A few tips for caring for peonies

While peonies are relatively trouble-free if properly positioned, they do have occasional problems and should be regularly checked. Here are a few tips for keeping your peony plants healthy:

A few tips for caring for peonies

Feeding peonies

  • Apply a general, all-purpose fertilizer in early fall to coincide with the renewed root activity.
  • Apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost in late fall, after the leaves have fallen, taking care not to cover the crowns.
  • Once plants are well established, they also benefit from a second fertilizing in early summer as they come into flower.

Adding plant supports to peonies

  • The flowers on many peony hybrids are large and heavy. Left unsupported, they can bend the flowering stems to the ground.
  • Peony rings of heavy gauge metal on one or two stakes are available, but are expensive.
  • The cages sold for tomatoes are rather flimsy for the weight of a large peony flower and the bases are too small to fit over a mature clump without running the risk of damaging the roots when pushing the rods into the soil.
  • The simplest solution is to use several bamboo canes, pushed in around the plant, with a circle of green horticultural twine tied around them.
  • A single circle about 20 centimetres (eight inches) below the developing blooms is often enough, but very heavy blooms would benefit from a second circle about 20 centimetres (eight inches) below this. If green canes are used, they are hardly noticed.

Leaving the ants

  • As the buds develop, they exude a sticky nectar, usually in the few days before the flowers start to open.
  • The buds often get several ants running over them at this time. They are not doing any damage, simply collecting this sweet nectar and taking it back to their nest.
  • Once the flowers open, the ants disappear.

Deadheading peonies

  • When flowering is finished, remove the old flower heads from the plants, cutting just above the top set of leaves.
  • This removes the seed pods and sends energy that would have gone into seed production into forming the following year's flowers.

Watering peonies

  • The fleshy roots of peonies hold a considerable amount of water, making peonies drought resistant.
  • In arid climates, watering may be needed in summer. If so, use an irrigation system that delivers the water at soil level, rather than as an overhead spray.
  • Evaporation is much less and the risk of disease is greatly reduced with dry foliage. Newly planted peonies should be watered regularly during their first summer.

Solving common peony problems

Here are some troubleshooting tips for addressing any pests or diseases that may be afflicting your peonies:

Holes in leaves, or leaves almost eaten entirely:

  • Japanese or rose-chafer beetles
  • Hand pick if the infestation is slight, spray with neem if heavy.

Plants become weak, stunted, and fail to bloom:

  • Root-knot nematodes
  • Dig out, discard, and do not plant peonies in same location for 10 years.

Stems turn black and leaves wilt:

  • Peony blight
  • Remove below infection, do not allow to contact healthy foliage, dispose of in garbage.
  • Sterilize pruners with rubbing alcohol. If problem reoccurs, spray with Bordeaux mixture.

Flower buds fail to develop and rarely get above pea size:

  • Immaturity, cold, or lack of nutrients
  • In new transplants there may not be enough energy to support flowers the first year.
  • With mature plants, it could be caused by late spring frosts after growth has begun, or by a lack of potassium in the soil.

Peonies are a beautiful addition to any garden, and can really liven up a dull landscape. Now that you know these simple tips, you should have no trouble growing and caring for peonies in your garden.

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