The Q&A Archives: Peonies

Question: I LOVE peonies and would like to plant some at the back of my house (full sun) but am not sure about the ant problem. Can I plant them against my wood fence in partial shade instead?

Answer: Contrary to popular belief, ants are not essential to making peonies bloom, but they are companions of peonies because they feed on the nectar produced by the blossoms. If ants are a problem, you can bait to kill them, but they're generally happy in the garden and probably won't invade your house. If you plan to cut the blossoms, hold each one under water for a minute or so to dislodge any hitchhiking ants before you take the flowers indoors. Peonies and ants have a symbiotic relationship. The peony produces substances the ants like and, in turn, the ants protect the peony from predators!

Peonies prefer full sunshine and may not flower well in a partly shady area. They like most soils, but perform best when you first prepare the soil by digging down at least 1 1/2 feet and amending the soil with aged-manure or compost. This will give the roots the rich, loose soil they crave and will result in better top growth and abundant flowers. Plant the roots in the fall, making sure that the buds are no more than about two inches below the soil surface. If you plant them deeper, they may fail to bloom. Add a support stake to the hole while you're planting so you can tie the stems as they grow. (Sometimes the flowers get so heavy they pull the stems down.) Peony clumps should be divided only when absolutely necessary because they resent being disturbed once they become established. Divide in the fall, after the foliage dies down. Peonies require regular summer watering; make sure that the entire rootmass is thoroughly saturated when you water each week.

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