I love peonies, like really, really love them! I’m not a big flower girl but these babies bowl me over every…damn…time! I look forward every spring to seeing those red spikes poking their heads out of the ground. As I’ve mentioned before I live in Pickering, Canada, which is Hardiness Zone 5b so I don’t usually see them poking up until end of March or early April. This year was crazy with the weather and they were much later coming up.
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1. Keep them near the surface!
If you remember only one rule then let it be this one (thus I have strategically made it number 1), keep them near the surface! It is always best to plant them when they are dormant (same for moving, but more on that in #7) which is typically between October to March. The ideal depth to plant the root is where the top is about 1-2” below the surface, if they are too deep they will fail to flower. It is crucial to make sure that the eyes (the budding stems) are close to the surface, one of the main reasons is that in order to bloom peonies must be frozen for at least a month.
2. Bring on the ants!
As the flower buds on the peonies start to open you can almost see the ants come marching one by one…..and then by the thousands. Your first reaction may be to try and get rid of them, but don’t! They don’t harm the plant and they feed on the sugary “sap” that is exuded…some people feel that it helps the bud to open properly. I have never found any negatives to the ants and once the buds are open the ants will disappear.
3. Meet their two main demands
Peonies are not complicated by nature but they are adamant, fail to give them what they need and they won’t give you the blooms you crave. Their list of demands is short and sweet, other than the freezing they want two things. Lots of water (but never let them get waterlogged) and full sun (but they can handle partial shade). Is that really too much to ask?
4. Give them the support they need
Peonies (when mature) are tall, with large flowers making them top-heavy by nature. So, it is always a good idea to provide them with support, this could be anything from a stick in the ground with twine going around them to a tomato cage or an actual peony cage (which is pretty much a tomato cage anyway).
Whatever your approach may be, get it in place when they start growing for the season…..you aren’t going to be able to stuff a blooming peony into a cage and typing it with twine when it is large is humorous, to say the least. Especially if you’re neighbour walks by, when you appear to be bent over, hugging your plant (not that this EVER happened to me).
5. Be patient young one
Peonies are not rushed and they don’t really care if you want them to provided you beautiful like right now. They can take up to three years to really get going and give you the flowers you are craving. They are perennials and once they hit their stride they will give you flowers for years to come…if you move, dig those babies up and take them with you. Just remember that they do NOT like being moved once they have found their happy place, so they will need some time to re-adjust.
6. Get them before the rain does
If you haven’t heeded #4, then the rain could well be the kiss of death for your beautiful blooms! There is a delicate balance of waiting for them to bloom and watching the weather network. Murphy’s law states you walk out of the house in the morning, knowing that when you get home the flowers will FINALLY be ready to cut. A quick check of the weather app….all sun, all the time today….look at the sky…not a cloud to be seen. Heading home after a long day and the skies open with an unpredicted torrential downpour and well folks…they’re done! So stay on top of them, maybe even grab them before they have completely bloomed. Then make sure to bring those babies inside where they will be safe!
7. Leave them be!
These guys, as a rule, don’t really like to be moved, but if it is necessary then it is best to consider doing it when they are in their dormant phase, which is typically between October and March. If you do decide to move one of these beauties, make sure you give them lots of rooms around their roots, this way you run the least risk of disturbing the root ball. Once you have the plant out you can move it to a new location or if you are so inclined split the root. If splitting is your goal then be sure to cut them cleanly and leave at least three clear eyes (stem buds) on each of the new sections.
8. Giv them a trim!
Once your peonies are done blooming for the season, clip off the dead or dying flowers with your handy-dandy pruning shears. The green leaves will stay all throughout the summer, then in the fall it’s time for a trim, I like to cut mine down to ground level. I can still picture my sister’s look of horror when I was helping her with fall pruning in her new house. I walked up to her prized peony and chopped it to the ground.
That’s about it. They are not a troublesome flower but they do know what they do and don’t like.