Peonies are one of the most planted flowers in the garden. A lot of you probably have peonies that belonged to a parent or a grandparent. I have several that belonged to my grandmother, and I think of her each year when they flower.
This plant thrives in our climate. It is one of the easiest and longest lasting plants to care for. There are clumps on our family farm that have not been touched for more than 50 years, yet they shine each May. In our higher maintenance city gardens a little care will help them shine a little brighter.
Garden peonies are herbaceous, which means they die back to the ground each fall. New growth emerges in the spring which culminates in the big showy flower. Peonies then spend their summer building up energy into the fleshy tubers for next season’s bloom. The green growth of the plants must remain all summer long to generate this energy.
Once the plants start to yellow or brown in the fall they should be cut to the ground. Early fall or after the first frost is the ideal time to cut back the plants. Cutting peonies in the fall helps remove foliar diseases and reduce infection next year. Simply cut all the growth off at the soil level and discard. By doing this in the fall the leaves are less likely to break apart leaving behind diseased tissue.
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Because of the plant’s growth habit, the time to divide, transplant or plant new peonies is September through October. Once fall arrives the plants have stored energy and are coasting until the close of the season. Planting in the fall allows the roots to establish in the warm fall soils. They are then ready for new growth, come spring. Peonies can remain in the garden for a number of years without the need for division. But garden layouts often change, trees mature or we just want them in a new spot.
The plant can be lifted and replanted. Keep in mind the eyes, or growing points of the tubers, should be about 2 inches below the soil surface, and that peonies do best in full sun. New plants can be purchased at local garden centers or through mail order.
Much work has been done in peony breeding with new colors and stockier plants. Many of the old fashioned peonies have long, weak stems. This means the flowers flop when in full bloom due to the weight. The newer hybrids tend to be shorter with thick stems helping to hold the blooms upright.
Enjoy this beautiful stretch of weather and get out in the garden. It is time to start the fall cleanup and even add a little more color to the garden.