image by DavidK-Oregon/Flickr.com
Peonies are gorgeous perennial flowers that grow as a herbaceous cultivar and as a peony tree. While there are many variations of the peony, most bloom from 1 to 6 weeks during early spring and mid to late summer, depending on the variation and care. Peonies range in color and include shades of white, yellow, red, pink and mauve. They have a beautiful fragrant smell, and pink peonies tend to be the most fragrant.
Plant your peonies in late fall to early winter, just before the ground freezes. Position the peonies in a sunny area that is well drained. Though peonies are shade-tolerant, they require at least 6 or more hours of sunlight for good health. The initial hole should be at least 18 inches deep with an equivalent diameter. Once planted, the eye of the peony should rest 2 inches below the surface. Avoid planting your peonies near trees or shrubs that will rob them of food and moisture. Check the soil's pH levels, as peonies prefer the levels to be between 6.5 and 7.0.
Fertilize your peonies. Ensure that the fertilizer does not reach the crowns of the plant, as it will damage the flower's development. Keep the fertilizer at least 6 inches from the crown and mix it thoroughly into the surrounding soil. Do not over-fertilize, as excessive nitrogen will prevent the plants from blooming. Cover the soil with organic mulch to protect the soil's additions and reduce weed growth.
Water your peonies immediately after planting to ensure a good establishment. The water should wet the soil at least 2 inches under the ground. Water the flowers regularly and at least every 2 weeks during summer months. Continue to water your peonies towards the end of summer to ensure good blooming for the next year.
Have patience with the blooming period. Most peonies do not produce full and normal sized blooms until their third year. First year peonies may only produce a few stems that may be small in size. The colors may also be under-developed and pale. The peony's quality and presentation will improve each year.
Prune your flowers to promote more blooms and increase stem strength. Deadhead spent flowers by shearing the buds. This process will also prevent insect and disease issues. When the blooming period ends, cut off the flowers by clipping the entire stem deep into the plant so that you cannot see the cut. This will allow you to prepare the plant for the following blooming season, while promoting larger, healthier flowers for that season as well.
Protect your newly planted peonies from their first winter by covering them with straw or hay. The cover should be at least 3 feet deep and should be applied after the ground has frozen. Remove the protection in early spring after the temperature rises consistently above the freezing point. This protection is only required for first year peonies. Established peonies do not require winter protection.