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Peonies

A cream colored double Peony

How to Care for Cut Peonies

Peonies never fail to command attention, and with their bright green leaves and big, splashy blooms, they are the undisputed queen of the flower bed. Enjoyment of peonies doesn't have to end at the front door. They can be cut and put in vases where they'll continue to grace the house with cheerful elegance for up to two weeks.

Cut the peonies with pruning shears during the cool of the morning or evening, and avoid cutting them on hot days. Peonies that haven’t yet bloomed or that have barely begun to bloom will last the longest. Be sure to leave a long stem.

Trim at least an inch off the bottom of the stem. Make the cut at an angle, which will provide a larger cut surface to absorb water. Trim off lower leaves that will be under the water once the peonies are put in the vase, otherwise they can rot, greatly decreasing the life of the blooms.

Put the peonies in a vase filled with cool water. Place the peonies away from windy, drafty areas and keep them out of direct sunlight.

Replace the water with fresh water every two or three days. If you trim a half inch off the bottom of the stem each time you replace the water, the peonies will last longer.

Stages of the Peony

Dormancy

Peonies go dormant for the winter during late August. In warmer climates, you can leave peonies in the ground over winter. In bitterly cold climates, however, you may need to dig your peony root stocks up and put them in cold storage for the winter. Your peonies need this dormancy before spring to grow and flower properly.

Growth

During initial spring growth, your peony roots may send up a number of shoots. After the second year, try to limit the number of shoots to the healthiest five or six. However, try to avoid pruning your peony during its first year of growth. If your peony looks weak during the first year's growth, remove the buds when they are about 1/4 inch in diameter to encourage green vegetative growth.

Budding & Flowering

When your peony buds will depend somewhat on your growing season. If you are growing peonies for cut flowers, don't plan on harvesting the flowers until the peony is 3 to 4 years old. Begin harvesting your peony in its fourth year. Most peonies produce well for up to 25 years. The precise timing for harvest will depend on the variety of peony. Some need to be harvested when the bud is still firm. Others do better when the bud has softened a bit.

How to Force Peonies to Open

Fill a vase with warm water.

Place each cut peony in the vase one at a time, and cut their stems at a diagonal while holding them underwater.

Place the peonies in warm area: a sunny windowsill, a spot near a warm vent or a pot of steam.

Keep the water warm by changing it frequently until the peonies open in a day or so.

Why Do Peonies Need Ants to Bloom?

Peonies produce a sweet nectar that attracts ants, which swarm the peony to assist in opening the buds. The ants' assistance is not required, however, and peony buds also will open on their own.

How to Collect Peony Seeds

Allow several healthy peony blooms to wilt and die naturally on the plant at the end of the growing season. The bloom will be replaced by a seed pod.

Watch for the pods to turn from green to brown. When they turn brown and hard, they will begin to open and you will be able to see the round shiny seeds inside.

Cut off the pods and drop them into a paper sack. Put the paper sack in a dry place for several days, or until the pods are completely dry.

Pour the peony pods out onto a flat surface, and separate the seeds from the bits of pods and any other leaves or debris. If any pods haven’t already split, open them and remove the seeds.

Put the seeds in a regular paper envelope. Store the seeds in a dry, dark place until you're ready to use them.

How to Grow Peonies in Georgia

Decide where you would like your peony plant to grow in your garden. Peonies do well in full or partial sun.

Clear the desired area and ensure that it is free of debris such as sticks, leaves, and straw. Make sure the area is spacious enough for your peony plant to fully mature. Peonies require at least 4 square feet of space in order to mature.

Use your spade to uncover the soil where you wish to place your peony plant. Peonies do not need deep planting, about 2 to 3 inches.

Water the soil before planting your peonies. Do not oversaturate the soil–peonies need just a little moisture in order to grow optimally.

Plant the peony plant into the ground. Pack the soil well around the roots.

Ensure proper growth of your peony by watering weekly during the fall and spring. During summer months, water twice weekly.

How to Transplant Tree Peonies

Select a planting site. Tree peonies prefer full sun--at least six hours of sunlight each day--and well-drained soil. You can improve the drainage if necessary by working in compost, leaf mold or peat moss.

Dig a hole that will be able to accommodate the entire root system of the tree peony. Space the holes 3 to 4 feet apart if you’re transplanting multiple tree peonies.

