True royalty among garden plants. Peonies feature blossoms that can take your breath away. But growing peonies requires more than just a penchant for their vibrant color and sweet scent. Growing Peonies!
Thirty two species of wild peonies are native from the Mediterranean region to eastern Asia. With two species endemic to western North America.
The wild peony species are mostly herbaceous perennials. But some Chinese species are woody shrubs, mistakenly but perhaps permanently called ‘tree peonies’ in English. All are beautiful.
How To Plant Peonies-First
Grow peonies in deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soil that drains well. Soil pH should be neutral. Peonies are not fussy, but choose your location wisely, as they resent disturbance.Provide shelter from strong winds. Plant away from trees or shrubs as peonies don’t like to compete for food and moisture. Space them 3 to 4 feet apart for good air circulation.
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 3 to 5 eyes (buds), divisions of a 3- or 4-year-old plant.Dig a generous-sized hole, about 2 feet deep and 2 feet across in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. The soil will benefit from the addition of organic material in the planting hole. If the soil is heavy or very sandy, enrich it with extra compost. Incorporate about one cup of bonemeal into the soil.
How To Plant Peonies-Second
Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.Set the root so the eyes face upward on top of a mound of soil in the hole, placing the roots just 2 inches below the soil surface. Don’t plant too deep! In southern states, choose early-blooming varieties, plant them about 1 inch deep, and provide some shade.
Then, backfill the hole, taking care that the soil doesn’t settle and bury the root deeper than 2 inches. Tamp the soil gently.When planting a container-grown peony, cover it no deeper than it grew in the pot. Water thoroughly.
Itoh Peony Collection
Those who admire the colorful and exotic flowers of tree peonies, but prefer the perennial growing cycle of herbaceous Peonies, will love the Itoh Peonies, also known as intersectional hybrids. They tend to resemble tree Peonies with a domed, vigorous growth habit and large double flowers with disease-resistant lacy, dark green foliage. After the flowering cycle, gardeners will enjoy the handsome bush for the remainder of the season.
Once established, Itoh Peonies have an extended blooming period, with as many as 50 blooms in a single season due to their ability to produce primary and secondary buds. They are excellent in cut flower arrangements. They will grow to three feet tall and wide and continue to improve with age.
Peony Flowers: Season and Color
Herbaceous peonies bloom at varying times throughout late spring and early summer. The earliest begin blooming in mid-May. The bloom is usually finished by the Summer Solstice, however on a particularly cool year blooms may continue into early July.
Traditionally, herbaceous peonies come in four colors: white, blush, pink, and red. Through modern breeding, a greater range of colors has been achieved including coral, yellow, and patterned peonies. However, due to the historical nature of the peony garden, the peonies in this collection are within the narrower, traditional color range.
Most peony plants are sun-lovers. “They require almost nothing but full sun and patience,” says Kathleen Gagan of Peony’s Envy in New Jersey.
However, tree peonies prefer light shade during the heat of midday. Which encourages the blossoms to last 10 to 14 days, rather than fading quickly (two to three days) in full sun. In China, parasols are enlisted to protect the delicate flowers from sun.
How to Make Cut Peonies Last Longer
Peonies make wonderful, long-lasting cut flowers that generally persist for over a week. You can pick them as open as you like, but for the best vase life, harvest them while in bud. I aim for harvesting at the “soft marshmallow” stage—in the mornings I go through the plants and gently squeeze each flower bud, feeling for sponginess.
If buds are still hard, then I leave them to ripen longer, but if they feel soft—similar to a marshmallow— I pick them. When harvesting, be sure to leave at least two sets of leaves on the stem so that the plant can continue to grow and store food over the summer.
History of Peonies
Peonies have been growing in Eastern gardens for over 4,000 years. As the imperial symbol, the flowers were spread across the country as different emperors moved their courts. They reached Japan around the beginning of the eighth century. They were also revered for their beauty and further hybridized.
In Europe, herbaceous peonies are a part of ancient Greek mythology and are highly regarded for their medicinal properties.
Peonies prefer full sun and slightly alkaline, well-drained soil. If a peony becomes top-heavy with flowers, staking will prevent the stems from breaking. Once peonies die back in the autumn, they should be cut back to ground level.