From Dennis Patton:
Peonies are probably the most planted flower in the garden. What garden does not have at least one of these treasured plants? I bet a lot of you have in your garden peonies that belonged to a parent or a grandparent. I know I have several that belonged to my grandmother and I think of her each year when they flower.
This long-living plant just seems to thrive in our climate. It is one of the easiest and long-lasting plants to care for. I know there are clumps on our family farm that have probably not been touched for over 50 to 75 years yet they still shine each May. But in our more high maintenance city gardens they can shine even a little brighter with some very simple care.
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Garden peonies are herbaceous, which means they die back to the ground each fall. New growth emerges in the spring, which terminates in the big showy flower. Peonies then spend their summer building up energy into the fleshy tubers or roots for next season’s bloom. The green growth of the plants must remain in the garden all summer long to create 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 the plants back to the ground. Peonies cut back in the fall help to remove foliar disease issues and reduce the infection next year. Simply cut all the growth off at the soil level and discard. By doing this in the fall the leaves are still intact and less likely to break apart leaving behind diseased tissue.
Still time to plant or transplant
Because of the plant’s growth habit anytime in September through early October is a great time to divide, transplant or plant new peonies in the garden. Once fall arrives the plants have developed the much-needed stored energy and are just 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 often garden layouts change, trees mature and we just want them in a new spot.
The plant can be lifted and replanted. Keep in mind the eyes or growing points should be about 2 inches below the soil surface; and 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 many new colors and stockier plants. Many of the old-fashioned, grandma’s peonies have long, weak stems. That means the flowers flop when in full bloom due to the weight. These newer hybrids tend to be shorter plants 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.