BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Perfect Perennial Peony
Kerry Peetz
/ Categories: Opinion, Commentary

BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Perfect Perennial Peony

By Kerry Peetz

Talk about a show-off — this perennial is in bloom now, and if they could sell tickets, they would be “sold out” every night! The only trouble is, sadly, the blooms don’t last for the entire season.

Once wild, peonies from the Orient, mainly China, were domesticated for their medicinal properties. From China the peony found its way to Japan where it quickly became a favorite. In the 18th century, peonies were brought to Europe, where they weren’t so popular until they found their foothold in France. Then the peony frenzy was on! Around 1850, the peony made its way to the United States, where it has been admired and cultivated ever since.

Side note: There are two types of peonies; the herbaceous plant that grows in the Northern Hemisphere, and the tree peony, which is native only to China but is a protected species. All other tree peonies are cultivated  commercially for sale. They are expensive, somewhat hard to grow and  need perfect conditions. Here are a few tips to consider when growing peonies.

• Herbaceous peonies need at least six hours of full sun a day for good bloom. Afternoon shade will protect flowers from fading too quickly in hot areas. Tree peonies should always have dappled or afternoon shade as the large, silky petals are damaged by too much sun.

• Well-drained, loamy soil is best. Good drainage is vital to avoid root rot and fungal diseases. If soil is heavy clay, amend it with compost, or well-rotted manure (at a least a year old) to improve drainage and organic matter content.

• Fall planting is best. Dig a hole 12 to 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Replace part of the soil in the form of a cone and spread the roots over it. Set the roots so that the tip of the eyes (swollen pink or reddish buds) will be no deeper than 1 inch below the surface of the soil. Most failures to bloom are caused by planting too deep.

• After the plant is established water thoroughly and deeply once every 10 to 14 days. Deep watering will encourage deep rooting. Once established, peonies are very drought-resistant.

• Peonies are long-lived (100 years), but slow-growing at first. Garden peonies will usually begin blooming the third year after planting. Tree peonies will begin blooming at about the same time, but will increase slowly in size and bloom quantity.

• Remove seed heads after flowering is finished to allow the plant to store more energy for next year’s bloom.

• In the fall, after frost, cut back the dead stems of herbaceous peonies down to the soil surface. This is very important if you have had any disease problems. Discard the stems, do not add to the compost pile. Never cut back tree peonies. They are shrubs and will not grow back if cut down.

• Peonies may be left undisturbed for many years. To divide or move peonies, do so in late September or October. Carefully lift the clump and wash away the soil to expose the eyes. Using a clean, sharp tool, divide the clump into sections, each with three to five eyes and good roots. Replant immediately.

• Most peonies need support to prevent the stems from flopping under the weight of their huge flowers.

• Fresh cut peonies for inside the home should be picked when the flower is in the soft bud stage. Leave at least 3 leaves per stem on the plant. Recut the stems under warm water and strip off any leaves that would contact water in the vase. The flowers should open within a day of being placed in a vase.

• Apply a low nitrogen complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 at the rate of two to three pounds per 100 square feet in the spring when the stems are about 2 or 3 inches high. Well-rotted manure may be used to improve the soil if it is applied to the soil surface in a 1–2-inch layer. Never let fertilizer or manure touch the stems of the plant.

• Ants are attracted to peonies because of the sweet sap the flower buds secrete. It is a myth that ants are necessary to permit peonies to bloom.

These perennials can be pricey but are a good investment. They will bring years and years of “ooooohs” and “ahhhs!”

Next Article THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: Summer Specials: Quick Dishes for Sunny Reading
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