Peonies are beloved for their exquisite large fragrant blossoms that bloom abundantly on sturdy, herbaceous bushes. They are a perennial that requires winter chill temperatures for spring bloom. Once established, peonies thrive with minimal care and live many decades. Peonies are easily cared for using organic methods. Certified organic peonies are grown under regulations established by the USDA National Organic Program.
Regulations for Organic Certification
The USDA National Organic Program grants organic certification to products that are produced in accordance with specific regulations and have been inspected and approved by a certifying agent. Organic certification requires that a production system “respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity,” according to the University of California Davis Extension website.
Peonies grown organically are not subjected to pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizer. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is practiced to control harmful pest infestations without chemically damaging the plants. Chemical pesticides and herbicides seep into nearby groundwater, which becomes a pollutant. Organically managed farms are safe for surrounding farms because there is no pesticide drift problem.
Peonies thrive in soil with pH levels between 6.5 and 7.5 that is rich in organic matter. Compost is fertilizer made from yard and kitchen waste. It is a mainstay of organic gardening and farming practices. Mature compost is rich in the 17 essential nutrients needed for healthy peony growth. Compost is added when a peony bush is planted and used ongoing as fertilizer.
The American Peony Society recommends fertilizing in the fall “so that the nutrients will have a little time to dissolve and percolate into the root zone.” Peonies go dormant during the winter. It is the cold weather that produces springtime blooms. Fertilizing in the fall supports good spring growth. Non-organic peony growers use synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers; organic growers use compost or commercially available organic all-purpose fertilizer.
Organic growers recommend that manure not be used near peonies because it carries the botrytis fungus, which is disease-causing to peonies. Leaf and stem debris are disposed of by burning in the fall, which prevents the spread of botrytis and other diseases. Removing winter mulch promptly in the spring also helps prevent disease spread. Good garden hygiene helps to avoid the use of anti-fungal chemicals.