Tag: peonies

Our Peony Garden: 7 Tips for Success

I’m a hopeless collector….of everything; you name it. Books, funky art, even funky friends, chickens, daffodils and lots of other flowers.

So, it’s easy to understand why I’d be be drawn to peonies too…like, in a big way. They are truly the queen of the flowers. You know, those kinds of flowers that evoke that… ‘Oh! Be still my heart’ kind of moments in life when you see them.

Allen with fresh cut peonies at Moss Mountain Farm

I’ve planted peonies in fits and starts my whole life, but mainly for others. Occasionally you’ll find a design client with enough space and passion for the flower to really go all out, but those are fairly uncommon these days. For the most part, many gardeners want a few in the garden integrated among other perennials, and I will be the first to say there is nothing wrong with that. Peonies, any way you want to grow them, get my attention and full support. However, I will say that over the years I’ve learned a few things about harnessing my enthusiasm and succumbing to my weaknesses…peonies being one of them. Perhaps the most important lesson in order to avoid heartache, no matter the scale of your planting, is to get it right the first time. So last year, true to my uncontrollable and unbridled passions, I embarked on a garden of 360 peonies from Gilbert H Wild. Yep… 360 plants ( tubers), 36 varieties, 10 each. The results were spectacular.

Peony Garden at Moss Mountain Farm

Here are some of my notes and takes aways from the field to consider if you’re serious about peonies. Hopefully, you’ll find them helpful:

  1. They don’t like to be disturbed. So plant them in a good place and leave them. So what’s a good place you might asking. Well, full sun or a spot with at least six hours of sunlight. I prefer morning light over hot afternoon. They need good average soil that drains well. Peonies do not like ‘wet feet’, so plant in well-draining soil or else the tubers will surely rot. And don’t scrimp on adding good amendments to the soil, like plenty of humus and well-rotted manure (Yeah, manure. Go make a friend with a farmer).
  2. Let’s face it, these flowers are extremely ephemeral, like most beauty. So plant multiple varieties that bloom early, mid and late in the season. This will extend the blooming season and your joy. And stop complaining about how the flowers don’t last long! Enjoy the moment and be content. Years ago a customer came into our nursery and wanted a landscape that was evergreen, bloomed all year and was low maintenance. I suggested they move to another hemisphere, perhaps near the equator or take up residency on another planet.

    ‘Krinkled White’ Peony
  3. Buy nice tubers (as I said, ours all came from Gilbert H Wild and Son) with 4 to 5 eyes and take your time planting them.
    Don’t skimp on size, or if you do, don’t complain if they don’t bloom the first year. And, don’t plant the tubers too deep. The eyes are red and needn’t be too deep underground. In the North, deeper planting is advised, but here in the South, I’ve only covered the eyes with about 1/2 inch of soil with great success.

    Peony tuber from Gilbert H. Wild


  4. Choose varieties suited to your climate. Peonies, by their very nature, prefer a cold winter. So if you live in Minnesota you probably grow amazing Peonies, but not so much in Texas. Sorry, it’s just a fact of life. Look at it this way, you don’t see fields of Texas bluebonnets in St. Paul, Minneapolis, right? So, it’s a trade off, like so much of life. I will say, however, I’ve found that the early bloomers perform the best in my zone 8a garden. Old standbys like ‘Festiva Maxima,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ as well as ‘Coral Charm,’ ‘Coral Sunset ‘ and many other single bloom types.
    ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ Peony


  5. Once they have bloomed I remove the seed heads. There’s no reason for the plant to continue to put energy into seed production when I’d rather it pour its resources into making larger tubers, which means… you guessed, it will have larger and more abundant blooms next year.
  6. And, another tip… for the first couple of years refrain from cutting the blooms from the plants with extra long stems (Yes, tempting, I know.) The plants with extra long stems and plenty of foliage left intact are your friends, so don’t get greedy the first few years. You see, these remaining stems and leaves are the workhorses of the plant and continue to help build larger stronger future tubers and thereby more plentiful blooms in seasons to come. Later, once the clumps are established you can cut blooms with long luxurious stems.
  7. Oh, and one last thing, the ANTS.
    Of all the questions I receive about peonies, those concerned about the tiny ants that congregate on the flower buds outweigh all questions combined. These ants are drawn to the sweet nectar-like sap that the bud produces. They do no harm to the peony, or will they you. Just rinse them off with cool water and let them go about their day…live and let live!

Below are a few photos of our new peony garden after only one year after being planted at Moss Mountain Farm, and some of the resulting blooms.

‘Largo’ Peony


Field of Peonies at Moss Mountain Farm


‘Mons Jules Elie’ peony


To learn more about growing peonies, check out the video below!

Tips for Growing Peony Growing Peonies

Perfectly Beautiful Peonies

In gardening, and in life, it’s nice to find things you can count on. In the plant world, peonies rank at the top of the list. Prized for their form, stunning range of colors, and exceptional hardiness, few other plants once established bloom so reliably year after year with such little care. Their large, glorious flowers add bright splashes of color to beds and borders and their intoxicating fragrance make them a wonderful cut flower. Peonies are a great value, providing you with years of beautiful returns.

