Tips For Growing Peonies

Tips for growing peonies! An overview of the growing conditions required by this showy perennial.

Peonies are among the longest-lived perennial plants you will ever encounter - the peonies you plant today may easily be enjoyed by your grandchildren, much as a special tree would be. They are a wonderful source of cut flowers and for generations were favored for Memorial Day cemetery bouquets.

There are two broad categories of peonies: herbaceous types, which are perennials that die back to the roots with the first killing frost of the year; and the tree peony, which grows as a shrub and leaves woody stems behind when the leaves drop each autumn.

Peonies are large plants, best planted at the back of the flower border. In spring, new shoots are reddish, quickly growing into attractive ferny foliage. Flowering time depends on the variety, but peonies generally bloom in May.

To plant peonies, choose a site that receives a half day to full day of sunshine. In hot climates, they'll do best with some afternoon shade. Early fall is probably the best time to plant, but early spring plantings also fare well. Because your peonies will be in their chosen location for decades, you'll want to prepare the site well. Dig a much larger hole than you think you need, and amend the soil well with well-rotted compost. Whether you're planting dormant tubers or young, potted plants from the nursery, the secret to success is the same - position the tuber (a large, fleshy root) so that the eyes on the crown are covered with one to two inches of soil. Peonies are picky this way""they do not want to be planted too deeply. If your plants cease flowering after a few years, check to see that they have not sunken too low in their bed or had too much soil accumulate over top of them. (Lack of sufficient sunlight may be another reason.)

Peonies are seen everywhere in the Northeast and Midwest, but can be grown further south. Climate does affect success, however. Like lilacs, peonies need a winter chilling period of a certain length in order to set buds. The cold winters and hot summers of the Midwest suit peonies just fine. Gardening Zone 7 is probably the limit of their southern range. Unfortunately, the late-season flowering doubles do poorly in the South. Early-flowering singles are a better choice, even though they are not nearly as showy.

Staking peonies is a good idea, especially if they tend to flop over by mid-summer. To stake most effectively, begin early in the growing season, when the first red shoots are showing. You can buy commercial supports, which usually consist of a wire grid on legs. The legs are pushed into the ground over the peony shoots, and the stalks then grow through the openings in the grid. If you can't find these supports or find them rather expensive, you can duplicate them easily on your own. Push four sturdy bamboo stakes into the ground around the edges of each clump of peonies. Make them between two and three feet high. Cut a piece of chicken wire to fit between the stakes and wire it to the tops of them.

To cut peonies, clip when the buds are just beginning to show signs of unfurling. Once in water, the blooms will open quickly and last for a week or so indoors. Placing the bouquet in a cool place, or even in the refrigerator, overnight will help lengthen the show.

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