Peonies forum: Soil pH and peony color

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Name: Anya
Fairbanks, AK (Zone 3b)
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anyagoro
Jan 27, 2017 1:19 AM CST
Today I was at a lecture on peony growing in our region and heard that peony have a different change color if soil pH or/and nutrient composition is not good for peonies. I got curious but did not have time to come up to the lecturer with this question. I know that in cool weather blush peony can be pink and some varieties like Felix Supreme vary in coloration for different gardeners. Does anyone know how soil pH affects peony color?
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Irises
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LizinElizabeth
Jan 27, 2017 8:46 AM CST
I know it doesn't impact them as dramatically as a hydrangea or similar. I've shared roots from my garden with my sisters in OK and TX and the blooms seemed exactly the same color as mine.
LizB
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
Oberon46
Jan 27, 2017 9:45 AM CST
Interesting idea Anya. Is the spring conference going on in Fairbanks? Wish I could have attended. But I thought it was mostly for peony commercial growers.
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Irises
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LizinElizabeth
Jan 27, 2017 10:29 AM CST
I've certainly seen cooler springs impact the color of peonies. Maybe I don't see as much variation as a result of the soil because I tend to plant in raised beds with limited native soil contact.
LizB
Name: Anya
Fairbanks, AK (Zone 3b)
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anyagoro
Jan 27, 2017 1:14 PM CST
Mary, yes, I went to a pre-conference talk and not going to the conference itself, it is for commercial peony growers indeed.

If nobody notice a weird coloration of their peonies it means the soil pH is good Thumbs up Just curious about this issue.
Name: Anya
Fairbanks, AK (Zone 3b)
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anyagoro
Jan 27, 2017 7:37 PM CST
I found this information on red pigment in plants anthocyanins in Wikipedia: Anthocyanins can be used as pH indicators because their color changes with pH; they are red or pink in acidic solutions (pH < 7), purple in neutral solutions (pH ~ 7), greenish-yellow in alkaline solutions (pH > 7), and colorless in very alkaline solutions, where the pigment is completely reduced.

So if one wants red peonies be purple (like my Kansas) they need to have neutral soil pH.
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Peonies Lilies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing
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CarolineScott
Jan 28, 2017 10:08 AM CST
I don't think so for flowers on a plant.
Perhaps they were talking about cut flowers?

Hydrangeas change if there is iron in the soil.
We used to put rusty nails under them to keep flowers blue.
I can't grow that hydrangea here.
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
Oberon46
Jan 28, 2017 11:03 AM CST
What about rhodys and azaleas? I didn't think they would change color but would love to have my pink rhody turn blue. I have had it for almost ten years and had to radically cut it back last year. A bush right next to it has gone nuts and is totally shading it in the afternoon. Too late to move the rhody with anything but a back hoe. Hilarious!

Anya, so your Kansas is purple?? That would be great. I don't have Kansas but we are going to move one this spring at ABG and maybe if I am lucky I could get a tiny root.

I saw a lovely semi-double at Klehm's called Lavender Whisper. Pretty inexpensive. I love the lavender ones but read that the "Lavender Series" are not terribly cold tolerant. We have Easy Lavender at ABG but I think it needs more sun as the blooms, while you can see the form which is almost like a Japanese Single, tends to be blousy or floppy. They were planted snug up against some bushes right in front of the forest so they don't get sun til way late in the afternoon, and very little in early spring.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Jan 28, 2017 12:03 PM CST
I don't think peonies would do well in very acidic soil. I have read that they prefer rather alkaline soil. I have added lime to my planting hole when I plant the peonies. Have anyone tried growing peonies in acidic soil like between 5-6.5?
Name: Anya
Fairbanks, AK (Zone 3b)
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anyagoro
Jan 28, 2017 2:17 PM CST
Caroline, I also cannot grow this type of hydrangea in Alaska. I can only read about it Smiling They talk about aluminum ions in the soil, not iron, and only for two species cultivars: "For H. macrophylla and H. serrata cultivars, the flower color can be determined by the relative acidity of the soil: an acidic soil (pH below 7), will have available aluminum ions and typically produce flowers that are blue to purple, whereas an alkaline soil (pH above 7) will tie up aluminum ions and result in pink or red flowers. This is caused by a color change of the flower pigments in the presence of aluminum ions which can be taken up into hyperaccumulating plants." I assume that putting rusty nails in the soil lowered pH of the soil and made aluminum ions available for to plants.

