Thursday, September 06, 2007

Growing Picture Perfect Peonies

Peonies are late spring's most wonderful surprise. With embarrassingly little work, these plentiful perennials produce armloads of flowers whose heady fragrance can be detected nearly anywhere in the garden. These beautiful blooms also bridge the gap between fading late-spring borders and the blooms of summer. Peonies only require a sunny, well-protected area to grow and bloom happily for decades. There are many types to choose from. Hybrid peonies typically bloom early in the season often in shades of pink and red. Foliage is light to medium green.
Lactiflora peonies are commonly found in the United States and usually have larger flowers and darker colored foliage than hybrid peonies. Japanese peonies commonly have a colorful grouping of sterile stamens surrounded by one or two rows of petals. Single peonies have single-petaled flowers. Double peonies consist primarily of all petals. Anemone and Semi-double peonies are between Japanese and Double peonies in form. Planting your peonies Peonies are easy to plant and the buds are obvious, so it's easy to get them right side up! Remember to soak roots in a bucket or trash can of water to keep them from drying out while you dig the planting hole. Never let hair roots dry out. Do not soak for more than 8 hours. Dig in! Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots without bending or crowding--about 20 to 24 inches wide and deep. Keep this topsoil in a separate pile for refilling the hole. Then scratch the sides of the hole so roots can penetrate easily. The sides of the hole should be 4 inches away from the tips of the roots when the roots are spread out in the hole. Avoid crowding the root system. (If drainage is poor, add 2 inches of gravel to the bottom of the hole.) Remember to space holes according to recommended plant spacing. Eyes up! Remove the plant from the container of water. With sharp shears, prune any broken or damaged roots. Then place the peony plant in the hole, making sure that the red buds (which are called the "eyes") are about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the soil’s surface. (Don’t plant too deeply or your peony may not bloom in the spring.) Spread the roots so they are not kinked or crossed. In warmer climates, plant peonies in late fall (October or November)--no more than 1 inch deep. Watering in. Fill the hole and cover the roots with the soil from the hole. Pack the soil lightly around the roots to remove any air pockets. Water well. It’s important to provide enough water for your newly-planted peony so that the plant’s root system establishes itself well before winter. Deep waterings every 7 to 10 days are far superior to frequent light waterings. Plants need at least 1 inch of moisture each week, whether from natural rainfall or from irrigation. Try to water in the mornings. Mulch for protection. Mulch around the plant with 2 to 4 inches straw, wood chips, lawn clippings, or other organic material to reduce evaporation and maintain moisture. Keep the area weed free! NOTE: Within a week to 10 days, your plant should begin to show new growth. Dormancy sometimes lasts longer than anticipated; so it may take longer to see any new growth. As a general rule, it is not necessary to fertilize until new growth has begun. It is normal for young peonies to yield only a few short flower stems the first year of growth. In subsequent years, flower number and form will improve.

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