Planting & Care
PLANTING REQUIREMENTS for peonies are half to full day sun, good friable, well drained soil, air circulation around the plant, and a cold winter dormancy period. Bush peonies are suitable for USDA zones 2-8; tree peonies are suitable for USDA zones 4-8. They need a cold winter dormant period in order to bloom and thrive. Fall is the correct time for planting bare roots giving them a chance to become established before bloom time. We ship between September l5th and October l5th. All root shipments will include planting instructions.
THE PEONIES CLAIM TO FAME is longevity, with plants documented to have lived for 50 to 70 years. A mature plant will usually take up a three foot space and produce a large number of blooms. Care requirements are minimal. Although the initial investment is greater than for an annual flower, the life span of this perennial plant makes it a smarter purchase. After flowering and until the first Fall freeze, the deep green foliage can make a lovely backdrop for other colorful flowers or plants.
#1 Root Divisions
Mature Peony Root
PEONY EYES grow into the stems, leaves and flowers. In the photo on the left you can see the white eyes. A 3 eye division should put up 3 stems, although some eyes might be for next years stems. Next years eyes form on the sides of this years stems. So if you had 2 stems this year you should have at least 4 stems next year and 16 stems the following year. After 4 years they tend to slow down and form a bush that will be mature at 3 feet across.
PEONY CAREincludes 1) light fertilization with a tulip/daffodil bulb fertilizer at emergence and after bloom; 2) removal and disposal of foliage after Fall freeze; and 3) maintaining only 2" of soil cover over the upward facing growing eyes (shallower in warm zones). The main disease affecting peonies is botrytis, or grey mold, which is a fungus and should be treated with copper sulfate or other fungicides. Allow for air circulation around the plant and destroy the foliage after Fall freezes to reduce the possibility of disease. Contact us for care in extreme cold climates or hot climates.
TIME TO FERTILIZE:
We recommend a 10-20-20 or tulip/daffodil fertilizer. There are some perennial plant fertilizers out now also. The main thing is to keep the nitrogen content low. Too much nitrogen causes lots of foliage growth, but doesn't encourage bloom. And don't overdo it.
If you didn’t cut the old foliage off at the ground last fall, better get it done. And please, don’t pull the old stems, as the buds for new growth are formed on the sides of the old stems! Unlike daffodil foliage, which I just grab and pull after it has turned yellow, doing this to a peony will destroy your plant.
THE GRASS ENEMY:
A reminder to keep grass from growing close to your plant. When working on the peonies that were in Bush Park we learned what grass can do to a peony root. All the food storage roots stayed very small and thready because they had to grow through the grass roots. It was very pathetic, but we did our best to save them, cleaned up the beds and replanted the best roots.
If you have rowdy pets you might like to know that the new stems are fragile. The stems coming out of the ground in the wet of spring have a lot of turgor pressure - like when you take a fresh carrot and bend it and it snaps in two. (Unlike a dry carrot that only bends.) So if you have rowdy pets, or children, you might want to stake some fencing around them for protection. I know a dog who decided that where I had plants coming up was a good place to lay down for a nap, so I had to put in some stakes to make the spot quite uninviting.
WATCH PEONIES GROW:
Another spring activity that is more exciting than any of those mentioned above is to watch your peony grow! It really is exciting! The coral colored ones are very early coming out of the soil and the foliage is very red. With sunshine to encourage growth the leaves begin to unfurl. Peonies with officinalis parentage (like Red Charm) have their flower buds formed before pushing out of the soil! Other peonies from colder climates wait until slightly warmer weather to form buds on the stems. You might also be interested that the officinalis peonies form only one bloom per stem, whereas the peonies with lactiflora parentage can have up to 7 (but normally 3-5) side buds. Which brings us to the subject of disbudding...
DISBUDDING (or removal of side buds):
is done for a couple of reasons:
A) to send more strength to the roots of 1st year plants,
B) to make the remaining flower larger, and
C) to reduce the weight on the stem to help keep the flower upright in the rain.
HOW TO DISBUD:
Push the side bud stem sideways between the main stem and the small leaf beside it so that it pops off at the base. This allows the small leaf to remain, covering the small scar. It is best to take the side buds off when the side buds are the size of a pea. When they are smaller they tend to be too close to leaves to remove easily and when larger they leave ugly scars.
The sticky substance you may get on your fingers while disbudding is a sugar substance (like a nectar) that the plant exudes during this stage presumably to help the petals to slip on each other as they are putting on tremendous growth during the month. (I usually come in from disbudding with sticky thighs on my jeans, but at least it is washable, and just tastes like sugar if you lick your fingers.) This sugar substance may attract ants which like to feed on it. Ants are not a problem to the plant unless they make a nest at the base. To remove ants when bringing cut flowers into the house either shake the flowers upside down or swish them in a bucket of water to float the ants off.
TO DISBUD OR NOT DISBUD:
This is really up to you. If you choose not to you will have a smaller center flower which blooms before the side buds. You may cut this center bloom out and enjoy a bouquet of small side flowers! Or disbud some and leave some side buds so you can judge how you like them best. Or just let nature do what comes naturally.
In the late Fall, between Halloween and Thanksgiving, you should cut peony stems off to ground. For preventative measures the stems and foliage should be placed in the garbage to prevent the spread of any botrytis spores (grey mold) that might be present. Composting materials with botrytis can help to multiply and spread these fungal spores. Botrytis is a natural fungus that is present in the soil. Its job is to break down dead plant material. In prolonged cool, rainy weather it can get mixed up and attack live plant material.