Old-fashioned but never out of style: Peonies

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Whenever I see peonies in bloom, I think of my Grandpa. In his garden, he had the most beautiful deep red peonies and, in my garden, I now have two huge, healthy plants that are glorious each year. I’ve also added pink and yellow peonies to my garden and I’m so thrilled that this lovely bloomer continues to be popular.

Common name: Peony

Botanical name: Paeonia; there are more than 30 species, including P. officinalis, P. lactiflora, and P. mollis, and many hubrids and cultivars

Height: up to about 3 feet tall, 3 feet wide

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Bloom time: Mid- to late spring, into early summer

Conditions: Plant peonies in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. The pointed eyes (where shoots emerge) should only be about 2 inches below soil level, with the eyes facing up.

Best features: Peonies are among the easiest perennial plants to grow. They are long-lived, are not much bothered by pests, and tolerate drought. Established peonies can be relied upon to produce dozens of flowers every spring. There are thousands of hybrids and many different flower types, but semidouble and double peonies are the classic blooms. The flowers can be pale or bright pink, magenta, deep red, pure white, rich coral, soft yellow, or bicolored. A good selection of early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties will provide flowers for six weeks. Flowers can be cut on stems up to 24 inches long. Peony foliage is pretty, too, and the plants are a substantial presence in any garden.

Peonies coming up in the spring

Peonies are easy to share: Propagate plants by division. Dig them up in fall, and divide the crown carefully with a sharp knife; each division should have at least one eye, preferably more. You should be able to separate an established plant into at least three divisions. A divided plant will be more vigorous than one that you simply dig and move without dividing.

Be sure to fertilize with aged compost or manure. Peonies are particularly sensitive to fresh

manure — it will severely damage the plant. Peonies like slightly alkaline soil conditions.

I can’t recommend strongly enough these old-fashioned plants for your garden. The blooms are lovely, with a marvelous aroma, and the foliage is beautiful. The plants require almost no care — and don’t knock those ants off the blooms! As explained in a previous post, those little warriors are helping the plant!

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