Farm 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. 

I’m curious about the weather this year, with our drier, warmer spring and ‘early’ summer here in Oregon. Will fall be ‘usual’ or will it come early? Who’s to know?  If I were tuned in to the Farmer’s Almanac, I might have a clue.

An indicator- the first P. mlokosewitschii (aka Molly the Witch) seed pods opened to show off their beautiful seeds in early July – ahead of their normal opening.  They bloomed about three weeks early this spring, so I guess they are on track for normal seed development. These species peonies are prolific seed producers and easy to germinate here in the Willamette Valley.

We sow them directly into the soil in the fall and watch many of them send up a shoot the following spring, with a few sprouting the second spring. No fancy techniques or watering schedules have been necessary – nature does it thing and they grow. Generally, newly sowed peony seeds are kept moist until the fall rains, which is often not a problem here in Oregon.

This summer presents a great opportunity to do some ‘dry’ variable testing.  I can experiment with some of the seed: sow it, not keep it moist and see how/if it sprouts next spring.  I’ll let you know the results next March.

Some of the species and early blooming peony varieties are showing changing colors in their foliage. The leaves of many peony plants will turn from green to bronze, yellow, maroon or other Fall colors as summer progresses. Colors vary by variety. 

Fern-leaf peony plants generally go dormant early, so if you see yellow/brown 'die-back' on them in late July, don't fret - they are simply ahead of most other varieties in the 'dormancy' schedule.

Illini Warrior has fabulous serrated foliage and it's changing from a nice bright green to bronze-maroon tones. It's an early blooming peony, so, it shows some great color changes in July. 

Paeonia mlokosewitschii 'Molly the Witch' is a species peony, blooming very, very early (a month ahead of Coral Charm). It's a prolific seed producer, so we generally let some of the seed set. Here it is, cracking open it's first seed pods of the season. It has gorgeous colored foliage this year. Plant one of these peony roots and you'll likely have great success in producing new peony varieties in only a few years.

I love the contrasting colors on the peony plants this time of year. Take a look at your plants to see the colors and textures peonies add to summer gardens. 

Photos: P. mlokosewitschii seed pods and foliage; Illini Warrior foliage.