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Peonies; Lush Intoxicating Blooms

Peonies are a delightful addition to any garden, offering a blend of beauty, fragrance, and ease of care.

By understanding the best soil for peonies, choosing the right location, and mastering planting, pruning, and propagation techniques, you can ensure these stunning flowers thrive in your garden.

With the added knowledge of pest and disease management, along with lesser-known tips like companion planting and bloom extension, you’re well-equipped to enjoy peonies at their fullest potential.

Table of Contents

Best Soil for Peonies

The Importance of Soil Quality

The quality of soil in which you plant your peonies can significantly impact their growth and blooming potential. Peonies thrive best in well-drained, fertile soil, rich in organic matter. Heavy clay or sandy soils can pose challenges, but they can be amended to suit the needs of peonies.

Ideal Soil pH

Peonies prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic to neutral. Soil testing kits are readily available and can help you determine the pH of your soil. If the pH is too low (acidic), adding lime can help raise it, while sulfur can lower it if it’s too high (alkaline).

Soil Amendments

To improve soil structure and fertility, consider adding compost, well-rotted manure, or peat moss. These organic amendments increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture and nutrients, giving your peonies the best possible start.

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Where to Grow Peonies

Choosing the Right Location

Selecting the right location for your peonies is crucial for their long-term health and blooming potential. Peonies require a spot that receives at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight daily. However, in hotter climates, some afternoon shade can help protect the flowers from scorching.

Space Considerations

Peonies need room to grow; therefore, spacing is an important factor. Plant them about 3-4 feet apart to ensure good air circulation, which helps prevent fungal diseases. Keep them away from large trees and shrubs that might compete for nutrients and water.

How to Plant Peonies

Selecting the Right Time

The best time to plant peonies is in the fall, usually between late September and early November. This allows the roots to establish before the onset of winter.

Planting Depth and Method

Peonies should be planted with their eyes (the small reddish or white buds) no more than 1-2 inches below the soil surface. Planting them too deeply can result in fewer blooms. Dig a hole about 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep, placing a mix of your amended soil at the bottom before setting your peony tuber in place. Cover gently with soil and water well.

How to Prune Peonies


Pruning Dead or Damaged Stems

Pruning is a crucial aspect of peony care that ensures healthy growth and abundant blooms. In the spring, remove any dead or damaged stems to promote better air circulation and reduce disease risk.

Post-Bloom Care

After the flowers have faded, remove the spent blooms to prevent seed formation and encourage the plant to store energy for the next season. Cut back the foliage to ground level in the fall to minimize the risk of overwintering pests and diseases.

Peony Varieties

Herbaceous Peonies

These are the most common type of peonies, dying back to the ground each winter and re-emerging in the spring. Popular varieties include ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ ‘Karl Rosenfield,’ and ‘Bowl of Beauty.’

Tree Peonies

Unlike herbaceous peonies, tree peonies have woody stems that remain above ground year-round. They produce larger blooms and can grow into substantial shrubs over time. Notable varieties include ‘Kamata Nishiki’ and ‘Shimane Sedai.’

Intersectional (Itoh) Peonies

A hybrid between herbaceous and tree peonies, Itoh peonies offer the best of both worlds: the large, vibrant flowers of tree peonies and the growth habit of herbaceous types. Varieties like ‘Bartzella’ and ‘Cora Louise’ are particularly sought after.

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Watering & Feeding Peonies

Watering Needs

Peonies require consistent moisture, especially during their first year of growth. Water deeply once a week, ensuring the soil is moist but not waterlogged. Mulching can help retain soil moisture and keep the roots cool.

Fertilizing

Feed your peonies with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring, just as new growth begins. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to lush foliage at the expense of blooms. A second, light feeding after blooming can help the plants store energy for the following year.

Propagating Peonies


Division Method

The most common method of propagating peonies is through division. This is best done in the fall when the plant is dormant. Dig up the clump and carefully divide the root mass into sections, each with at least 3-5 eyes. Replant the divisions promptly.

Seed Propagation

While less common and more time-consuming, peonies can also be grown from seed. Collect seeds from mature plants and sow them in well-drained soil. Be prepared to wait several years for the first blooms.

Common Peony Pests & Diseases

Pests

Peonies are relatively pest-resistant but can occasionally fall victim to ants, aphids, and thrips. Ants are usually harmless and attracted to the sweet nectar on peony buds. Aphids and thrips can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Diseases

Botrytis blight is a common fungal disease that causes buds and stems to rot. Good air circulation, proper spacing, and removing infected plant material can help manage this issue. Powdery mildew and root rot are other diseases to watch for, both of which can be mitigated with appropriate cultural practices.

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Lesser-Known Tips for Growing Peonies

Companion Planting

While peonies are stunning on their own, they also benefit from companion planting. Consider planting them alongside alliums, which can help deter pests, or low-growing ground covers that keep the soil cool and weed-free.

Using Support Structures

Peonies can have heavy blooms that cause stems to droop. Using plant supports or cages can help keep the flowers upright and prevent them from touching the ground, reducing the risk of disease.

Extending Bloom Season

To enjoy peonies for a longer period, select early, mid, and late-season varieties. This approach ensures continuous blooms throughout the spring and early summer.

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