Basic Guide to the Culture of Peonies
Peonies are easily grown and their requirements are few, but they respond beautifully to a little special care and attention by producing best quality flowers and many of them. With this thought in mind we offer the following suggestions gained from many years experience in growing and handling peonies.
HOW TO HANDLE IF YOU CANNOT PLANT UPON ARRIVAL
Keep the packaging material damp (not wet) and store plants in a cool location. Storage in your refrigerator vegetable box is ideal.
When to Plant
Peonies may be planted bareroot in the spring or fall. If planted in the fall, you should plant 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes. We prefer early October planting.
Where to Plant
Peonies bloom best in well-drained soils in full sun but tolerate some shade as long as they have at least a half-day of sunshine. The best blooms are usually found on plants growing in full sunlight. Good air circulation around the plant is important. Never plant peonies back in the same location until you have removed soil that was around the original plant and replaced with new soil. Do not plant near large trees or heavy shrubs where they would be robbed of necessary moisture and nutrients. Peonies prefer a soil that tests 6.5 pH.
How to Plant
Space 2-4 feet apart depending on desired effect. We suggest that you work the soil 18 inches deep, into a good loose condition. Incorporate into the hole a mixture of good garden soil and compost. In zones 3-4, place eyes 2 inches deep. In zones 5-6, place eyes 1 inch deep. In zone 7, place eyes just below surface of soil. Work the soil around the roots as you cover the plant. Be sure to pack the soil well. Water well at the time of planting. During the spring months there is usually enough moisture in the ground, but if several weeks pass without rain, give them a good watering once every two weeks. This should also be done during the dry summer months after the peonies have bloomed, to insure a good crop of flowers the following year. We like to put a little mulch around the base of the plants.
Most varieties of peonies develop several small lateral or sidebuds near the base of the terminal bud. If large flowers are wanted, the side buds should be removed so the strength will all go into the terminal bud. The side-buds should be removed as soon as they are about the size of a pea. This is easily done by pulling them downwards and sideways with the fingers. Some people prefer leaving their side-buds which develop and prolong the blooming season. The side-buds bloom later than the terminal buds.
In some sections of the country, where thrips are prevalent, some late varieties are damaged to the extent that the buds fail to open even after they are almost fully developed. Spraying or dusting, at weekly intervals should control the thrips very well. Apply first application when buds are about the size of a large marble. We like Orthene.
Why Peonies Do Not Bloom
There are many reasons why peonies may not bloom. The main reason being if they’re planted too deeply. To check if they’re planted too deeply, examine and if eyes are more than 2″ under ground, raise to proper height. Other reasons include: buds killed by late frost; attacked by thrips; water logged; killed by disease; plants too young, undernourished; undermined by moles or gophers; receive too much shade and not enough sunshine; moved and divided too often; planted too close to trees and shrubs, or crowded by other plants; receiving too much nitrogen; ground too dry; extreme heat.
What to Expect The First Spring After Planting
After planting a standard division will make one or more stems six or more inches high. Do not be discouraged if the growth is low and only one stem appears. It may bloom and it may not. Many of the most successful growers never allow a plant to bloom the first year. The first year blooms are often not typical of the variety. It may take three years before the plant blooms true to variety.