Peony News

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. 

Collecting Peony Seed

Walking through our peony fields in search of seed pods from last springs’ hybridizing efforts fills me with anticipation. My thrill at finding seed on certain varieties sparks my imagination – perhaps it will grow into a peony plant of distinction with maroon stems, deep green serrated leaves, a full double flower with the fragrance of a fine subtle perfume. It might even be a fern leaf; or have the stature of ‘Old Faithful’. The possibilities are endless – at least in my mind.

The huge seed pods on 'Lemon Chiffon' are starting to crack open; I collect the big ripe black seed and will gather more in another week or so. I spy a couple of pods that aren’t quite ready and I can’t wait to find what’s inside, as I crossed them with pollen from 'Little Dorrit' (the most darling little salmon/orange hued peony). While 'Lemon Chiffon' is one of the prolific seed producers, some seed pods (as with other varieties, as well) are ‘blanks’ – with no seed inside. Sometimes your most coveted pods are empty, dashing your hopes for another year. I am skeptical about the 'Little Dorrit' crosses; their carpels don’t appear to be plump enough to have seed inside. I will find out soon enough.

Open Pollinated Seed

I don’t always get a lot of hybridizing accomplished, as I am so busy with cutting flowers, helping our customers and tending to all the other wonderful tasks on a peony farm. This year I scheduled time to make a few crosses and am collecting and labeling seed for fall sowing. In June, as I deadheaded peonies, I left a few buds on a number of seed producing varieties in the hopes that they were open pollinated (bees, insects, wind).  Some of those peonies produce abundant seed that just cascades out of the pods. ‘Bev’, ‘Bo Peep’, ‘Mischief’ and ‘Serenade’ are always like that. This year I found ample seed on ‘Sandra Marie’, ‘Nosegay’, and some double and single yellow tetraploid seedlings. Oh my! Those were just a few of the ‘run of the mill’ open pollinated seeds that I collected this week.

Sorting the Seed

Much of our seed is not yet ripe, so I need to diligently keep after it: gather, sort, bag and label it and get it sowed.  I sort by color, eliminating the infertile bright red seeds: keeping the good brown, maroon, dark blue and black hued seeds. Then I use the ‘float method’ to determine viability: put the seed in a glass of water and eliminate the ones that float - they are often hollow, sterile and won’t germinate.

Planting Peony Seed

We have the best luck sowing peony seed in the fall, watering to keep moist until the rains come; and, then just letting it do its thing until we check for sprouts in early spring. Some seed will germinate the first spring and others the second spring. We keep it simple – no special storage, temperature or somersaults. Just plant it. Outside. I prefer to sow directly into the soil; however, I sometimes grow seedlings in trays that are left outside. Just lightly cover the seed with fine soil. We are in Oregon and other areas of the country may require different methods of germinating peony seed.

When you collect and plant peony seed you look forward to finding seedlings sprout in the spring. You always hope – a strong stem, upright plant habitat and stunning, fragrant flowers. There are lots of duds along the way; and, then comes a sweet one. My peony fantasies – they just get bigger and wilder each time I see a plump new seed.

Peony bloom season has come and gone here in Oregon. We had an early spring, with the first buds blooming on March 27th and the last few buds opening this week, giving us over 10 weeks of bloom this year. 

What to do next? I'll be deadheading peonies for awhile - one stem at a time. I move up and down each row with a bucket, clipping the stems just below the old flower blossom. I leave a few here and there, so they can set seed. Over the years, I've made a list of the the seed setters, so I am not saving stems on varieties that don't produce seed. Our peonies produce an abundance of seed, if we let them; and when we take the time to sow it in the fall, it readily sprouts for us the following spring and/or the second spring. It is exciting to see a seedling produce it's first flower, as like children, no two are exactly the same. We always anticipate the next, best peony plant - with exceptional fragrance and strong stems, no doubt. Sometimes they are really attractive and promising; other times they just don't do it for you. The flower can exhibit additional characteristics the second and third year; so, don't discard a one year old seedling that you don't care for. It may bloom into something special as it matures. If you allow your peonies to set seed, look for the pods to open in August, when you can place the seed in the ground. Water to keep moist until the fall rains come and in the spring check for tiny seedlings. 

Our peony farm is now closed for the season, except by appointment for purchasing potted peony plants (contact us at 503-393-7999 or brooksgardens@gmail.com). Bare root peonies for fall planting may be ordered online or via telephone. Peony roots will be shipped in September and October. Some selections are limited, so order early for your choice peonies. 

Thank you to all of our farm visitors this season. As always, you are a joy to meet and we appreciate your business.

Wishing you a wonderful summer,

Therese

September 23, 2014

Today is the first day of autumn. I have always loved this time of year.  As a child, I discovered I loved the crisp coolness of the air as I walked along our farm or to our neighbors’ farm.  The oak leaves were changing colors and falling to the ground. I liked the scent of the air, fresh apples and grapes.  Today it is drizzling rain – such a nice start to fall, after a long dry spell here in Oregon.  

Fourteen years ago, when we bought this farm, we added peonies to our falls – digging peonies, dividing peonies and planting peonies. I get so busy that I rarely take the time to collect peony seed that has matured on the plants over the summer.

Last June, I left a few spent flower heads on varieties of peonies that have produced seed for us in the past.  I also left some on varieties that I wasn’t sure if they were seed producers. This seed season, I have been good about collecting the seed, putting it in envelopes and labeling it.  Some varieties produced so much seed, that I needed baggies to fill, rather than envelopes.

I knew that Gay Paree, Lemon Chiffon, Lemon Queen, Mischief, Senorita, Sugar ‘n Spice, Topeka Garnet and White Cap were great seed producers. I didn’t expect to see pods filled with seed on Blitz Tort, Bride’s Dream and Cheddar Surprise peony plants. I was excited to find nice, big seed on Bartzella, Old Faithful and Scarlet Heaven. I know that not all of the seed will be viable; but, it is always a thrill to be hopeful that they will sprout.

There are all kinds of methods to sprouting peony seed; but, our best results come from direct seeding in the ground. The anticipation of growing new varieties of peony plants sparks my fantasies of finding one that has all the right characteristics. Just thinking about it can make a mundane task, pleasant.

Now, I hope to actually send some of this seed to the American Peony Society seed collection program. I have a few more areas to scout, and when I take a break from packaging peony roots, I hope to gather more seed.

Here’s to fall – and new peony plants!  

Therese

While peonies are rather drought tolerant plants once established, it is important to give new peony transplants and 1 - 2  year old peony plants a good drink of water to keep them from drying out (frequency depends upon your soil and weather conditions). Older plants will benefit from an occasional watering, especially in the heat many of you are experiencing.

Now is the time to dead-head your peony plants, if you haven't done so already. Simply cut the dried-up flower head off of the stem, an inch or two below the flower head. It cleans up your plants for summer and helps tidy up your garden. Be sure to toss the spent petals and flower heads in the garbage, rather than composting them. This helps keep a healthier peony garden.

You can also let some of the peony flowers form seed pods, by not dead-heading. If a seed pod develops, it may produce viable seed. The seed pods generally start to crack open in late August, revealing their seeds. Peony seed pods can also be very beautiful. Not all varieties produce seed, but if they do, you can experiment with growing new plants from seed - perhaps gaining a new peony variety if the seed was cross pollinated.

Keep cool,

Therese

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