caring for your peony plants
at boreal farms we find that peonies are one of the easiest perennials to grow.
As a garden plant they require little attention, aphids don't like them slugs cause little damage, deer and rabbits will not eat them either. The only disease that seriously threatens them is botrytis which home gardeners rarely have to deal with. Botrytis can be easily controlled by good fall clean-up and removal of spent foliage, or a regular spraying of fungicide.
Few perennials have the longevity of a peony which can easily survive 50 years if left on their own, but benefit with regular division. They are among the most drought resistant perennials, although regular watering, as with any plant, will produce nicer and more blossoms. As a landscape perennial they cannot be surpassed.
Most people are only familiar with the top heavy doubles which tend to flop in the wind or rain, and explode all over when the blossoms age. For some people this is unsightly and for others the masses of petals dappling the lawn is beauty itself and natural. For those who do not like the bad habits of the heavy peonies, there are singles, beautiful semi-doubles, anemone, Japanese and new doubles bred specifically with strong upright stems, available. It is a matter of searching for the right variety to fit your taste and garden style.
It is a myth that peonies need ants to open the blossoms. The ants are attracted to the sugary secretions , but by all means, get rid of them if they bother you. In my peony fields the sugary nectar secreted on the outside of the buds attract the hummingbirds and they can be seen working their way down a row from bud to bud.
All peonies are not equal. Some increase quickly and in three years can have up to ten stems. Others may only produce four or five in the same time period. Be patient, the blossoms are welll worth the wait. They should start flowering the third year from planting and from this point forward they keep getting better.
Wherever they are in the world, peony tubers send out feeder roots in the fall, developing many root-hairs before freeze up. They begin to grow again as the ground thaws in the spring. Therefore it is best to plant peonies in the fall as this allows the plant to immediately form a good root structure during the first autumn and settle before spring growth commences.
Select a planting site with at least six hours of sun a day with well drained soil. While peonies survive in a majority of soil types, soggy conditions for too long will rot the tubers.
Dig the soil twelve inches or more deep, mix in some bone meal and a compound fertilizer or well rotted manure at the bottom of the hole. Place the peony with eyes up, into the hole and fill the area with soil.
It is important to ensure that the buds (or eyes) of the peony tuber are planted only two inches deep, too deep and they will not flower. Water well as newly planted peonies should not be allowed to dry out. After the ground freezes you can mulch to prevent soil-heaving which can lift the plant to the surface. In areas of sufficient snow cover this is not a problem
If you accidentally damage an emerging shoot do not worry, peonies have two sets of buds, a primary and a secondary. If the primary bud is destroyed, the secondary will take it's place.
Peonies, if not planted in fertile soil, require regular feedings of fertilizer. It can be in the form of 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 all that is important is that the N,or first number , is not larger than the successive two. High Nitrogen fertilizers encourage lush foliage but poor root and flower growth. Natural material such as well rotted manure, bone meal, wood ash and composts are all good for peonies. When fertilizing make sure to keep it away from the crown of the plant as this encourages the crown to rot.
Peonies should be fertilized twice a year, once in the fall when plants are dormant and again in the spring at flowering time.
In the fall the stems and foliage should be cut off at the ground and discarded. This practice will help control diseases that may overwinter in the dead foliage such as botrytis.
Each person has their own method for staking peony plants, some work, others not so well. The longer stems of many peonies, especially the heavy doubles, will blow down by the time the flowers are fully open. This habit often keeps people from purchasing and enjoying these beautiful and often lovely scented plants which is a shame.
Peony staking need not be a chore. I stay away from peony rings as I find them often disappointing in their ability to hold up the plant. For me, I use the method suggested by Allan Rogers in his informative book "PEONIES". He advises a single pass of heavy-duty garden twine around the plant, about a foot from the top, after the buds are enlarging in size. This gives sufficient support, tie snuggly but do not cinch in too tight as this affects both the look of the plant form and may damage the stems. Alternatively two lines, one twelve inches from the top and the other twelve inches below that. This method works for me and I find it is quick to apply. The twine is biodegradable so in the fall it is cleaned up and discarded with the foliage.