Peony Power

By Sharon Naylor

February 12, 2014 5 min read

The soft, rounded, delicate petals of the peony make it one of the most popular flowers for gardens and romantic, ultra-feminine floral arrangements. The sumptuous layers of a peony make it a favorite for dinner party centerpiece flowers, especially since they are so easy to snip from your garden and arrange for an impressive (and nearly free!) d?cor highlight.

The experts at Gardener's Supply Company say that peonies thrive almost anywhere in the country, surprisingly even in lows of 50 degrees. A healthy, happy peony plant can bloom for 100 years or more without the need for specialized attention. It's often a trouble-free plant that can grow 50 peony flowers per bush, keeping you in great supply of these lovely blooms when you position them well and follow these easy care instructions.

*Give Them Light

The blog "Cricket Hill Garden" advises, "Before adding peonies to your landscape, the first consideration is whether the location has the right amount of sunlight. Planted in the deep shade, almost all peonies will grow weakly. Tree peonies will grow vigorously in the full sun, but the flowers fade quickly. Some cultivars are also susceptible to leaf scald in the summer sun. For these reasons, we recommend planting tree peonies in a partially shaded location. An eastern exposure or a location with dappled sunlight is ideal. Five to six hours of sun makes them grow well."

Some peonies, such as herbaceous peonies, need "as close to a full day of sun as possible, or a minimum of six good hours of sun. Without this, they will be weak and not bloom well." If you plant multiple types of peonies, aim for six hours of full sunlight for best results.

If you live in a hot climate, though, make sure your peonies have some shade during the hottest part of the day.

*Give Them Some Air

Peonies prefer well-drained soil and plenty of good air circulation so that they don't develop a fungal disease called botrytis. Gardener's Supply Company explains this disease as being a problem for weak plants. Your plants can also contract botrytis in cool and wet weather or from other infected nearby plants. You'll know if your plants have botrytis if they have blackened buds and stems or are rotting at the plant base. Cut affected areas off and don't compost them. The best way to avoid this fungal problem for your peonies is to plant them at proper spacing as advised for each peony type or plant and maintain your garden so that plants don't overgrow into each other, preventing airflow.

*Plant Them Deeply Enough

Again, follow plant instructions for putting bare-root peonies into the ground. Most often, a 12 inches to 18 inches hole is ideal. Before you place the plant in, use a garden fork to loosen the sides of the planting hole. Add a shovelful of compost and a handful of organic granular fertilizer to the bottom of the hole, and then add a shovelful of original soil. Build a cone of your treated soil inside the planting hole and position the peony plant on top with its roots hanging down the sides. Be sure the "eyes" or growth nodes at the base of the stem are positioned no deeper than 2 inches below the soil surface. Planting deeper than that won't likely kill the plant, but you won't get many flowers. Some plants will grow, but produce no flowers.

*Be Patient

"Peonies rarely bloom the first year after planting," say the experts at Gardener's Supply Company. It may take a year before you see flowers, but once they do begin to grow, you can expect many years of beautiful, lush peony flowers to cut and use as you wish.

Help your peony plants along with an annual feeding of organic, all-purpose fertilizer and a top-dressing of compost, and keep mulch away from your plants' bases to discourage disease or any slowdown in flower production.

You may need to trellis your plants, since peonies can be a bit heavy.

Explore the hundreds of different types of peony flowers on the market today, from heirloom varieties to peonies bred in surprising new colors such as peach, yellow and coral. And as a fun FYI to mention to anyone admiring your peony plants, the "The Language of Flowers" attributes the symbolism of wealth and happiness to this bloom.

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