America’s love affair with peonies has been a long and successful one. I have fond memories of rows of pink and white peonies blooming in my Grandmother Smith’s garden. In many parts of the country peonies open near the end of May, a characteristic that makes them the flower of choice for Memorial Day decorations. Through the years plant breeders have developed a spectacular array of new colors, flower forms, and blooming times to give gardeners even more selection. Today you can enjoy nearly 6 weeks of continuous bloom by planting early, mid and late season varieties. Hybridizers have also developed peonies with stronger stems to hold aloft the plant’s large, heavy blooms. And they have developed hardy new varieties for gardeners in the north and south, expanding the range of the plant’s popularity.


Peony Design Tips

In my grandparent’s day, peonies were often planted in rows or set out as islands of flowers encircled by the lawn. I prefer to mix them with other plants in flower borders such as shrub roses, foxglove, iris, daylilies, phlox, perennial geranium and lamb’s ear. Since peonies don’t like to be moved once they’re established, it’s best to plant them in permanent spots with other hardy perennials. As their blooms fade, the plant’s rich green foliage mixes well with other perennials and also makes an attractive background for shorter annuals. I often plant peonies amid spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils or tulips. After the bulbs bloom, the emerging peony foliage helps camouflage the bulbs? fading leaves.

The Right Peony for You

Mid May to early June is prime time to enjoy these splendid flowers. There are two types of peonies grown in the home landscape, the garden or herbaceous peony that grows 2 to 3 feet tall, and the tree peony that is 4 to 6 feet in height. Although fall is the time to plant peonies, now is the time to pick your favorites, so you can select the right color and variety for your garden. Take a picture or record the name of the ones you like the best. You can place an order with a mail order company this spring and then they will ship the tubers in the fall when the time is right to plant them in your area. You can also wait and buy plants this fall from your local garden center. If you don’t have a garden take heart, you can still enjoy peonies as cut flowers in flower arrangements. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you’ll find as I have that it is easy to fall under the spell of their amazing beauty.

Planting Depth is Important

One of my biggest attractions to the peony is its long life. I’ve heard of peonies outliving the gardeners who planted them – surviving nearly 50 years! But the key to longevity is how they are planted. Plant the bare root tubers in the fall just as the autumn leaves begin to turn. Choose a well-drained site in full sun, although light shade will keep some darker colors from fading. Prepare the soil before planting by adding well-rotted manure, compost and bone meal as needed. The number one rule is not to plant too deep. Make sure the ‘eyes’ on the tubers are pointing up and are covered with only about 2 inches of soil. A little less deep in warmer climates is fine. Trust me, if you plant them too deep, you will have foliage, but no flowers. Take into account their mature size when planting them so they aren’t crowded and mulch the area in early winter to avoid frost-heaving of the tubers. It usually takes two years after planting before any flowers are produced. Support is often required for the tall, double flower hybrids.

Peonies for the South

If you live in the deep South, keep in mind that peonies do need cool temperatures to really thrive. But I always love to defy the nay sayers who insist “you can’t grow that here!” That’s exactly what I did when I designed a garden in Southwest Georgia. I convinced the family to plant two varieties that I have had much success with: ‘Festiva Maxima’, and ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (see Varieties of Peonies). To my critics’ amazement, and envy I might add, the peonies bloomed profusely. Look for new varieties bred to thrive in warmer areas.

What About Ants on Peonies?

Ants are attracted to the sweet sap produced by the peony bud. This is no cause for alarm. The ants are not harmful. Just leave them alone, and once the flowers bloom, they’ll move on.

Beautiful Varieties of Peonies

Here is just a sampling of the hundreds of peony varieties available. Peonies are often described according to color, height, and flower forms: single, semi-double, double, bomb and Japanese. Check local nursery centers in your area to see which varieties are best suited for your garden.

FESTIVA MAXIMA – Developed in 1851, this fragrant, early blooming, 24 to 30 inch peony is an old-fashioned favorite. Strong stems provide good support for the large white double flowers with crimson markings. Zones 2 – 7 or 8

REINE HORTENSE – Another old-fashioned beauty introduced in 1857, this fragrant peony features large, double flowers that bloom in midseason. Flowers are rose pink in color with fluffy petals that are notched and silvered at the tips. The plant’s strong stems and deep green foliage make it a standout in the flower border. Zones 3 – 8

GARDENIA – Large (8 to 10 inch) blush-white gardenia shaped flowers bloom on strong 34 inch long stems. This is an early to midseason bloomer with a sweet fragrance. Zones 3 – 8

AURORA SUNRISE – The clear, bright pink Japanese style flower of this peony is highlighted with a tightly packed golden center. A 30 inch variety, it was developed for good stem strength and a striking presence in the garden. Zones 2 – 8

