Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
July, 2007
Regional Report

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My favorite pink peony is 'Sara Bernhardt'. I suspect she was named after the actress -- temperamental, but a solid and reliable performer.

Pretentious Peonies

I think peonies are a theatrical plant. Their foliage emerges in late spring, followed by big, fat flower buds. Then they wait, poised at the brink of performance, until the weather suits them. I wait too, in great anticipation of the spectacular and fragrant blooms that will eventually unfold.

Peony Choices
There are two kinds of peonies available to home gardeners. Herbaceous peonies have tender foliage that dies to the ground at the end of the season. The plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. The tree peony grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet tall. Most gardeners in the Pacific Northwest have better success with herbaceous peonies. Tree peonies are woody and their stems live through winter, which makes them susceptible to winter injury.

Flower Types
Peony flowers are grouped according to the shape of the petals. There are five types: single, semi-double, double, Japanese, and anemone. There are many varieties within these types, and by selecting different varieties you can prolong the blooming season of peonies in your garden.

Growing Your Own
Peonies are relatively easy to grow, performing best in cool climates where they receive a winter chill. Provide rich, well-drained soil, and a site that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day for best blooming. The plants will grow and produce handsome foliage in a shady location but will not flower as freely. Good air circulation will reduce the chances of disease problems, especially at flowering.

Peonies grow from tubers and are best planted in fall. The tubers should be bright red in color and have three to five buds (called eyes). Plant the tubers so the buds face upward and are only 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. If planted too deeply, few flowers will be produced. Shallow planting increases the chances of winter injury, too. Water plants thoroughly after planting, and add a 3-inch-thick layer of organic mulch over the top of the soil. Straw, shredded bark, or wood chips are good organic mulches.

When plants start to grow in spring and shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall, apply 1/2 cup per stem of a granular 5-10-10 fertilizer. Scratch it into the soil surface and water well. Don't apply more fertilizer. Overfertilization results in weak stems and reduced flowering. Remove faded flowers as soon as they are spent to keep the plant producing more flowers. When the foliage dies down at the end of the season, cut it away, and mulch over the soil to protect the roots during winter.

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