Peonies are an old fashioned favorite perennial! They are loved for their heavily-scented beautiful, extra large blooms and survive quite well in our Michigan gardens. Peonies come in four flower forms – Single, Semi-double, Double and Japanese (Anemone). The flowers will become fuller as the plant matures. Peonies make an excellent cut flower. After flowering, the plant can provide size and texture to the perennial garden and are a deer resistant.
Peonies perform best when planted in well draining, loamy soil with good air circulation and plenty of sunshine and spring moisture. The best time to divide or transplant peonies is October. This allows plenty of time for root development and nutrient storage before winter. Peonies like a slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 6.0 to 7.9). To prepare the planting site dig a 2’ wide by 1 ½’ deep hole. If planting more than 1 plant, prepare holes 3’ to 4’ apart. Fill each hole with 1’ of good loam. Each root stock’s crown should be planted 2” below soil level with the eyes pointing up. Finish filling the planting hole and water well. Peonies should be fertilized in spring and autumn with a low nitrogen product. Peonies also like additional potassium. Too much nitrogen may inhibit flowering.
After the foliage dies down in the fall, cut back stalks 1 to 2 inches above ground. Once the ground has frozen, mulch with sawdust, straw or evergreen boughs. Discard the cuttings as they are not good for composting. If your plant fails to bloom check its soil depth. Usually crowns are too deep, the site has become too shady or there is poor drainage. Botrytis is the most common disease causing buds to die off before opening. Try to keep foliage dry during cool spring weather by watering at the base of plants. Fungicides can be used to control outbreaks. Sometimes plants become overcrowded and will stop blooming. A hard spring frost is enough to kill flower buds. If the crown is too deep, dig the root ball and rework the soil. Replant the root ball ½” above the soil level. Water and mulch well through the summer and the crown should settle to the soil level.
Two new varieties this year (2018):
Red Sarah Bernhardt – Red version of the well-known ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. Large bowl-shaped fragrant double blooms, shiny dark green foliage; upright habit.
Coral Charm– Early semi-double deep coral buds open to a lovely coral-peach blossom. Excellent cut flower.