Is what Marco Polo exclaimed when he first discovered peonies. The Chinese name for peonies means “most beautiful”, and who can disagree?
What is remarkable about these perennial beauties is just how easy they are to grow. Also, for us who garden in colder regions, peonies can be the star of our gardens. They are hardy in zones 3-8 and require 400 hours of near or freezing temperates to bloom the following spring. They are drought-tolerant once established and don’t require fertilizing. And they are deer and rabbit resistant.
This has been an interesting spring in the garden. Most of my perennials and shrubs have bloomed early…except the peonies. I noticed yesterday that there are a few peonies that are about to explode, and judging by all the buds on the shrubs, it looks like there will be a bumper crop this year.
Over the years, I have been adding different colours and varieties, but Sarah Bernhardt is still my favourite. (They remind me of the Kleenex flowers we made when we were kids.) Lighter pink peonies are more fragrant than darker shades.
To get the most out of cut peonies, it’s best to cut them before they are in full bloom. That way, you may get 7-10 days of heavenly scent in your home. It’s best to cut peonies in the morning before the sun warms them, and be sure to get them in water immediately after cutting. Cut the stems 14-16″ long and remove excess foliage. I’ve heard that adding a teaspoon of sugar and bleach will also extend vase life.
The only downside of peonies is that the bloom season is just a few short weeks. If you want to prolong the lifespan even longer, cut your peonies in the marshmallow stage (photo left). Wrap them in dry newspaper or put them into a ziplock bag and put them in the refrigerator for a month or longer. Just make sure there is no moisture, as this will cause mould.
After being refrigerated, a fresh cut and water will wake these peonies to produce beautiful blooms within a couple of days…weeks after their “season” is over.
Once they have stopped blooming, cut the spent blooms off the shrub. This will encourage thicker foliage to absorb nutrients throughout the summer which will energize next year’s blooms. The foliage will die off after the first hard frost. Cut the decaying leaves almost to ground level to avoid pests and diseases. In colder climates, cover with mulch in the fall but remember to remove that mulch in the spring otherwise, the tubers may be too deep, resulting in fewer blooms.
It’s best to plant peonies in the fall, especially if you are dividing older shrubs…about six weeks before the ground is completely frozen. Peonies can live up to 100 years. Some of my favourite peonies were from my grandmother’s garden, and someday, I hope to pass along some of my peonies for the next generation to enjoy.
In all honesty, my peonies get very little TLC, and yet they continue to impress every spring. These are the first (of many) peonies for the season.
I hope you are all enjoying these beautiful days in your gardens.