Peonies are attractive, fragrant perennials with lush foliage and large, vibrant blooms. The easy-to-grow herbaceous plants require little maintenance when established. The tuberous roots are left in the soil during the winter months unlike other bulbs that are dug up and stored indoors. The showy blooms liven up the landscape or container garden for many months, and also form long-lasting cut flowers in arrangements or bouquets. Follow a basic care program so your plants come up every spring and produce healthy blooms.
Things You’ll Need
- Compost or peat moss
- 10-10-10 fertilizer
- Soaker hose
- 5-10-10 fertilizer
- Organic mulch
- Pruning shears
- Sharp knife
- Elastic ties
- Locate the most suitable planting site with well-draining soil, full sunlight and free air circulation. Prepare the planting holes with generous amounts of compost or peat moss and 1/4-cup 10-10-10 fertilizer. Dig each hole 10 inches deep and twice as wide as the root ball. Space multiple plants 3 to 4 feet apart.
- Water peonies deeply after planting. Irrigate each plant to a depth of 3 to 4 inches after they’re established. Mature plants do well on a watering schedule of every 10 days to two weeks. Use a soaker hose that assists deep watering and encourages the roots to travel deeper in search of water.
- Feed the 2- to 3-inch-tall plants 2 lbs. of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100-square-foot area in spring. Space the fertilizer 2 inches apart from each plant stem to prevent direct contact.
- Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch such as hay or coarse straw over each peony plant to protect it during the first winter. Remove the mulch in spring.
- Inspect peonies for symptoms of fungal diseases such as spots on leaves and softening of stems that indicate botrytis blight. Prune infected plant parts and clean plant debris in fall. Follow label directions to treat emerging shoots with a registered fungicide. Treat leaf blotch (dark purple, glossy spots on upper and lower leaf surfaces) with a registered fungicide and avoid overhead watering.
- Remove spent or faded blooms as often as possible to extend blooming and encourage new flowers. Cut the stems of dormant peonies as close to the ground at the of end September or early October to prevent disease and pest damage.
- Divide the peonies if you notice a decline in flower production. Dig the clump out of the soil and wash away the soil to expose the eyes. Cut the clump into sections with a clean, sterilized knife, each comprising four to five eyes and roots. Replant the new divisions immediately.
- Install a wooden stake behind each plant and secure it with elastic ties or insert a hoop to support weighty blooms.
Tips & Warnings
The bushy foliage and tall stems of a peony reach up to 3 feet tall. The flowers bloom in early summer, producing large blossoms on slender, delicate stems that are prone to breakage or falling over. This is especially true when rain and moisture make the flowers heavy. Staking the plants helps support the weak stems so your peony blossoms remain upright and attractive in the garden bed. The plants require staking early in the growing season so the support system is in place once they begin to produce flower buds.
Things You’ll Need
- Insert four stakes into the ground around the peony plant in spring, forming a box around the plant. Use 3-foot-tall stakes and drive 8 to 10 inches of the stake into the ground.
- Tie a length of twine to one stake 8 inches up from the ground. Loop the twine around the other four stakes to form the box.
- Attach a second length of twine to a stake 8 inches above the ground. Tie the other end of the twine to a second stake at the opposite corner. Repeat with a third length of twine on the remaining two stakes, forming an X with the twine.
- Add additional twine every 8 inches up the length of the stake, forming a twine box and twine X each time. The grid work formed by the twine provides support as the peony stems grow.
- Guide the flower stems through the twine grid as they grow. The twine holds up the plants in the event of rain or wind.
Tips & Warnings
Manufactured peony cages provide a ready-made grid that supports peony stems. Place the cage over the plant as it begins to grow in the spring.
The lush peony foliage camouflages the support system, but you can remove the stakes and twine after the peonies stop blooming in summer.
In general, ants serve only as annoying pests that are an inevitable presence in your home and garden during the spring and summer. However, some gardeners who grow peony flowers welcome the arrival of ants in spring, since an old wives’ tale dictates that the flowers will not bloom without help from the ants.
