Peony News

How to get your peony plants off to a good start - fall planting tips.

 

  • SUN & SOIL - Plant peonies in a sunny, well drained location. Peonies love full sun; at least a half day of sun will provide abundant blooms. Plant on mini ‘hills’ to provide better drainage, if needed. Often there is no need to amend the soil; peonies grow in clay soils.
  • PREP - Dig a good hole for your root, about 12” deep by 12” wide. Spade up the soil you removed from the hole and put some back into the hole. Leave enough room to set your root in the top of the hole. 
  • ROOT DEPTH - Plant peony roots near ‘ground level’ (not very deep).  You can place the root at an angle or straight up and down, with the buds (eyes) of the root at the top, just below the surface of the ground. The fleshy part of the root (kind of like a carrot) will be pointing down into the hole. Cover the peony root until only one to two inches of soil covers the ‘eyes’ (buds). The ‘eyes’ will be just under ground level. Planting too deeply can stunt growth. When planting a peony from a pot, remove the pot and plant the peony so that the top of the ‘root ball’ is at ground level, with only a tiny amount of soil covering it. 
  • Water - Give your new planting a drink of water. Check to see if the root settled deeper. If it did, lift the root, slip a little soil under it and re-position the peony root so the ‘eyes’ are just below ‘ground level’ with only an inch or two of soil on the top of it. Water occasionally the first spring and summer. Once established, peonies are rather drought tolerant; although they appreciate a little water now and then in hot summers.
  • Care - Many gardeners never fertilize peonies, others fertilize each spring with a little flower fertilizer. In the fall, cut the stems to ground level and remove the old leaves and stems from the garden. The peony plant ‘eyes’ will reappear each spring. Peonies can grow for decades in the same spot without needing divided.

If you didn’t deadhead in June, you will likely find peony seed pods on some of your varieties. I often receive questions about ‘what those hard, leathery growths are’ on the ends of peony stems.

peony seed pods growing at Brooks Gardens

Most folks are pleased to hear that they are seed pods and might actually be fertile. Yes, you can grow peonies from seed. It takes a few years longer to get a mature peony plant from seed than from a root division. 

Some prolific peony seed producers include Blitz Tort, Delavan Rose, Flame, Mischief, Lemon Chiffon, Lois Kelsey, Nosegay, Picotee, Topeka Garnet, Villosa and White Sands. Sometimes I leave a few spent flowers on particular varieties when I'm dead heading, to produce open pollinated seed in late summer. Other times I leave a few on varieties that never or rarely produce pods – just in case ‘this is the year’.

It’s a bit early to think about ripe peony seed in July…..but, we’re a couple of weeks ahead of average weather in Oregon. We had an early spring and the crops are all keeping that full speed ahead pace this summer. I noticed some cracked-open seed pods on quite a few Paeonia mlokosewitschii over two weeks ago.  

P mlokosewitschii seed Brooks Gardens farm

As I scouted the peony seed pods in the field, I saw quite a few that are already opening. Yikes! Nosegay seed are already scattered. This is far ahead of the usual mid-late August seed ripening. Most seed is still developing (green pods); but do keep an eye out to catch the pods starting to crack open and then harvest your seed.

I put mine in a bowl of water, discard the non-viable seed (red on P. mlokosewitschii) and the floaters (likely hollow or underdeveloped) and plant or pot up the sinkers. Each peony variety that produces seed will have slightly different colored viable seed ranging from tan, dark brown, blue-black to black. Some will sprout next spring and some the following spring. Be sure to label the seed parent (and the pollen parent if you hybridized it). With a bit of patience, you may grow the next, best peony plant.

It's all in the family with our peony seed photo shoot his summer -  I grabbed a handmade ceramic vase to put a few pods in and my niece Soraya shot the great photos.

peony seed pods in pottery by Janet Sprauer

While I knew the vase was made by my sister Janet in 1973 high school ceramics class, it was pure coincidence that it was on her birthday when we did the photo shoot (I never even made the connection until I was typing this). While Janet has only seen my farm from heaven, I know she loves being a part of it. 

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