The peony takes me back to my childhood. This large fragrant bloom was abundant in my Grandmother’s garden. These days when I go out to cut the blooms I flashback to my grandmother sending me home with large bouquets of peonies, stems wrapped in a wet paper towel and aluminum foil. I sometimes feel she is nearby with a smile knowing I have carried her peony tradition to my home.
This outrageously beautiful late spring/early summer bloom in our region is a real show stopper. The fragrance and bold bloom gives a garden early season character. It compliments the bloom time of the iris. Like the iris, the post bloom glossy foliage is a great garden bed filler all summer. Even in the fall, the foliage turns color with the season change, adding even more dimension to the waning garden. Although a very hardy plant (some have been known to live 100 years), I have learned some valuable lessons in their care.
If properly planted and established, peonies require very little maintenance. They are hardy to zone 3 and actually like our north country cold winters as their bud formation requires chilling. For many years I made the mistake of planting new tubers in the spring. I found that they did not perform well the following year. With more research I discovered they prefer to be planted in the fall before the first hard frost! Experts on peonies suggest those planted in the spring lag behind those planted in the fall by a year! Right now you will find sales on peony tubers. They are usually merchandised with the spring bulbs…so they are a great price. Grab some and keep them in a cool dry place to plant in the fall.
Peonies perform best in full sun. I have grown them with half day of sun, but the numbers of blooms are reduced. In general, peonies do not like to be disturbed once they are planted. It may take a year or 2 for them to bloom again once you transplant. So consider carefully where you choose to plant. Don’t plant your peonies too deep. Another lesson learned. The tuber should be covered with about 2 inches of fertile, well drained soil. And those ants you see crawling on the bud…they are actually eating nectar in exchange for attacking bud eating pests. They do help the peony bloom!
The color choices of peonies range from red, pink, rose, white and color blends like the sorbet. Each have their own bloom time. Red was first to bloom in my garden. I now have the the light pink in bloom and enjoy the cut flowers indoors. As there are hundreds of varieties of peonies, read your plant label and be sure your choice is consistent with our region. To be safe, I hover in the zone 4-5 range. By planting a variety of peonies you will keep that fragrance and bloom along with diversity of color going for a good month in your early season garden.
As always, using common sense and supporting sustainability in all my garden practices.