How to Plant and Care for Peonies
Peonies will always be a favorite flower of mine because of their beautiful blooms. Most have a tantalizing fragrance that attracts gardeners and admirers alike. Because they are a perennial, they will return for many years to come.
Flowers are available in bright red, coral, purple, lilac, mahogany, pink, white, and even bright yellow. Even though the plants bloom for only a week, the foliage remains attractive in the garden all summer long.
It is also possible to purchase those that bloom earlier in the spring and those that bloom later in early summer to get a longer blooming season.
Peonies have been valued by many cultures. It is believed they were grown already in Oriental countries in the 8th century. The peonies you find in our gardens today is known as the Chinese peony. They fall under the genus of Paeonia.
According to legend, the peony is named after Paeon, a Greek god of healing. During the Middle Ages, the plant was prized for what was considered its healing properties. At that time, it was claimed to heal tooth aches, bladder and stomach problems, snake bites, jaundice, and many other diseases and ailments.
It is also called "the most beautiful" in China, where it is thought to be a symbol of good luck and prosperity. That isn't hard to figure out why when you look at the beauty of the blooms.
Peonies are hardy in zones 3 - 8. A few varieties are even hardy in zone 2. Always be sure to check the tag on any plant when you purchase it. Many varieties can differ in hardiness.
Peonies vary in size from 18 to 36 inches tall and 24 to 39 inches wide depending on variety. The large blooms on certain varieties are also fragrant. Their scent will leave a pleasant memory to savor for a long time to come.
The plants will bloom in mid-spring to early summer depending on the variety. They make quite a show. The blooms make excellent cut flowers that are often used at weddings and parties. The foliage remains attractive from spring until fall and will continue to contribute to the garden.
How and Where to Plant
- Plant in a sunny spot or a spot with partial shade in rich, well-drained soil.
- The plant should also have enough space to get plenty of air. Plant at least 2 to 3 feet apart.
- The ball of the root should be even with the ground, unless you are in a colder climate. Then plant 2-3 inches below ground level.
- Some peonies will fall over if the weight of the blooms are too heavy. You can find specials at garden stores or online. If you are having problems finding them, Amazon does have peony supports available. A trellis will also work.
- Watch to be sure no insects or diseases are bothering your plants. Deal with these as needed. You will find a listing below of both peony diseases and insect infestations so you'll know what to look for.
- Water at the bottom of the plant during dry periods. They should get at least 1" per week.
- Snow will protect the roots in areas where there is snow cover most of the winter. In other areas, it would be good to keep them mulched for the winter months unless you live in one of the warmer zones.
Botrytus Blight (Grey Mold)
This is the most common disease found on peonies and is also known as gray mold. The disease causes black spots on the leaves and will kill the shoots once they have sprouted out of the ground, and are 5 to 8 inches in height. It can be spread by both wind and rain.
1. In the fall cut down all of the peony leaves. Don't put them on your mulch pile. Destroy in a way that the disease is eradicated. 2. Plant in a sunnier area where they will get plenty of sunshine and air. 3. Use a fungicide and follow the directions on the bottle.
The disease causes brown spots on the leaves in spring and early summer. It is a fungal infection. The flower buds won't open. In wet weather, grey mold that has a fuzzy appearance can be seen.
This disease is a lot like Botrytus Blight, but there is no chemical spray that you can use. When the disease is first showing signs on your plant as it starts growing in the spring, watch for the symptoms. Remove all disease parts that you find and destroy. If the neighbors have diseased plants, it may appear again for you later. In the fall be sure to cut down the plant and destroy all plant material. It can overwinter in the soil and so you will need to be vigilant next year.
I think powdery mildew is an enemy of most plants that grow. The leaves will be covered in a coating of white powder. The leaves will start dropping. Flowers may look distorted. The disease like the others listed here are caused by a fungus.
1. The plant is best planted in a sunny spot where it will get plenty of air. 2. When watering, don't get the leaves wet, but water from below. Fungal diseases like wet conditions. 3. I tried an old wive's tale on powdery mildew and it did work. Spray the plant with an antiseptic mouthwash every day until you no longer see the white powder. Keep a close eye on the leaves after that. Even though this worked for me, I am not going to guarantee it. 4. There are chemical sprays available. If the disease is advanced, use neem oil.
How to Identify
How to Treat
Ants do not hurt the peonies, but may spread diseases to them.
You need to treat the ants unless you feel it is necessary. The ants can be treated with any ant poison.
These insects will cause spots on the plants. They suck the juice from the buds,flowers and leaves.
You'll need to use an insecticide.
These insects insert are only 1/8' in size. They will be on stalks and stems. They do overwinter.
Use dormant oil on the plant. There predator are ladybugs, which can be purchased from seed catalogs.
The tiny insects look like white spots that cover the stems and leaves. The insects will make the leaves fall and sometimes cause buds to fall off. You do not need to worry so much about the mealy bugs killing your plant, but they do secrete a sweet substance that invites black sooty mold disease.
The insects can be washed off with a strong stream of water and then if you would like, use some insecticide. Keeping the garden spotlessly clean will help prevent the problem. In the fall take care of all of the brown leaves.