Cut the stems close to ground level in September. Dig well away from the plant to get as much the tree peony’s extensive root system as possible. Plant the tree peony in the new location promptly.

Place the tree peony in the new location so the buds are no more than 2 inches under the soil. Fill the hole with soil and firmly pack it around the plant. Water the plant thoroughly.

Spread 4 to 6 inches of mulch, such as straw or pine needles, around the tree peony in late fall. Remove the mulch in the early spring before the tree peony begins to grow. Remove any flower buds for the first two years to encourage the transplanted peony to develop its roots and leaves.

How to Prune Peonies

Prune peonies in the spring and summer very lightly to improve air circulation. For serious pruning, prune them only in the fall when the foliage has begun to die back.

Use the pruning scissors to cut off any broken or weak peony stems (this means stems that are thinner or shorter than a ballpoint pen). Cut these stems back to the point where they connect to the base of the plant.

Prune slowly and carefully, because you want the peonies to be shapely and still stay bushy without trimming too much leaf mass off.

Prune the entire plant back to the ground if it seems diseased or dead in any way.

How to Feed Peonies

Feed herbaceous peonies in mid-spring or when new growth is 6 to 8 inches high.

Rake mulch away from the crown (where the growth emerges) of the peony.

Apply 1 to 2 inches of compost spreading it around plant. A balanced commercial fertilizer like 10-10-10 can also be used. Apply it according to package directions.

Give the peony 1 to 2 inches of water after applying the fertilizer.

Replace mulch around the peony to hold the fertilizer in place and to keep the soil moist.

Peony Flower Facts

Description

The peony is a showy, frilly and fragrant flower that comes in single or double varieties. The plants are thickly leaved and have large, deep green leaves. The peony possesses a tuberous root system.

Types

Herbaceous peonies grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Flowers as wide 10 inches sit on long, sturdy stems, which make for fine floral arrangements. The tree peony is a deciduous shrub that grows 4 to 6 feet tall with flowers up to 1 foot in diameter.

Considerations

The herbaceous peony prefers plenty of water, full sun and fertile soil with organic material. The tree peony is extremely tolerant of cold and prefers soil that has been enriched with peat moss.

Uses

Grown mainly as a decorative plant, the peony also has potential medicinal benefits. According to the journal Experimental Neurology, peony root has shown to be effective in treating neuron damage.

Fun Fact

The peony grows wild in many regions of Europe. The Romans introduced it to England around the year 1200.

How to Water Peonies

Pour 1 or 2 gallons of water slowly onto the plant immediately after planting. This helps settle the soil around the flower, ensuring that the roots do not sink too deep.

Water the peonies to a depth of 12 inches every 10 to 14 days after planting through the first growing season. Slow, deep watering encourages a strong root system.

Cultivate around the plants, eliminating weeds and breaking up hard soil surfaces. Pulling out weeds decreases competition for water and breaking the surface of the soil aids moisture penetration. Do not cultivate more than 1 or 2 inches deep or you risk damaging the roots.

Water the peonies in the spring, especially during bud formation and flowering. Continue watering slowly and deeply so the plant continues to form a deep-root system. Watering at this point is especially essential for flower formation.

Water only during dry periods in the summer. In the fall, give the plant a good drink because it develops its roots at this time.

How to Stake Peonies

Drive wooden or metal stakes around the base of the peony bush. Be sure the stakes are long enough to drive securely into the ground, and still have enough above ground to support the plant as it matures. Leave about 10 inches between each stake.

Tie a strip of old sheet to one stake. Cross it through the peony bush to the stake on the opposite side of the peony bush.

Wrap the strip around that stake twice. Wind it around the neighboring stake, and then cross it through the plant and over to the opposite stake.

Continue criss-crossing through the peony from post to post, until you come full circle. Tie the strip to the first stake and cut it with a pair of scissors. As the peony grows, it will hide the stakes and the fabric.

How to Plant a Peony Root

Find a sunny location with well-drained soil. Peonies will grow in partial shade, but they really don't thrive and bloom as well as in sunny locations, according to Richard Jauron with the Iowa State University's Department of Horticulture.

Dig a hole that will allow you to put the entire peony root below the soil, with the tip just 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.

