Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Peonies from our Garden

Peonies are perennial favorites in the flower garden. Their large blossoms, often fragrant, make excellent cut flowers and the foliage provides a background for annuals or other perennials.
Two types of peonies are generally grown in the home landscape, Paeonia spp. hybrids (garden peony) and Paeonia suffruticosa (tree peony). We have the garden peony planted. They were given to us when my sister-inlaw was dividing her plants.
  Flowering usually lasts one week in late spring to early summer. Flower color may be any except blue. We have white and pink colors.
Peonies grow from two to four feet in height. Support is often required for tall, double hybrids. Peonies thrive in sunny locations and well-drained soils, tolerating a wide range of soil types. Best growth is in soil with a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, deep and rich in organic matter. They are hardy from zone 8 to zone 2, with some exceptions.

Planting, transplanting and dividing peonies are best done in early fall. Each plant requires an area about three feet in diameter. Dig a generous hole, large enough to accommodate the roots and incorporate aged organic matter in the bottom. Place the peony in the prepared hole so that the eyes (small, red-colored buds) are one to two inches below the soil's surface. Back fill and water well.
Peonies may be left undisturbed for many years. A decline in flower production usually indicates overcrowding and the need for division. Carefully lift the clump and wash away the soil to expose the eyes. Using a clean, sharp tool, divide the clump into sections, each with three to five eyes and good roots. Replant immediately.

Pests and Problems:
Peonies have few pests or problems. The most frequently occurring pests are botrytis blight and leaf blotch, both fungal diseases. Especially during wet springs, botrytis affects leaves, stems and flowers. Spots appear on leaves, stems soften and decay and flowers either rot or buds blacken and fail to open. Prompt removal of infected material and a thorough fall cleanup are essential for control.
Leaf blotch develops during warm, moist weather. Glossy, dark purple spots form on the upper surfaces of leaves. Again, removal of infected leaves and good fall cleanup are necessary for control. Avoid overhead irrigation.
Other fungal diseases include Phytophthora blight and Verticillium wilt. These are soil-borne fungi with no cure other than destroying infected plants. Do not replant in diseased soil.
The presence of ants on peony blossoms is neither beneficial nor harmful to the plants--they are simply attracted to the sugary liquid secreted by flower buds.
Failure to bloom may be the result of any of these factors:
* planting too deeply
* immature plants
* excess nitrogen
* inadequate sunlight
* overcrowding
* phosphorus and/or potassium deficiency
* insect or disease problems
* competition from roots of nearby plants
* late freezes