Friday, September 07, 2007

Caring for Peonies

Troubleshooting Why won't my peonies bloom? There are a number of factors that could prevent your peonies from blooming. The following is a list of common causes and how to avoid them. The list may seem long, but do not get discouraged; peonies are wonderfully rewarding and easy to grow if their needs are met. Plants are young. It’s normal that young plants yield only a few short flower stems the first year of growth. Blossoms that unfold may only be a dim shadow of the full-blown beauties they may become. In the second year, flower number and form will improve until, in the third year, the bloom show will be absolutely lovely. Don’t be discouraged while you wait for your peonies to become the beauties of the garden; the plants will reward you with years of breathtaking blooms. Soil is too dry. Peonies planted closely to established trees and shrubs may end up battling for water in the soil. If this is the case, not only will blooms fail to appear, but leaf number will also be reduced. Water plants deeply throughout the growing season to improve the odds for next year’s flower show. A soaker hose is perfect for this task. Peonies planted too closely to trees may also be shaded too much to bloom. Divisions buried too deeply. Eye divisions should only be planted 2 inches deep. If plants don’t bloom, the eye divisions may be more than 2 inches below soil level. Dig up divisions carefully with a perennial planter and replant them at the right depth. Spring runs hot. If afternoons and evenings are excessively hot during the time that flower buds are forming, blossoms will abort. There’s not much you can do about that, save wait until next year. Flower buds killed. A late frost or fungal disease can kill flower buds and cut off your peony’s bloom potential. If fungus is the problem, buds will be covered with fuzzy mold or rotting spots. Treat plants with a fungicide labeled for peonies. Plants are too crowded. As peonies age and grow larger, plantings can become overcrowded, which will decrease bloom numbers. If this is the case, you'll need to dig up clumps and divide them. The best time to do this is in late summer or early fall. Cut root clumps into divisions containing at least three eye buds. Use a sharp knife. Replant divisions no more than 2 inches below the soil surface. Too much nitrogen. Many commercial fertilizers are extremely high in nitrogen. While nitrogen is an essential element for vigorous plant growth, too much nitrogen encourages leafy growth at the expense of blooms. Try supplementing your soil with a balanced organic fertilizer for blooming plants. You might also consider having your soil tested through your local county extention agency. This is a free service which will help provide you with valuable soil improvement suggestions. Are peonies prone to infestation by pests or disease? Peonies are not prone to disease and the few that you might find are easily resolved. The most common are fungal diseases, which cause the buds to be covered with fuzzy mold or rotting spots. Treat with fungicide labeled for peonies. Scale infestations are a common pest in the early spring can be prevented by cutting back dead foliage after the first frost. Treat existing infestations with an application of insecticidal soap. How can I propagate my peonies? Peony plants should be divided in the fall. Lift the rhizome and use a sharp knife to cut it into divisions with at least three eyes. Replant the divisions. Do ants really open the buds of peonies? Although the sweet liquid that develops on the outside of peony buds causes a feeding frenzy among ants in the garden, it is a myth that the ants open the tightly closed buds. Although the ants are not benefiting the plants, they are doing no harm and are best left alone. What should I do to get rid of the spent blossoms on my peonies? The best way to deal with old and withered flowers is to deadhead the plants. Deadheading can be done at any time of year, by cutting or pinching dead buds. You can use any hand tool, pruning shears, or even scissors -- just be sure to avoid new buds and blooms. Deadheading will freshen the appearance of your garden, as well as promote longer-lasting and more abundant blooms.

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