, Mid-Season, or Late, but all of these time frames fall within the months of May and into mid-June. Peonies are often used as specimen plants in the flower border, and can also make a lovely low hedge. The glossy green leaves last all Summer, turning purplish or gold in the Fall.
It is best to plant peonies in the Fall, making sure to locate them away from trees and shrubs. They don’t like to compete for food and moisture with other plants. Space peonies 3 to 4 feet apart for purposes of air circulation. They are hardy from Zone 3 through 7 and 8.
Peony plants are “sun worshippers,” and do not respond well when planted in shade. Dig a hole about 2 feet by 2 feet and amend the soil before planting. Plant with the “eyes” facing upward with just 1 1/2 to 2 inches of soil over them. Don’t feed them heavily. They don’t like too much coddling. You can apply fertilizer once every few years. Peonies don’t like when you use mulch beyond the first year after planting.
Peonies usually take a few years to establish themselves. These wonderful plants are perennials that come back every year. Peonies can live for over 100 years, which is why they are still popular when planted in cemeteries. Choose your planting location wisely, for they don’t like to be transplanted.
They make wonderful cut flowers. Cut peonies on long stems while the buds are still fairly tight. Use peony rings to support the blooms. They often weigh the plant down. The luxury of growing glorious peonies is worth the effort of planting and caring for them.
After herbaceous peonies bloom and you deadhead the spent blossoms, always cut the dying foliage to the ground in the Fall. Tree peonies are pruned by removing the dead wood.
Ants crawl on the peony buds only to eat the nectar. They also will devour the bud-eating pests. Deer do not like to eat peonies due to their bitter taste.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR PEONIES LAST LONGER IN THE VASE
For anyone who loves cut flower bouquets, I’m sure they’ve wanted a bouquet of peonies after the season was over. Here’s how:
Cut peonies when the buds are fat and the green sheath is separating to show the color of the bloom. Wrap them in clear plastic and seal well so no air can get in. Store them horizontally in the refrigerator at low temperatures. They will keep there for 3 to 4 weeks (if you can make yourself wait that long!)
Unwrap the flowers and place the stems in room temperature water. It takes about 8 hours or so for them to open. The fully opened blooms should last 5 to 10 days. Maybe a bit longer if you stir a little sugar into the water.
HAPPY PLANTING! Susan