Q: I was in a park recently, and there was a sign on a very pretty plant that said it was a tree peony. It was only 3 feet tall, so I suppose it will grow. I have never heard of a tree peony. I am looking for a small tree for my yard. Does a tree peony make a good ornamental tree?
A: I'm sorry to tell you that no, it won't grow into a small tree. Peonies are divided into the herbaceous group, which dies back down to the ground and a rhizome during the winter, and woody, stemmed shrubs that will grow to 3.5 to 5 feet tall in five to eight years. The flowers on tree peonies grow from 5 to 7 inches wide. Colors range from white, yellow, pink, red and purple. Some varieties are nicely fragrant. The flower buds form in the late summer on the ends of branches, so any pruning done after that will cut off the flowers for next year. Tree peonies can be grown in agricultural zones four through eight.
Tree peonies are divided into five groups. The Japanese moutan tree peonies have been grown in Japan and Korea since the eighth century. Cultivars in this group have Japanese names.
The Nassos Daphnis hybrids were created by Nassos Daphnis and William Gratwick and are up to their sixth breeding generation. Their cultivars have Greek mythological names.
The Sir Peter Smithers hybrids were created by Smithers over the past 50 years and are named after his family and friends.
The American hybrids have been bred for North American gardening conditions, and many have been developed by the Klehm family in Illinois.
Finally, there are the intersectional, or Itoh, hybrids that are crosses between the herbaceous and tree peonies. They have they incredible flowers of the tree peonies, but they do die back to the ground like the herbaceous peonies.
All of these groups have many dozens of cultivars. Some of the best of each group are available at the Klehm nursery website.
Q: I bought a dwarf Korean lilac a few years ago, and it is now 10 feet high. Do I start over with a new plant, or can I cut this one down to 3 feet tall and still have it bloom?
A: There has long been confusion about dwarf lilacs. The dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri) and the compact form of the dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri palibin) have both been billed as growing to only 5 feet tall. Since plants can't read, they often grow to 10 feet tall.
Your plant may be a Manchurian lilac (Syringa patula) or the dwarf form of a Miss Kim lilac (Syringa patula). These species and their cultivars are often confused with one another and sold or labeled in a confusing way.
Miss Kim is sometimes listed as a plant that only grows 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, but it can grow up to 10 feet high and wide.
No matter which one of these plants you actually have, it is difficult to keep any plant at less than half the size it wants to grow to. This is especially true if you want your plants to bloom. The lilac buds are set in late summer for the following year. If the plant is growing too tall, it will be very tempting to cut it down to size before winter, thus cutting off next year's flowers.
You will be better off replacing the plant with a new shrub that really does stay in the size range you want.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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