By Susan Leigh Anthony, Kennedy’s Perennial Buyer
Peonies are popular. And why wouldn’t they be? I mean, who doesn’t love Peonies? They certainly have a lot going for them. They are unspeakably gorgeous, come in a great range of luscious colors, and flower types, most all are blessed with heady fragrance, and they are ridiculously easy to grow. Count how many blooms you can cut and bring int he house and the money you save at the local florist. Now that is a good investment even if the economy is on shaky ground!
Kennedy’s has approximately 30 different peony varieties destined to arrive on our perennial benches this spring. Many are already in stock, and include some very choice Itohs, and tree forms, which I adore (they will take a modicum of shade), and I feel are so underused. We will also be carrying an amazing Japanese woodland type, called Paeonia obovata, a handsome, understated plant, admired for its stunning and colorful, late season, seed pod, and Paeonia tenuifolia (Fern leaf Peony) with its finely incised foliage and rich, red blossoms.
The most familiar peonies are the herbaceous types, such as Sarah Bernhardt and Festiva maxima- We recall these from our mother’s and grandmother’s gardens. They are the two most popular, I think, in part, because people know them. Lovely as they are, there is an entire world of herbaceous peonies from which to choose: singles, semi-doubles, and doubles, many of which are intoxicatingly fragrant. We have over 20 varieties of herbaceous peonies this year!
Here’s some additional information that you might find interesting about these beautiful plants:
Peonies have been in cultivation for over 2,000 years. They are an extremely long- lived perennial. The average bloom period for a peony plant is 7-10 days, but you can have them blooming in your garden for over 6 weeks, if you plant ones that are very early through very late. If the weather stays on the cool side, bloom is extended.
If you are not into the blousy, frilly doubles, you may want to consider a single flowered peony. Sometimes the particular spot in the garden will dictate that a single might look best.
Do not fret if ants are on your peonies, they like the honeydew and/ or sugar the flowers emit and do not in any way harm the plants. They are also not needed to make the flowers open- a wives tale, I’m afraid.
Planting and caring for your peonies:
Peonies want to be planted so that the eyes (small red dish buds which eventually become the stems) are pointing up and set just below the surface of the soil. If they are planted too deeply, they will not bloom.
The best spot for a an herbaceous or Itoh Peony is full sun (6-8 hours), though they will do ok in a bit less light. If you can situate them in a spot that is out of the wind, they will appreciate it, and so will you, since a good gust can whip off the petals prematurely, which can be disappointing. Peonies also appreciate good drainage. Wet areas are not for peonies.
Using a peony hoop is something you will be very glad you did. They should setup early, well before the foliage is fully flushed out. In the case of the double flowered ones, which can grow somewhat top heavy, using a hoop will prevent them from flopping over which is not a pretty look. The ones with the grid work best since they will keep the flowers in the place. The hoops without the grid allow you to put them place in case you waited too long. They still can wrapped around the peony but they flowers all hand around the outside ring leaving it looking empty in the middle. Kennedy’s carries high quality peony hoops in the garden center. They are more money than the peony itself, but worth the investment because peonies are so long lived and expensive to buy as a cut flower. The good ones can be moved up and down as the plants grows and last many, many years vs the cheap ones. Plus they look nice enough to be left in the garden year around. In this throw away society, we sell way more cheaper hoops than nice ones, but from our experience the nicer ones last and work better.
Do not mix any fertilizer into the planting hole, but you can top dress with fertilizer (preferably organic ) when the stems are up about 6 inches or so. Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer, like Plant Tone, to the soil around the peony stem. This should also help keep phosphorus levels steady, but do test your soil every few years to make sure you’re feeding your peonies correctly. Adding bone meal or phosphate fertilizer occasionally assists in strong root growth and flower set.
Herbaceous peonies and Itoh peonies can be cut back to the ground in late Fall- careful not to cut into the eyes.
Occasionally we see issues with Botrytis. It is a disease that turns leaves and flowers black. It is most common in wet springs. Good air circulation is key. It is usually best to remove any stems that have this and hope it doesn’t come back next year. If bad it might be worth treating for. Click her for more info.
Tree Peonies- Please do not cut those down, whatever you do! That is the beauty, they get bigger and produce more flowers every year with little effort.
Whatever choices you make when buying your peonies, I know you will enjoy them, whether in the garden or brought indoors to either float in bowl, or cut long stemmed, and arranged in your favorite vase!