Peonies forum: Mulch for peonies in the winter

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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 2:30 PM CST
Hi everyone,

I live in zone 5b and it's snowing here right now! It does get pretty cold in the winter, and can have several feet of snow all the way into March and sometimes remain on the ground into early April.

I recently planted my first bare-root peonies (so excited!) and I had read that you should put 3" of some type of mulch on top after planting. I also read somewhere that you should never let the mulch get really close to the main stem (or center?) of the plant. But since I just planted these, there is nothing above ground and won't be until what, spring?

So I'm wondering if I can leave the mulch covering the entire plant area (12" diameter), or do I need to clear the center and leave it exposed?

And if I leave it, do I need to watch for the first signs of growth and remove the mulch from that area at that time?

Thanks in advance for your advice and knowledge!
AKA Joey.
Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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crawgarden
Nov 20, 2016 5:24 PM CST
I only mulch the first year, than remove in the spring and never mulch after that.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Irises
Hummingbirder Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Dog Lover Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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LizinElizabeth
Nov 20, 2016 5:46 PM CST
Mulch isn't really necessary for peonies although they advise it to help avoid heaving soil. Has anyone here ever had heaving soil??? I mulch mine but only because it's so dry here in CO, would be watering daily if I didn't. I have mulch completely covering my peonies now, mostly just pine straw so it doesn't create such a solid barrier like wood mulch, but I move it back in the spring as soon as I see signs of growth.
LizB
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 6:05 PM CST
LizinElizabeth said:Mulch isn't really necessary for peonies although they advise it to help avoid heaving soil. Has anyone here ever had heaving soil??? I mulch mine but only because it's so dry here in CO, would be watering daily if I didn't. I have mulch completely covering my peonies now, mostly just pine straw so it doesn't create such a solid barrier like wood mulch, but I move it back in the spring as soon as I see signs of growth.


Liz, is pine straw just brown pine needles? That's what I have over mine right now. You get lots of snow in CO, right? So you only see the growth after the snow is gone, yes?
AKA Joey.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 6:06 PM CST
crawgarden said:I only mulch the first year, than remove in the spring and never mulch after that.


RJ, you're in zone 4, is that colder or warmer than zone 5? Sorry, I'm new to all this :-)
AKA Joey.
Name: Jerry
Salem, IL
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Oldgardenrose
Nov 20, 2016 6:30 PM CST
Frost heaving is a real concept but it appears to only disturb new plants until they develop their root mass. I have used metal tent pegs or pieces of steel re-bar to hold landscaping timbers in place and had them raise out of the ground 3 or 4 inches after a few years. As an example of frost heaving, the soil freezes and expands with moisture which raises the shallow plant roots. When the soil thaws and settles back to normal the roots stay elevated. One of the old iris tricks is to place a half brick or stone on top of the new rhizome to force it to settle back down with the soil.

Most of the old-timers use mulch to keep the ground frozen, not to keep it warm. Applied after the ground freezes. Prevents the normal rapid thawing and freezing in the middle temp zones such as mine 6a/6b.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 7:53 PM CST
Oldgardenrose said:Frost heaving is a real concept but it appears to only disturb new plants until they develop their root mass. I have used metal tent pegs or pieces of steel re-bar to hold landscaping timbers in place and had them raise out of the ground 3 or 4 inches after a few years. As an example of frost heaving, the soil freezes and expands with moisture which raises the shallow plant roots. When the soil thaws and settles back to normal the roots stay elevated. One of the old iris tricks is to place a half brick or stone on top of the new rhizome to force it to settle back down with the soil.

Most of the old-timers use mulch to keep the ground frozen, not to keep it warm. Applied after the ground freezes. Prevents the normal rapid thawing and freezing in the middle temp zones such as mine 6a/6b.


Great explanation. We get awful frost heaves in roads and sidewalks--bad enough to push up the paving! I've put flat stones around my fall plants (clematis and coral honeysuckle), but the instructions on my peonies called for 3" of mulch. It doesn't seem like much of a preventative to me though.
AKA Joey.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Nov 20, 2016 8:03 PM CST
I always mulch my newly planted peonies. I have found those that I mulched performed better than those that I did not mulch the following year. When the pips start to show up in the spring, I brush the mulch away from the pips to allow them to grow. I think it really helps the new peonies esp. those planted late (Oct-Nov)to have a layer of mulch to continue to grow feeder roots until the soil is frozen. According to Cricket Hill Peony website, peonies continue to grow feeder roots if soil temp is 40F and above.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 8:09 PM CST
kousa said:I always mulch my newly planted peonies. I have found those that I mulched performed better than those that I did not mulch the following year. When the pips start to show up in the spring, I brush the mulch away from the pips to allow them to grow. I think it really helps the new peonies esp. those planted late (Oct-Nov)to have a layer of mulch to continue to grow feeder roots until the soil is frozen. According to Cricket Hill Peony website, peonies continue to grow feeder roots if soil temp is 40F and above.


Thanks Karen, three of mine did get planted in Oct. and Nov. because they only arrived then.

