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Paeonia (pee-OH-nee-uh)

Common Name:  Peony

Light:  - Full sun to part shade

Soil:  Loamy to rich, moist but well-drained

Moisture:  Average

Blooms:  Late spring and early summer

Zones:  3 - 8

Peony 'Gay Paree'

Peony 'Honey Gold'

Paeonia Description and Cultural Information

Garden peonies are one of the all time favorite spring perennials, and a mainstay in many gardens. They have large flowers in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, over thick, rich shrublike foliage. They are extremely long lived and have been cultivated for centuries. They appreciate a humus-rich, well drained soil in full sun.

Two well-known myths have been spread regarding these plants.

Myth #1:  Peonies need ants in order for blooms to open. Truth:  Peonies develop a sugary coating on the flower buds, which ants and wasps enjoy, but the buds will open with or without these insects being present.

Myth #2:  Peonies will not bloom for 3 years after being moved. Truth:  Peonies can be safely moved when dormant in early spring or fall without slowing bloom production. The key is to plant 3 - 5 eye or larger divisions with the buds just slightly below soil level. If they are planted too deeply your peonies will spend the next few years growing underground stems and roots up to the new soil level. Once they reestablish themselves at the surface they will then put their energy into bloom production. Small divisions may also take a few years to become bloom size, so keep them large when dividing.

Essentially, peonies that fail to bloom could be 1) planted too deep, 2) not getting enough nutrients, 3) be overcrowded (again, not getting enough nutrients due to competition), 4) be too young - plant the largest divisions possible, 5) have a fungal disease (see below) or 6) be planted in too much shade. It is also good idea to lightly work bonemeal around each plant in the fall and mulch lightly with compost to keep your plants happy and protected over the winter.

Gray mold, a common fungus on stems, leaves, and flowers during wet, cool springs, will cause spotting, blackening, and decay. Some young buds will turn black and wither, failing to bloom. To prevent this be sure to clean up and destroy infected foliage. You may also spray emerging shoots in spring with a fungicide containing mancozeb, zineb, or benomyl.

Most peonies are hybrids of Paeonia lactiflora and P. officinalis. These hybrids are placed into 4 different categories based on the shape of the flowers. Single peonies have 5 or more petals with a central ring of stamens. Japanese peonies have a ring of petals around a central cluster of modified, narrow and flat stamens. Semi-double peonies have several rings of petals with visible stamens. Fully double peonies have many rings of petals and no visible stamens.

The single and Japanese peonies tend to have sturdier stems which hold up better during wind and rain. In addition they can sometimes close up during bad weather, protecting their petals from damage. Many of the double peonies are so heavy that they need to be supported by peony cages, strings, or other supports to prevent their blooms from spending most of the time on the ground.

At Hallson Gardens we have a single, light pink hybrid with shocking, fuschia colored foliage in the spring and early summer which we hope to cultivate in the future.

How to Grow:  Plant peonies in humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full to part sun. We suggest digging a very large planting hole and improving the soil with a generous amount of compost and other well-rotted organic matter, along with a handful or two of bonemeal. Then place your peony root so that the tip of the uppermost buds are just at the soil surface. Backfill your hole and cover the buds lightly with compost. Mulch around the perimeter to help prevent frost heaving and to conserve moisture. Mix some bonemeal into the soil around your peony and topdress lightly with compost each fall to help protect them and to maintain their vigor.

Landscape uses:  Plant peonies as focal points, anchors, backdrops, or borders. They combine well with other early summer perennials such as Siberian or bearded Iris, poppies, painted daisies, and Baptisia, along with late spring bulbs such as daffodils or late tulips. Try planting tall lily bulbs at the base of your peonies. The lilies will rise up through the peony foliage, hiding the long lily stems while giving you a second burst of blooms long after the peonies have finished.

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