It can be disheartening to see your
beautiful peonies stop producing flowers due to unforeseen challenges. That’s
why it is the goal of Gardening Know How to help avoid these issues, or at the very least amend them, by
providing the best information possible so your peonies will flourish and bloom
for many years to come – and that includes answering the questions about peony
care that plaque us all. Here are the top questions about growing peonies.
Once established, peonies bloom
proficiently and require little maintenance. Start them off right by choosing a
sunny location with good drainage and fertile soil. Peony plants
are slow to establish and can take several years to produce abundant flowers.
It’s essential to plant peonies at the correct depth and avoid applying thick
layers of mulch which can build up over time and bury the roots. Regular
maintenance includes deadheading the spent flowers, cutting herbaceous peony to
the ground in the fall, or pruning dead branches from tree peony. Herbaceous
peonies benefit from periodic root division.
This is an excellent question, as peonies
are shallow-rooted plants and require a six-week chilling period in the winter
for buds to form. If peonies are planted too deep, few, if any flowers will
develop. When transplanting, moving or dividing peony, replant the roots to a depth of 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6
cm.). I like to position the roots with the eye buds pointing up through the
surface of the soil. Even when planted at the correct depth, it can take up to
three years for newly transplanted peony to bloom.
The best time to move a peony is in the
fall. I prefer preparing the new site prior to digging up the plant. This
allows me to replant quickly which helps reduce transplant shock. I also like
to incorporate compost into the soil to improve drainage and increase soil
fertility. Since peonies prefer full sun, try to choose a new location that
won’t be overgrown by trees in a few years. To make the peony easier to handle,
cut back the stems to a few inches above the ground. Once out of the ground,
the peony can be divided before replanting in its new home.
Caring for a peony in the ground is much
easier than one in a pot, but container-grown plants are often the only choice for renters and high-rise
dwellers. Peonies are large plants, so begin by choosing a planter that’s at
least 18 inches (46 cm.) deep by 18 inches (46 cm.) tall. Use a quality potting
soil that provides nutrients and facilitates drainage. Planting the peony at
the correct depth and providing the proper chill period is essential for
flowering. The correct amount of chill can often be attained by overwintering
potted peonies in an attached, unheated garage.
is easily identified by the white residue on the peony’s foliage. Prevention
includes locating peonies in full sun. High temperatures and direct sunlight can
inhibit the growth of this fungal disease and prevents its spread by killing
the spores. Once plants are infected, treat the peony with an organic
fungicide, horticultural oil or neem oil. You can also brew up a homemade
fungicide solution using one tablespoon of baking soda, canola oil and
bleach-free dish soap to a gallon of water. Spray this on the peony every 10 to
14 days during cool weather.
The best time to divide peonies
is late summer (September in the Northern Hemisphere) or early fall. By this
time, the peony should be done blooming and entering its dormancy period. I
find moving or dividing peony at this time of year reduces the likelihood of
heat stress, but still gives the transplant time to become reestablished before
winter. Cutting the stems back to a few inches above ground level will
conserves the peony’s energy and makes the job of moving the plant much easier.
There can be several reasons why peonies fail to flower. If the peony was transplanted recently, it can take
up to three years to flower profusely. Lack of sunlight is another reason for a
failure to produce buds. Over time, the canopy from nearby trees can expand and
block light from reaching the plant. Peony roots also require an adequate chill
period to form buds. They grow best in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. The roots
must be not be planted too deep or bud formation will be impeded. Mulch can
also build up over the years, burying the roots deeper than recommended.
The answer depends on the type of peony.
Herbaceous peonies die back to the ground in the winter. I find it best to clean
up the dead plant material and dispose of it in the trash, as the debris can
harbor pests and disease. It’s not advisable to cover peony roots with mulch or
straw since they need a chill period in order to bloom the following spring. Tree peonies
lose their leaves in the fall, but the branches remain intact. Tree peony can
be lightly pruned to remove dead wood and improve their shape.
Peony plants expend energy to form
seeds. Deadheading spent flowers redirects that energy into more useful areas, like
energy storage for the next year’s growth. Peony plants can be deadheaded as
soon as the flower fades. When I deadhead, I like to cut the flower stem back
to where the plant has healthy green leaves. This also makes the plant look
nicer. The primary reason to allow an open-pollinated peony to produce seeds is for propagation. Although there are many heirloom varieties of peony
available, most gardeners find it easier to propagate peonies by root division.
Pruning of peonies is recommended as part of their annual care. In addition to
deadheading spent flowers, herbaceous peonies can be cut to the ground in the
fall. Do this once the foliage has yellowed and begun to die back. Be sure to
cut several inches above ground level to avoid shearing off the bud eyes. These
will develop into stems, leaves and flowers the following spring. Tree peonies
develop woody stems which don’t die back each year. Instead of cutting tree
peonies to the ground, prune dead branches and clean up the fallen leaves.
We all have
questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out.
So if you have a gardening question, get a
We’re always here to help.