The Q&A Archives: New Peony Problems

Question: I planted a peony plant last fall which came up this year very nicely producing a good amount of foliage and several buds. Two of the buds opened, but the flowers lasted only 2 days -- is this the time frame for the flower? Also, the stems of the rest of the buds became black from about two inches below the bud throughout the whole bud, and of course, drooped and were obviously dead not not going to bloom. What caused that? How can I prevent it?
Also, the place I planted my peony is too crowded because I didn't realize how large they would become. I assume that I should wait until the fall to transplant -- do I cut back the foliage at that time to retain only the tuber or do I replant the whole root ball and tuber with attached foliage? A second peony I planted in the spring produced foliage but no flowers. I realize I may need to wait another year or two for flowers, but how do I know if the reason it didn't flower was because I planted it too deeply? Could that correct itself over the next year or two and flower after all?

Thanks for your help. Your hotline is great!

Answer: Peony flowers last longest when the weather stays cool and it doesn't rain and knock down the plants. In my experience we either get a serious rain or a mini heat wave the week the peonies bloom. So the answer to your first question is well, it depends. But they are so lovely we keep on growing them. Every once in a while they last for a week or ten days!

Healthy peony blooms and stems should not turn black, however. Peonies are subject to a number of diseases and a wet spring encourages problems. The best method of limiting disease from year to year is to cut off, remove and destroy all peony foliage every fall after frost. You may also wish to cut off, remove and destroy all the blackened plant parts now; dip your tool into a disinfectant 1 part household bleach and 1 part water solution as you cut to avoid spreading any disease to uninfected parts. You might also want to take a sample to your County Extension to identify exactly what is affecting your plant and verify suggested controls, if any. Their phone number is 696-3500.

As for planting depth, the rule of thumb is to set the "eye" at about 2 inches below the soil surface. If you have dug a huge deep richly amended hole prior to planting, the soil in that hole will settle over time and your eye will drift lower along with it. If you suspect this has happened, you could lift and replant this fall. However, if they are of different types, it may just be that the second variety is "shy" about blooming and may take one or even two more years before it starts to bloom for you. (If they are of the same variety but in different areas, it may also be that one spot is better than the other.)

If you decide to relocate (yes, they do get big -- allow at least three feet or possibly even four) fall is the best time to do that. I would trim the foliage by about a third and move in late Agust if the weather is cool, early September otherwise. Then follow the original planting instructions as to transplant care.

Good luck with your peonies!

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