Tips for Successfully Growing Peonies
Success Growing Peonies
Peonies are a favorite old-fashioned spring flower. Many North American gardeners grow peony bushes but are disappointed when their peony flowers fail to attain the majesty, beauty, and size they see in their neighbor's garden. Sometimes the bushes fail to flower at all, or produce flowers which quickly shrivel and fall off. If given the right growing conditions, peony bushes thrive and can live to be decades old. However, if they are not grown under optimum conditions, they will struggle and fail to produce their spring spectacular. Successfully growing peonies starts by choosing the right location for them.
Light, Soil and Growing Conditions for Peonies
Peony plants require full sun, which is defined as six or more hours of full, bright and direct sunshine per day. They'll live with less than that, but sunshine is the key to getting peonies to set buds. Without enough sunlight, peonies fail to produce flowers.
Peonies also require cold winter temperatures in order to set their flowers. If you live in the garden zones 7-10, be sure not to mulch your peonies, or don't mulch them too deeply. The cooler winter temperatures will actually help them develop spectacular buds for the following spring!
Like many perennials, peonies require rich, well-drained soil. A light application of compostprovides the right amount of balanced nutrients. A liquid fertilizer made from compost called "compost tea" is a great organic gardening fertilizer and easy to make!
As your peony plants emerge from their winter dormancy, be sure to use a special support known as a peony hoop. It's a hoop made from metal with movable "tripod" legs around the rim. Stick the metal legs into the ground around the peony, and let the plant grow up and through the hoop. Once peony flowers develop their heavy, full flower heads, rain showers often beat the plant's stems to the ground. Hoops hold up the heavy flowers and provide good support so that you can see and enjoy your peony flowers.
Peony Problems: Failing to Flower
One of the biggest complains among gardeners is that their peonies fail to set or create flowers. If your peony plant isn't blooming in the spring, use this handy checklist to determine why the peony isn't blooming.
- Light: How much light is the peony receiving? Six or more hours per day are necessary for peony plants to develop flowers.
- Temperature: An especially mild winter may prevent peonies from flowering.
- Is it a new plant? Peonies sometimes take up to three years before flowering. If you purchased a peony as a root and plant it in the spring, it probably won't flower the first year - and perhaps not the second. Give it time.
- Have you moved it recently? Peonies hate to be moved. They tend to sulk and refuse to produce flowers the first year after moving. Be patient. Your plant should bloom the following year.
- How deeply did your plant your peony? Peonies must be planted at just the right soil depth or they die or refuse to flower. If you purchased a peony root in a box, look for the eyes, like potato eyes, and plant the root with the eyes facing up. They should be planted very close to the soil surface at one inch or shallower.
Peony Flower Problems
Many gardeners see ants marching up and into their peony flowers and assume that ants are garden pests. They're attracted to the sweet nectar in the peony flower, but they do not harm the flower or the plant at all. Just leave them to their meal - it's like gourmet dining for ants!
Peonies sometimes fall victim to slugs. A good organic slug treatment is diatomaceous earth, which is safe to use in the garden and consists of ground up fossils called diatoms. A sauce with beer in it drowns the slugs too.
Peonies for All Gardens
The peony photos in the article were all taken in my garden in southern Virginia. They were planted less than three years ago, and all are growing and blooming vigorously. They are planted in full sun in very harsh, clay, nutrient-poor soil. I amended the soil with compost, added pine bark mulch, and use an organic bioactivator, a bacteria-based product available from Gardens Alive! that helped add life back into the soil. Three years after planting roots I purchased in the mail, four of the five plants survived and reward me each spring with vigorous blooms as you can see here.
I didn't always have a green thumb, but I found that if I listen to what the plants tell me they want by observing their behavior, I'm a better gardener.
Try peonies in your garden next spring!
© 2011 Jeanne Grunert
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