How to Grow Peonies


Peonies are a perennial that are highly visible in flower gardens every spring. Blossoms are large and fragrant and the dark green foliage keeps the garden alive with color throughout the summer months and into the fall. The showing of these beautiful flowers makes them very popular with people all over the world.

History

The history of peonies is somewhat debatable. One accounting places them in China 4,000 years age. Shortly thereafter it’s thought the peony was adopted by the Japanese culture, where it was and still is a symbol of prosperity. At that time only the wealthiest of people grew peonies in the garden.

A second theory is that the peony was named for Greek physician, Paeon because it possessed miraculous healing powers. Legend specifies that the peony’s root was used to heal wounds during the Trojan wars.

During the 1800s, many new varieties of hybrid peonies were cultivated in France. In the US, Thomas Jefferson recorded his experiences with the peony in his journal in 1771. In the mid 19th century, peonies were imported from China.

These were bred with both English and French peonies for hardiness, new colors and blossom size and form. By 1959, hundreds of peony varieties were listed in a book that was published by the American Peony Society.

Blooms

Peony blooms range in color from white to cream and from pale pink to dark red. Blossoms vary and can be single or double, blooming in May and June. Always remove peony blooms when they are spent. If you want foliage to stay green and lush through the hot summer months, remove spent blooms before seed pods form.

Peony blooms are heavy, so plant them in an area that is protected from strong winds. Do not cut blooms until the peony plant has become well-established – 1 to 2 years.

Plants

Peony plants vary in height from 18 to 32 inches. After the plant’s blooms are dead-headed, apply a light fertilizer and scratch it into the soil. Do not disturb the plant’s roots. In the fall after plants have been heavily frosted, cut stems back to approximately 6 inches and remove weeds and other debris from around the roots.

Soil

Soil should be rich in organic matter, be lightly acidic and well-drained. Peonies should be planted with a mixture of compost, soil and sheep manure, which can be purchased at most garden centers and nurseries. If peonies are planted in soil that retains a lot of moisture, the roots will rot.

Lighting

It’s best to plant peonies in full sun, though they can tolerate light shade. However, peonies planted in shaded areas will produce less and smaller flowers than those planted in full sun.

Insects

Be alert for aphids that love to suck the life out of peony buds. They love the juices that the buds produce. Other insects enjoy feasting on buds and foliage. Peonies are known for attracting hoards of ants that love to eat the sticky nectar found on buds.

Ants are in no way harmful to peonies unless they carry fungus spores from other plants. An old wives tale states that peonies must be over-run by ants in order to bloom. This is not the case. Peonies can bloom whether or not ants take up residence on their buds.

Dividing

If you decide to divide your peonies, do so in the fall. Peony plants should be very well established before you even consider dividing them. If root systems are damaged within one to two years, the plant will die. When dividing peonies, loosen the soil around the entire root system and remove the plant from the ground.

Use a sharp garden knife to divide the roots. Each root or toe, as some people call them, should have at least three eyes if you want the new plant to thrive.

Planting

When planting peony roots, dig a two-foot hole and add fertile soil, some sheep manure, organic compost and a bit of bone meal. Do not add peat moss or mulch, as both of these retain moisture that can rot the root system.

Set peony roots approximately three-feet apart and cover with just two inches of soil. If peony roots are planted too deep, they will die. Water the new plants infrequently until the first hard frost and cover with pine or spruce boughs for winter protection.

In the late spring your newly established peony plants will produce beautiful blooms that will bring a splash of color to your garden. After they are well established, you will enjoy bringing the fragrant blooms into your home to enjoy.

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