Place the peony root in the hole and cover with a rich potting soil. Pat the soil down firmly around the root. Work in a plant fertilizer according to package directions if you'd like to boost the growth.

Water thoroughly after planting; the soil should be very moist.

Expect little or no blooming in the first year of growth. According to Jauron, it's a good idea to pinch off any blooms that do appear the first year to encourage root growth as the plant establishes itself.

How to Care for Peonies in Southwest Virginia

Plant the peonies using the "Southern method." This means ensuring that the crown of the peony plant--where the bottom stem cluster meets the rootball--is above the level of the soil. Planting a peony too deep will result in a lack of vigorous growth and may delay blooming.

Side dress peonies with compost every spring to add fertility to the soil. Peonies require no other fertilization once established.

Divide peony clumps every 10 years or when they begin to crowd each other. Peonies should not be disturbed before they are three years old or blooming may cease. In southwest Virginia, peonies will begin to bloom in May and will last for a month or more.

Leave some leaves on each stem when cutting blooms to allow the stem to regrow. Peonies may be cut heavily to take blooms into the house but otherwise requires no pruning.

How to Sprout Peony Seeds

Collect the peony seeds after the peony seed pod has dried and opened on the plant.

Place the seeds in a plastic bag with a mixture of damp vermiculite. Close the bag.

Place the bag in a warm spot out of direct sunlight with a temperature between 80 and 90 degrees F. This will allow the seeds to sprout roots. Keep the seed moist until the root sprouts. This can take several weeks to months.

Place the bag in a cool place with a temperature of about 40 degrees F after the roots have sprouted. Leave the peony seeds in the cool area for two to three months until a green leaf sprout appears.

Plant the peony sprouts in your garden or a pot after the leaf sprout appears.

Peony Shrub

Lifespan

Peony shrubs can live for decades. In fact, may tree peonies will outlive their owners. In China, where peonies originated, they plants are revered for both their beauty and longevity.

Site Considerations

Because peony shrubs live so long, it's important to choose the right site. Peonies need a rich and well-draining soil. They also like a lot of sunlight. However, keep in mind that plants that get some partial shade will likely produce longer-lasting flowers. Peony shrubs can be grown in areas up to USDA hardiness zone 4, but in colder climates they will do best when they get some protection from the cold. Try planting them along the east side of a building.

Planting

If you are planting a bare-root peony shrub, plant it in the fall. Container-grown peonies can be grown in the fall or early spring. Don't plant peonies in the summer because the heat can make it hard for the plant to acclimate. If you are planting a bare-root peony, dig a hole 4 inches to 6 inches deep. Container peonies should be planted at the same depth they were originally grown.

Care

If you want to fertilize your peony shrubs, use a 5-10-10 fertilizer and apply it in the spring, when the stems are between 2 inches and 3 inches long. You also may want to mulch around the plants each spring to prevent weed growth. Tree peonies should not be pruned in the fall.

Flowers

Peony shrubs do not typically produce flowers for a few years. Plants bought at a nursery may be old enough to flower when they are purchased, but if you buy a younger shrub it may be a few years before you get blooms. When your peony begins to flower, you should remove the blooms once they begin to fade. This will help the plant preserve its nutrients.

The Best Flower That Pairs With Peonies

Peonies pair beautifully with Japanese or Siberian irises. Both peonies and bearded irises begin to bloom in early summer, and gardeners consider their foliage and flowers to complement one another. Other classic peony companion plants include hellebores, daylilies and bellflowers.

How to Pollinate a Peony Tree

Hand pollinate your tree peonies by picking up the sticky yellow pollen grains from the anthers of mature open peony flowers with the tip of a small, and inexpensive new artist's paintbrush. Paint the pollen grains onto the central stigma of the flower structure to complete pollination.

Import or rent a colony of bees to visit and carry out pollination of your peony plants during their bloom period. Contact an apiary pollination service or a professional bee keeper to assist you each spring and summer as necessary to keep the shrubs producing year after year.

Refrain from spraying or applying insecticides anytime in the spring and summer when your peonies are in bud and bloom as these can kill or, at a minimum, dissuade the visits of, bees and other necessary pollinators.

How Far Apart Do You Plant Peonies?

Plant peonies in early fall for best results. This allows them to grow a sufficient root structure before the ground freezes.