The classic story about ants on your peony plants comes from the fact that you will always find ants in place on the flowers at the time when they bloom and the flowers open. The tale tells how the flowers will not open without the tiny feet of the ants gradually and gently prying open the flower petals. Therefore, it is a blessing, not a curse, to discover ants in your garden in spring if you have peonies planted, to ensure the vibrantly colored flowers will fully bloom.
In early spring, the peonies secrete a sweet serum that attracts the ants to their petals. While it is true that the gentle massaging of little ant feet helps to loosen the flower petals on the peony, leading to a faster bloom time, the peonies are not dependent on the ants to bloom. The flowers will open on their own, it will just take longer. You don’t need to kill the ants on your peonies, unless they are causing nuisance to other plants or getting into your house as a result.
The ants won’t harm the flowers, and spraying the flowers or pests with insecticides may harm the plant and keep away pollinators that will ensure next year’s bloom. The biggest problems with ants on peonies is transferring them. If you cut your peonies to decorate your home or give some to a friend in a bouquet, the ants on the flowers will go with them. This can introduce ants into a home, and they will quickly spread to develop a colony and begin to infest your food stores and windowsills.
Preventing Ant Transfer
When you cut peonies but want to avoid giving the ants a new home indoors, prepare the flowers before putting them in a vase or giving them away. Turn the bloomed flowers upside down outdoors and shake them downward. This will shake off most of the ants, leaving you with a clean flower. You can also set the flowers (including the bloomed flower head) in a large bowl full of cold water overnight. This will drive any remaining ants away. Once the ants are gone, gently dry the flowers or shake off the extra liquid and proceed to give them away or put them in your vase.
Made famous by Dutch breeders, but native to lands to the east of the Mediterranean Sea, the hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) announces winter’s end with intensely sweet, fragrant flowers. The hyacinth grows from an underground bulb, just like a tulip or daffodil. Only one flower stem develops in each hyacinth bulb, so once that flower stem blooms, no others replace it. The leaves make food and replenish the bulb so it may hopefully produce another flower stem after next winter.
The Hyacinth Bulb
Sometimes hyacinth bulbs are forced atop a jar of water to sustain roots.
That a hyacinth grows from a bulb explains why cutting off an old flower stem doesn’t yield another flower. Unlike other annual or perennial flowers, the hyacinth doesn’t develop any above ground stems or buds. The flowers of the hyacinth originate within the fleshy tissues inside the bulb. Once the bulb is planted in fall, the cool and moist soil conditions allow the lone flower stem with numerous buds toform. Only after the cool dormancy and the soil warms in late winter, does the flower stem poke up from the ground and later bloom.
Each bulb produces only one hyacinth flower stem with blossoms.
Bulbs that persist in the garden soil develop small bulblets or daughter bulbs. After flowering, the leaves remain to photosynthesize sunlight and store food in the bulb. Besides making the bulb larger, some energy goes into making new bulbs in a clump. If the bulblets grow large enough, they too produce a flower stem next spring. An unknowing gardener may have planted one bulb, but two or three years later, a mass of leaves and multiple flower stems appear. The flower stems each arise from singular bulbs in the clump.
The Need for Cold
Hyacinth leaves growing from the bulb.
The leaves of a hyacinth plant naturally wither by the end of summer and go dormant. You cannot water or fertilize the bulb when it’s dormant to coax another flowering. The hyacinth must also be exposed to 12 to 15 weeks of chilly soil conditions in winter. Otherwise, the flower stem and blossoms will not develop inside the bulb. If you purchased hyacinth bulbs and immediately plant them in soil hoping for a flower, only leaves grow.
The Grape Hyacinth
A mass planting of blue-colored grape hyacinths near red tulips.
Another spring-flowering plant is called the grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.). It’s not closely related to the hyacinth discussed, but it grows in similar fashion with identical needs. If you cut off the old flower stem from a grape hyacinth, another flower stems doesn’t grow. The same life cycle of summer dormancy followed by long, cool-soiled winter dormancy is needed for it to bloom again in spring.