Peonies for Your Thoughts

Marco Polo said they have “Roses as big as cabbages.” Why, of course, he was talking about peonies. These glamorous flowers will soon grace our gardens.

There are a few different varieties of peonies. I have the herbaceous or bush peonies in my garden, which I see most of in gardens. Others include the tree and intersectional peonies.
Peonies love the sun and need four to six hours each day to produce large flowers. Keep this in mind when choosing your planting location. Look for a spot with good drainage and one where the deep-rooted peony will not have to compete with large tree root systems.
Also, peonies do not like to be disturbed and can live for 100 years, so give careful consideration to where you want to plant. I suggest a location that offers you a view of the bush in bloom. You don’t want to miss these flowers.

The bushes will grow about 3 feet tall and wide. By not crowding them and giving them room to breathe, the air circulation will help keep them disease resistant. Oh, speaking of resistant, the deer will walk right by and not munch on your peonies.

Although they bloom in the spring, mine around Memorial Day, and can be planted in the spring, they do better when planted in the fall. That said, I see them in the nurseries now, not later in the year.

Spending the time to get planting right will be worth the work. Dig your hole and add organic matter to the soil. Peonies don’t like wet feet, so you want the soil to drain easily. The top of the plant — or, if bare roots, the eyes (like little sprouts on a potato) — should be 1 inch below ground.

But here’s the thing: Peonies need a year to adjust and develop their root system before blooming. Be patient. Remember, this plant will be around for generations; it needs to get comfortable in its surroundings.

Peonies come in just about every color, and although they only bloom in the spring, the foliage will stay green all season, dying back late in the fall. It’s okay to cut it back once it begins to turn brown; it will start all over again in the spring. Peonies grow well in zones 3-8 but not in an area with warm winters. The plants need cooler temps in winter to encourage spring bud formation.

I noticed my peonies are up and anywhere from 6 to 12 inches tall. This is the time to add support for the plant. I use peony rings: wire hoops with three legs that sink into the soil. I slip this over the plant while it is small, instead of wrangling it in place later. The ring will add support for the stems when the heavy blossoms arrive.

Those heavy blooms may not attract deer, but ants love them. They don’t hurt the plant and help encourage blooming by crawling inside the tight buds and easing them open in search of nectar. If you are cutting them for a bouquet, dip them in water to remove the ants before bringing them inside.

Peonies in bridal bouquets are said to bring a happy life and happy marriage to the couple. No wonder they are a popular wedding flower.

Plant them now, or plant them later and give them time. You will be rewarded with beautiful fragrant blooms for years to come. I’m not sure how old the bushes in my garden are; they were here first, but I sure do look forward to the end of May and blooming peonies being in the garden and part of my inside arrangements.