Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2009
Regional Report

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My favorite peony is the one that's currently in bloom. I think they are all gorgeous!

There's a Peony for Every Garden

I think peonies are a theatrical bunch. 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 to burst into their full glory. 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. Herbaceous peonies have tender foliage that dies to the ground at first frost. These plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. The tree peony grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet. I've always had better success with herbaceous peonies because tree peonies are woody and since their stems live through winter, they are 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 effectively prolong the blooming season of peonies in your garden.

Planting Peonies
Peonies grow from tubers and are best planted in fall but I have also had success planting them in very early spring. 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 deep, few flowers will be produced. Shallow planting also increases the chances of winter injury. 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 mulch options.

Peonies are relatively easy to grow, and perform 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 during flowering.

Care and Maintenance
When plants start to grow in spring and shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall, I apply 1/2 cup per stem of a granular 5-10-10 fertilizer, scratch it into the soil surface and water well. It's tempting to apply more plant food to encourage even more growth, but it's important to resist the urge to overfeed. Overfertilization results in weak stems and reduces flowering. To keep the plant producing more flowers through the summer, I remove faded flowers as soon as they're spent. At the end of the season, when frost kills the foliage, cut it away and mulch over the soil to protect the roots during winter.

Following these simple steps will keep your peonies healthy and at peak performance all summer long.

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