Mary and Karen, plants can grow in certain range of soil pH and if pH is too off from the optimal they just don't grow and die. I also read that peonies prefer slightly alkaline soil (my case) but here people insist that peonies prefer slightly acidic soil so I don't know, maybe in different regions they prefer different pH? Shrug! The lecturer at the pre-conferece said that if she saw funny colors of the peonies it was the result of a bad pH for peonies. I should have asked her about it after the lecture.

Mary, I don't know about rhodys and azaleas, you probably don't want to experiment Smiling My 'Kansas' is not lavender,I call it purple but it is kind of mixture red/purple. I read that it is very hard to get clear red color in peonies, it seems like only few varieties have pure red color, maybe it is changing now with new hybrids. I attach a picture of my Kansas, it is never watermelon red like it is described in catalogues (or is it?).



Thumb of 2017-01-28/anyagoro/6d884b

Name: Anya
Fairbanks, AK (Zone 3b)
Cat Lover
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anyagoro
Jan 28, 2017 2:19 PM CST
The picture with Kansas did not attach entirely for some reason so I attach another one.
Thumb of 2017-01-28/anyagoro/6c3b9f

Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Jan 28, 2017 3:36 PM CST
Anya, thanks for the explanation about hydrangeas. I have always wondered how the color change works in hydrangeas. For me the truest red peony is Alexander Woolcott.
Name: Jerry
Salem, IL
Charter ATP Member
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Oldgardenrose
Jan 28, 2017 3:41 PM CST
Some added info for rhododendrons. Pay particular attention to the section on acidity. I feel vindicated from some of my comments on an iris forum when I mentioned lime leaching out of concrete items. They fell upon deaf ears.

http://www.rhododendron.org/so...
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
Charter ATP Member Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Peonies Lilies Enjoys or suffers cold winters Winter Sowing
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CarolineScott
Jan 29, 2017 8:42 AM CST
There are a number of experiments that need to be done on peonies, it seems. But I guess that garden space, and time work against any of us doing them.
Somewhere I read that they should not be grown in peaty soil which would mean an acid soil----but how acid ?
I have one of those garden pH meters ( don't know how accurate it is)
so will need to see what pH is in different garden beds.
Name: Jerry
Salem, IL
Charter ATP Member
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Oldgardenrose
Jan 29, 2017 9:45 AM CST
I have tried to use a couple of different pH test systems and concluded that holding a damp finger up into the wind is just as accurate. It is more expensive and involves a lot of work but the description of raised beds in the above link is true for any flowering plant. One can create an excellent soil medium suitable for any plant.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Jan 29, 2017 9:49 AM CST
Jerry, how do you keep your raised bed soil from settling down too much? I have found that some of the peonies that I planted in raised bed drop a couple inches as the soil settles. Also, how do you tell the ph by holding up a finger to the wind?
Name: Jerry
Salem, IL
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Oldgardenrose
Jan 29, 2017 10:05 AM CST
The finger in the wind is meant to say the little pH kits are worthless unless one has some expertise and a lot of patience. The raised bed will always settle over time due to the decaying of the organic matter. I have always recommended mounding the soil mixture at the time of planting so it will level itself over time. Every couple of years or so I cover any exposed roots with more soil medium.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Jan 29, 2017 10:12 AM CST
Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious! I get it! I thought it was a technique...
Name: LG
Nashvillle (Zone 7a)
Peonies Hummingbirder Hostas Region: Tennessee Butterflies Garden Photography
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Mieko2
Jan 29, 2017 4:05 PM CST
Thanks Jerry. I have always warned others about concrete leaching lime into the soil, too.
LG -I have a little garden in which to walk and immensity in which to dream.
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
Oberon46
Jan 29, 2017 5:39 PM CST
I love that!! Wet finger in the wind to test for pH.... lol
I have also thought peonies liked more acid soil. Most of the soil in Alaska is acid or so I have been told and my peonies grow just fine. Colors look about right but I have trouble telling red tones apart. I do have fairly expensive pH testing equipment. Guess I should actually use it. I keep I even bought special water (can't remember what it is called) so it won't interfere with the reading. I also mean to send samples to the cooperative extension to test for minerals and such.

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