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Peonies Springing Up

Posted on 09 June 2011

Peonies are a great choice for a fresh cut flower and add a nice pop of color to any landscape or garden. They bloom in May or early June, smell freshly fragrant, and are also easy to manage. The only caveat is planting them in the Fall for Spring blooms. They are a little like garlic that way. They also need space and do not like to be crowded or have to share moisture especially in the dry climate of Colorado. Once a spacious spot is picked, they will endure for years.

There are many varietals and now, more than ever, blight colors as well. According to CSU, there are about 30 species of peonies, all native to the Northern hemisphere.  China has cultivated them for over 1500 years and oriental peonies are some most distict in color and hardiest available.  Most commonly found are herbaceous peonies which grow two to three feet tall and spread three to four feet. Tree peonies grow to a height of four to five feet. “Rock garden” peonies only grow 12-18″ tall. Sometimes they will need a prop like a small fence to hold them upright. otherwise, peonies make lovely additions for vase boutiques.

Buy divisions with three to five eyes (buds). After planting, peonies may take three years to bloom, but they will mature faster than divisions with only one or two eyes. Peonies do not like heavy, clay soil, but don’t mind our altitude or dry climate-they are quite drought tolerant after establishment. Peonies prefer fertile, loam soil with good drainage. Maintain the soil with compost, well rotted manure, mulched leaves or bark to improve drainage and organic matter. Take time to improve the soil, as the peonies will be in the same spot for years. They won’t need dividing unless you are planning on moving them to a new location or sharing them with a favorite neighbor.

Peonies do best with six hours of full sun and afternoon shade. The shade helps protect the flowers from fading too quickly. To plant, dig a hole 12″ to 18″ deep and 12″ wide. Mound a cone of soil in the center of the hole and drape the roots over the cone. Make sure the tips of the eyes (swollen pink or reddish buds) are only one to two inches below the surface.

The most common reason for peonies failing to bloom is being planted too deeply. Firm the soil around the roots, eliminate air pockets and water thoroughly. Water the new peonies deeply every two weeks and water in the winter if there is little moisture from snowfall. Use a loose mulch like pine boughs to protect new shoots from late frosts next spring.

Peonies do not actually need ants to open their blooms! The ants typeating the sweet sap from the blossoms, or if there are aphids on the plants, the ants are eating the honeydew from the aphids.

Written by: Janine Buchal, 6/2011

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