CORAL SUPREME – This gorgeous, 36 inch semi-double peony has stunning salmon-coral blossoms that open early in the season. The plant has unique cup shaped flowers that reflect nearly 3 decades of breeding to perfect. Zones 2 – 8

PETTICOAT FLOUNCE – This peony lives up to its name with superb soft pink ?bomb? shaped blossoms touched in creamy white and edged with tinges of red. An excellent cut flower with luxurious, deep green foliage growing to 24′, it blooms early in the season, just in time to enjoy its gorgeous fresh cut flowers in an arrangement. Zones 2 – 8

HESPERUS – A tree peony growing 3 to 5 feet that blooms in midseason with single dusty rose flowers with yellow undertones and deep rose veins. The flowers sport crinkled petals that are notched with purple inner flares and fine, golden stamens. Zones 4 – 8

HIGHLIGHT – This peony helps extend your flower show by blooming late midseason with large double flowers in dark red. A beautiful cut flower, its rich color adds depth and drama to a bed or border growing to 34 inches. Zones 3 – 8

RED EMPEROR – Very large, Japanese type flowers in bright red with full pale centers make a striking display blooming in midseason. The intense color fades, but makes this showy flower even more interesting. Grows to 30 inches. Zones 3 – 8

SEA SHELL – One of the best peonies for the south, this Gold Medal Winner is the center of attraction in any garden. The lively pink single flower has a bright center of yellow stamens. Flowering in midseason, this 36′ peony holds its blooms high on strong stems. Zones 3 – 8

SARAH BERNHARDT – Nearly a century has passed since this peony was introduced in 1906, but it is still a popular favorite. A double flower in dark rose-pink with petals edged in a slightly lighter color makes this fragrant, mid to late season bloomer the star attraction. Zones 3 – 8

Good to Know: Peony Arranging Tips

  • Select half opened blooms, they’ll last longer.
  • Cut the flowers early in the morning.
  • If the heads are heavy with dew, gently shake to remove water.
  • Handfuls of peonies in a vase make a beautiful arrangement.
  • Remove foliage below water line to prevent bacteria build up
  • Keep flowers away from heat and direct light.

Peony Planting

For me, one of the peony’s biggest attractions is its long life. I’ve heard of herbaceous peonies blooming reliably for more than 50 years, sometimes outliving the gardeners who planted them! But the key to their longevity is the care you take in establishing them.

I’ve found the ideal time to plant bare root peony tubers is in the fall, just as the first leaves begin to turn. Now the term bare root means that all the soil was removed from around the tuber when the plant was dug from the field. I prefer planting bare root peonies because they are less expensive than container grown plants and by planting them in the fall they will have time to develop a strong root system, ready for robust growth next spring.

Whether you purchase your bare root peonies from a local garden center or through a mail order source the first thing you want to do when you open the package is check that the plant is healthy. Bucket of PeoniesThe tubers should be fleshy, firm and mold free.

Sometimes bare root plants can dry out during transit so it is a good idea to soak them in a bucket of water for 2 to 4 hours to rehydrate them before planting.

If you cannot plant the tubers right away keep them in their packing material in a cool, dry place, such as a garage, or basement. Warmth and moisture will signal the tubers to start growing so check on them occasionally to be sure they aren’t getting moldy or soft. They can be kept this way for about 5 days.

Planting Location for Peonies

Choose an area that is in full sun with well-drained, slightly acidic soil. And bear in mind that peonies do not respond well to transplanting once they have become established, so select an area where they can remain undisturbed.

Planting Peonies

Sketch of Peony Tuber Peonies should be planted with the eyes pointing up and just beneath the surface of the soil. Now here is an important fact to keep in mind. Peonies that are planted too deep will not bloom. In northern gardens plant the tubers no deeper than 2 inches. In my mid-South garden I plant them about a half-inch deep. This allows for the mulch I spread over the planting bed to keep weeds down and help conserve moisture.

Once planted, water well and keep the area consistently moist until the ground freezes.

Pink Peony

What to Expect After Planting Peonies

Next spring your peony will produce foliage, but it may take a few seasons for it to put on a big display of flowers. But your patience will be rewarded. Peonies are plants that are geared for long lives and their blooms improve with age.

The large, heavy flowers of many of the old fashioned varieties such as ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and ‘Festiva Maxima’ have a tendency to flop over. One of the most effective ways to avoid this is to cage them in the early spring soon after the stems emerge from the ground. You can use a simple metal ring with legs on it to give them support or you can just use a piece of wire fencing to encircle the plant.

Caring for Peonies After they Bloom

Another great thing about peonies is their fragrance, but to insure lots of bloom the following year, it’s important to remove the seedpods and fertilize each plant in late spring/early summer after deadheading the faded flowers. You can use a blend of 5-10-5 sprinkled around the base. About a handful per plant is enough. This is the only time you need to feed them because too much fertilizer can result in burn, fewer blooms and spindly growth.

Learn more about planting peonies by watching the video below!