The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom. –Henry Mitchell, American writer (1923-93)
Peony blooms are magnificently beautiful in the Spring, with lush foliage all Summer long. These perennials may live longer than you do. The plants require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves.
- Grow peonies in deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soil that drains well. Soil pH should be neutral.
- Peonies like full sun, and though they can manage with half a day, they bloom best in a sunny spot.
- Peonies are usually sold as bare-root tubers with three to five eyes, divisions of a three- or four-year-old plant.
- Plant peonies in the fall: in late September and October.
- Peonies should be settled into place before the first hard frost.
- Dig a generous-sized hole, about two feet deep and two feet across in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. If the soil is heavy or very sandy, enrich it with compost. Incorporate about one cup of bone meal into the soil.
- Tamp it firmly.
- Set the root so the eyes face upward on top of the firmed soil, placing the root just 2 inches below the soil surface.
- Don’t plant too deep! In most of the country, the peony’s eyes (buds) should be no deeper than 1-1/2 to 2 inches below the soil line!
- Then backfill the hole, taking care that the soil doesn’t settle and bury the root deeper than 2 inches.
- Water thoroughly.
Like children, young peonies take time to develop. They usually need a few years to establish themselves, bloom, and grow. Once they establish themselves you can expect them to bloom magnificently every spring. Peonies make wonderful cut flowers, lasting more than a week and are very fragrant. For best results, cut long stems when the buds are still fairly tight.
- Help the stems. If peonies have any structural weakness, it is their stems, which are sometimes not strong enough to support their gigantic blossoms. Consider three-legged metal peony rings that allow the plant to grow through the center of the rings.
- Deadhead peony blossoms as soon as they begin to fade, cutting to a strong leaf so that the stem doesn’t stick out of the foliage. Cut the foliage to the ground in the fall to avoid any overwintering disease.
- Don’t smother peonies with mulch. Where cold temperatures are severe, for the first winter after planting you can mulch VERY loosely with pine needles or shredded bark. Remove mulch in the spring.
Peonies are generally very hearty. They are prone to Verticillium wilt, ringspot virus, tip blight, stem rot, Botrytis blight, left blotch, Japanese beetle, and nematodes.
Many gardeners wonder why so many ants crawl on the peony buds. They are eating nectar in exchange for attacking bud-eating pests. Never spray the ants; they’re helping you nurture peonies to bloom. When cutting for flower arrangements we recommend making sure they are ant free before bringing the into your home.
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