The Q&A Archives: peonies

Question: my peonies come up every spring (x 2 yrs) but have never bloomed. To my knowledge I planted the bulb according to the directions. Is there any hope or should I pull them out and hope the 3rd time is the charm. They were Not cheap!!

Answer: Peonies are one of the most popular perennials. Not only are they beautiful, they are very easy to grow and can thrive for decades under the proper conditions. Peonies do their best in a sunny site with well-drained soil. The most common problems encountered with peonies are plants that fail to set buds, buds that may not produce healthy flowers, or flowers that open but are then damaged. Luckily, most of these problems are easily resolved.

If you have a healthy looking peony that sets either very few or no flower buds, it is most likely due to one or more of the following conditions:

A peony is planted at the wrong depth: Peonies are fussy about planting depth. Depth is the distance from the eyes of the root system to the surface of the soil. You can find the eyes by examining the woody crown of the root system when the plant is dormant. The eyes are the large, pinkish-red pointed buds emerging from the top of the woody crown. In our climate, the eye of the peony should be as close as possible to 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. If they are too deep, flower buds may not form. If they are too shallow, flower buds may be killed by cold. Sometimes plants that started out at the right depth settle or the soil level is raised over time by layers of mulch and the eyes end up too deep.

The peony does not get enough sun: Peonies require lots of sun to bloom well. Sometimes a peony will be planted in full sun and a few years later, surrounding plants have grown and may provide too much shade.

A late freeze: Once the peony starts out of its dormancy in spring, a late freeze can kill any developing flower buds, even if they are still under the surface of the soil.

The plant is too young: Generally, peonies bloom very little, if at all, during the first year or two after they are planted.

The plant is too crowded: Peonies like elbow room. Leave at least a foot all the way around. When they are crowded or have to compete for room for their roots, they may not bloom well.

The plant gets too much nitrogen: Peonies should be fertilized with low-nitrogen formulas. When they are over fertilized or they are planted close to a lawn that gets a high nitrogen fertilizer several times a year, they tend to develop lots of foliage and very few flowers.

The peony was divided recently or moved: If you can avoid it, do not disturb a peony. Peonies bloom best when they haven't been moved or divided recently. When they are disturbed, they may take a year or two to recover.

If you're sure it's getting enough sunshine and is not planted too deeply, give it another year. If it doesn't bloom by its third summer, it's time to dig it up and replant it.

Best wishes with your peonies!

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