Get to Know Peonies

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These huge, fragrant, queenly flowers are said to symbolize a happy home life and marriage. Here’s what you’ll need to know to enjoy peonies in your garden:

Peonies are available in two forms, a woody tree form and a herbaceous type. Herbaceous types, also known as garden peonies, are the most commonly grown and easiest to care for. Garden peonies grow best in hardiness zones 3 to 8 and prefer deeply worked, moist, rich soil and full sun. That doesn’t mean they can’t take a little dappled sunshine, but in shade they will not bloom.

Peonies come in every color between swan-feather white and a deep, sultry wine-red. Their petals can be single, creating a colorful frame around the golden stamens, or as full and lush as a pom pom. The flower heads start as a ball then open slowly to eventually reveal the huge flower that can be from six to eight-inches in diameter.

Peony’s sweet scent is heavenly in the garden or when a few flowers are cut and put in a vase to enjoy indoors. In fact, peonies make excellent cut flowers so be sure to grow more than one plant if you can, so you’ve got plenty of blooms for flower arrangements. When the flowering period ends, somewhere between late May to early June, cut the flower stems down to the bush. Peonies have beautifully shaped, shiny foliage that creates an attractive backdrop to colorful annuals or perennials through rest of the summer and fall.

Peonies are a smart landscape investment. They are low-maintenance and can live ten years or more. Because they live so long, you’ll want to choose your plant’s location carefully. Select a spot where you can easily admire your peony; they don’t like being transplanted. Also bear in mind that a nearby tree or large shrub may eventually give too much shade so plan your location accordingly.

To plant peonies dig a hole two feet wide by two feet deep. Mix in some humus, like peat moss, potting soil, or well-rotted compost made with dead leaves. Conditioning the soil is especially important if the soil is high in clay or very sandy. Place the plant roots in the hole and fill with soil until the crown of the plant (the area of the plant where the roots and stems meet) is level with the surrounding soil.

Peonies have few disease problems. If you have planted them in good soil and full sun, the only thing you want to remember is not to pile on mulch to close to the “crown” (point where the foliage and roots join). Peonies are very cold-resistant, and excessive damp can cause a condition called crown rot. They also like support; peony stems are not quite up to the massive glory of their flowers. Special peony support rings can be found at many garden centers. If you choose to provide a support, be sure to install it in early spring before the plants bush out.

Plant taller, blue or yellow companion plants such as Siberian Irises or Bearded Irises to contrast with the white, pink, and red colors and rounded form of peonies. Spring bulbs will also fill space while peonies are coming up, and climbing roses add vertical interest while echoing the form, color, and fragrance of the peony.

Like a happy marriage, peonies need a good start and support, but will reward you for a lifetime!


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