They come in shades of white, red, pink, and now,
with intersectional hybrids, hues of yellow and lavender too.
Many peonies are fragrant, with a scent that rivals the rose.
If selecting peonies for fragrance the double pink varieties
tend to have the heaviest scent.
Peony flowers come in a variety of shapes and
forms. Large, double flowers, such as ‘Festiva Maxima’, are
most common. Single varieties like ‘Krinkled White’ and Japanese
cultivars, such as ‘Bowl of Beauty’ are among my personal
favorites. The single types have flower heads that are smaller
and tend to stand up to thunderstorms better than the doubles.
After blooming, the plant happily occupies space
in the perennial garden with a mound of glossy, deep green
foliage, which serves as a fine complement to its neighbors in
the bed. In the fall, peony foliage displays autumn color in
shades of orange, yellow and red. Do not cut the plants back
too early and miss the final hurrah of this glorious plant.
Culture for the herbaceous peony is simple. A
dear gardening friend shared the old adage of the number nine
with regard to peony planting. That is, peonies should be
divided or planted or moved on the 9th day of the 9th month at
9:00 A.M. in the morning. It is a good way to remember the
optimal to plant peonies.
In September or early October, find a sunny,
well-drained site, free from the competing roots of trees or
shrubs. Dig a large, bushel-basket sized hole, and incorporate
organic material such as compost or leaf mold, into the soil.
Purchased peonies are often shipped bare-root. If you’re
dividing an existing plant in fall rinse all of the soil off of
the roots and proceed to divide and replant. Be sure each
division has 2-3 “eyes” or places at the crown of the plant
where stems have originated. Place the bare root plant with the
red eyes pointed upward, and cover the eyes with no more than 1
or 2 inches of soil. Peony eyes planted too deeply is the most
common reason why peonies fail to bloom.
If you can’t follow the adage of the “nines”,
rest assured that these tough plants can be moved at almost any
time. If the plant is in full growth choose a cooler day to dig
and preserve as much soil around the roots as possible. Water
deeply and shade the plant if possible. You might lose some
foliage or flowers, but prune out the growth that doesn’t
survive and give the plants a year to recover.
Peonies also need lots of sun, so be sure your
site gets at least 6-8 hours. Top dress each spring with compost
worked lightly around the roots, being careful not to break the
tender shoots. A light application of a complete fertilizer,
not too rich in nitrogen, (such as 5-10-5) after the plants
flower, is also helpful. I alternate every other year with a
handful of bone meal, worked into the soil around each plant. It
is an organic fertilizer which is high in phosphorous and
encourages bloom. Too much nitrogen causes excessive green
growth at the expense of flowers.
Botrytis is a common fungal disease affecting
peonies. Often plants bloom well, but will have a few buds that
don’t open and turn brown or become gray and fuzzy. Leaves can
also develop spots or wilt. Prune the affected parts of the
plant and clean your pruners after cutting. In the fall, be sure
to cut the plant down completely to the ground, being careful to
discard all foliage and stems in the trash and NOT the compost
pile. This year-end care of peonies is wise regardless of
whether your peonies have been affected by botrytis.
Staking for peonies is usually a must,
particularly since our area is prone to heavy rains during the
month of June, usually just about peony bloom time. Often,
because the blooms are smaller and lighter, the Japanese and the
single types will weather rains without their flower heads
landing in the dirt. If you’re disinclined to stake your
flowers these are a better choice than the heavy, double
Peonies make a stunning cut flower. They are best
cut before fully opened, when the bud is showing color and is as
soft as a marshmallow. You can also rescue peonies that are
heavy with rain and place them in arrangements. If cut in the
bud stage it’s very easy to rinse ants from the blossoms, but a
gentle rinse works for open flowers too. The ants aren’t eating
the peonies, but enjoying the sugars present on the blossoms.
Most gardeners acquire their peonies from
generous friends who’ve divided heirloom plants or from a garden
center. For the greatest selection of peonies, check out online
sources. Cultivars can be chosen for specific bloom times,
fragrance or for newer varieties.
Peony Establishment takes Time
Finally, remember the peony is not a plant for
the impatient gardener. Newly set bare-root plants may take up
to 3 years to become established. The first and second year’s
growth and bloom may not be too impressive. Ultimately, the
gardener will be greatly rewarded with a plant that will only
become more bountiful each year and will probably outlive the
one who planted it.
Photos of Perennials
(A - M)
Perennials (N - Z)