Forgive my ignorance, but what are pips and what do they look like?
AKA Joey.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Nov 20, 2016 8:25 PM CST
Peony pips

Thumb of 2016-11-21/kousa/b8134c

You can start brushing the mulch away when you see growths like above, probably about late March. While you are at it, you can apply a tsp of bulb fertilizer to feed the peonies then. The mulching is helpful in zone 6 or colder. Warmer zones probably need a different approach.
[Last edited by kousa - Nov 21, 2016 7:51 AM (+)]
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Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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crawgarden
Nov 20, 2016 8:55 PM CST
joannakat said:

RJ, you're in zone 4, is that colder or warmer than zone 5? Sorry, I'm new to all this :-)


Hi Joanna, zone 4 is colder than zone 5, it just hit with a vengeance this week! On the site there is a link to the USDA zones and the associated temps. The good thing is Peonies are pretty bullet proof

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 20, 2016 10:48 PM CST
kousa said:Peony pips

Thumb of 2016-11-21/kousa/b8134c

You can start brushing the mulch away when you see growths like above, probably about late March. While you are at it, you can apply a tsp of bulb fertilizer to feed the peonies then. The mulching is helpful in zone 6 or above. Warmer zones probably need a different approach.


Oh! Look at that! I can't wait to see some which, hopefully, I will! We had our first real snow today--my car is covered in white, but the ground isn't. I just finished my garden work today too (while it was snowing!). So I'm glad I mulched, and I'm very happy for everyone's help here too. Thank you!
AKA Joey.
Name: LG
Nashvillle (Zone 7a)
Peonies Hummingbirder Hostas Region: Tennessee Butterflies Garden Photography
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Mieko2
Nov 21, 2016 2:12 AM CST
Joey, I'm glad you asked this question. It helped me. I mostly mulch to keep the weeds down, and do keep it away from the crowns.

This is a great group of Peony fanatics! Plus this group loves to post photos, and that is so fun. I look forward to seeing your Peony photos this Spring!
LG
LG - My garden grows with love and a lot of hard work.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Nov 21, 2016 7:50 AM CST
kousa said: The mulching is helpful in zone 6 or above.


I mean in zone 6 or COLDER. Sorry about that.
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Irises
Hummingbirder Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Dog Lover Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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LizinElizabeth
Nov 21, 2016 8:29 AM CST
Sorry Joey, you're absolutely right, what I'm referring to as pine straw is just dead pine needles. Great insulator and doesn't matt down as much as other mulches I've used, plus it's free to me from the pines on our land. I just try to take it from trees with few weeds under them! I used to get wood mulch delivered but it was expensive, heavy and was covered in pine needles within a year, anyway, so why fight nature?
LizB
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 21, 2016 9:12 AM CST
kousa said:

I mean in zone 6 or COLDER. Sorry about that.


Oh! I was wondering....! Thanks for clarifying.
AKA Joey.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Vermiculture
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joannakat
Nov 21, 2016 9:18 AM CST
LizinElizabeth said:Sorry Joey, you're absolutely right, what I'm referring to as pine straw is just dead pine needles. Great insulator and doesn't matt down as much as other mulches I've used, plus it's free to me from the pines on our land. I just try to take it from trees with few weeds under them! I used to get wood mulch delivered but it was expensive, heavy and was covered in pine needles within a year, anyway, so why fight nature?


Thanks Liz, I am very glad to hear this. I actually have a wooded area in my "back yard" and there are a LOT of dried pine needles. That's exactly what I used to mulch my peonies and also, because it looks so gentle, natural and good, all my bulbs (lilies, tulips and narcissus). Now, everything's covered in a few inches of snow so I'm very glad I did it.

Another thing that's in abundance back there is leaf mold. It actually smells fresh and so good, and the soil around it looks dark and alive. Almost no one with two legs ever goes back there so I'm thinking that, if I took some for my garden, it wouldn't have a detrimental effect. Does anyone use leaf mold and if so, how and for what?
AKA Joey.
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
Oberon46
Nov 21, 2016 9:32 AM CST
Leaf mold is the most fantastic stuff, or so I am told. It breaks down into some wonder material with hugely beneficial bacteria and such. Rolling on the floor laughing See how technical I am?

I grind up my garden detritus in the fall mixed with small wood chips and strew it around the garden simply to add it back to the earth rather than having it hauled off in bags. Seems like the right thing to do. I don't mulch individual plants in particular. Never have. I am a zone 4ish. This does not necessarily equate to a zone 4 down south though. I have finally figured out that zones relate to high and low temps, not necessarily to duration. Although our weather has warmed over the last 20-25 years though. I guess this warm cycle will see me 'shuffle out of this mortal coil' before it turns back to cold. (guess you can tell where I stand on global warming Whistling )

The bike path I walk on is through the woods and in fall there are leaves galore. A couple of times I have taken garbage bags and raked it up. Once I just dumped it on the garden. Not so hot. So next we ground the leaves up and it worked much better Didn't form such a heavy icy mat on top.

While our fences and posts heave, and the asphalt heaves and cracks, I have never had a plant heave. Weird.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Nov 21, 2016 9:57 AM CST
Leaf mold is the best stuff for soil amendments and nutrients. Sounds like your peonies and bulbs are going to be very happy in your garden, Joanna.

I have to say my area has experienced warmer Oct and Nov. for the last 3 years. I remember it used to be blustery cold in Nov and frost usually came in mid Oct. I don't know whether it is due to global warming or solar activity or maybe just weather cycles but I love it. I would not mind having mild weather into Dec. If winter can be shortened down to 2 months, that will be long enough.

Mary, that is strange indeed that your plants have not suffered from winter heaving. Do you have frequent freeze and thaw cycles?
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
Oberon46
Nov 21, 2016 10:51 AM CST
Seems like we would have to. This fall we have gone from 20F to rain to 45F to 12F to you name it. The ground seems solid for the most part but with air temps in the 40F's for a while it must have frozen and thawed sometimes. Maybe I just don't see it. My peonies seem to stay where I put them okay.

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