Are Peonies Toxic to Animals?

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An herbaceous ornamental, peonies are often used around homes as parts of ornamental landscaping. While some varieties can be grown into trees, most grow as low bushes. If you have pets, think twice before using them in your yard because they can be harmful if ingested.

Identification

  • Peonies offer several attractive qualities that make them popular for use in yards and gardens. Their dark-green foliage draws visual interest with their compound lobes. While it might take a new plant a few years to begin growing, once it does it produces brightly hued, intensely scented flowers. Most peony plants produce large amounts of flowers every year, ensuring beauty in your yard.

Symptoms

  • Peony plants contain a compound called paeonol. When a dog, cat or livestock animal like horse eats part of a peony plant, the paeonol can make it ill. Typical symptoms include signs of gastric distress, usually characterized by diarrhea or vomiting. Your pet might also lose energy and interest in interacting with you and other members of your household. This lassitude, or depression, is also a sign of toxic exposure to peonies.

Treatment

  • Most animals exposed to a toxic plant do not eat enough to be seriously injured. If your pet develops signs of gastric upset, make sure it has access to the outdoors along with plenty of fresh water. Most pets recover in a day or two with no lasting ill effects. If you pet is not drinking water, refuses food or if the vomiting or diarrhea last for more than two days, contact your veterinarian’s office. During your call, ask if you should bring in a part of the peony plant your pet ate; it might make determining the course of treatment easier for the veterinarian.

Considerations

  • If you do have peonies in your yard, you can take step to protect both them and your pets. Build a barrier around the peony plant to keep your pets away. Picket fencing or chicken wire will prevent pets from getting close enough to munch on the plant. If you have a dog run in your yard, move peonies to another area to keep them well away from your dog. If you bring a peony plant indoors, place it on a high shelf where it will be well out of the reach of any curious pets.

How Long Do Peonies Bloom?

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Peonies are a herbaceous, perennial plant known for its large, showy, rose-scented flowers. They are often found in home landscaping because of their long-lived growth habit and easy maintenance. Peonies will produce blossoms year after year with a minimum of care and are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 7.

Peony Requirements

  • Peonies grow best in cool climates. They need 100 to 300 of chilling hours in order for them to bloom, according to North Carolina State University horticulturist Erv Evans. Many cultivars do not grow well in the South because of the lack of cold temperatures required for these plants to bloom. Peonies also need a full sun location, but they tolerate some shade. These plants need well-draining soil and do not like "wet feet," which can rot the rhizomes from which they grow. The soil pH should range between 6.0 to 7.0. Plant peonies in the fall, giving them plenty of room to spread. If planted in spring, they may not bloom for a year or two. Add 5-10-10 fertilizer each spring before the growing season. Do not overfertilize. Peonies will die back to the ground each winter.

Blooming Times

  • When peonies bloom depends on environmental conditions and the type of cultivar. Some peonies are early-blooming varieties while others bloom later in the spring. Peonies are a short-lived flower that only lasts for one week, according to the University of Rhode Island web site. Blooming can be extended over several weeks by planting early, mid-term and late-blooming varieties to give your garden up to six weeks of peony flowers.

Peony Care

  • Peonies benefit from a layer of mulch to keep moisture around roots and to control weeds. Remove the mulch in the fall to prevent disease contamination. Leave the plants unmulched over the winter months. To improve blooming, remove side buds, leaving only the terminal buds to flower. After blooming, remove the old bloom, cutting just below the head and leaving as much foliage as possible.

Blooming Problems

  • Peonies will not bloom if planted too deeply. The "eyes" on the rhizome should not be more than 2 inches below the surface of the soil when planting, according to Paeonia. Peonies will not bloom if they do not get sufficient sunlight during the day. Move plants to a different location or trim nearby foliage to allow more sun on the plants. Peonies also dislike being transplanted and will take some time to re-establish after being moved. Divide in the fall only if plants become too crowded. Too much fertilizer can also affect blooming. Fertilize only in the spring or if plant appearance indicates a need for additional fertilizer.

How Old Are Peonies When They Bloom?

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Herbaceous and woody-stemmed tree peonies Paeonia spp. endure for decades in a garden. Proper growing conditions allow these plants to grow and bloom over the course of 30 to 50 years or more, making them a sound investment. Usually, propagation of peonies centers around root cuttings or divisions, although breeders grow peonies from seed. Three to five years after sowing or transplanting peonies, flowers should be reliably produced each spring.

Flowering from Seed

  • When sown as seed, at least three years pass before the young peony plant produces its first flower. During the initial growth of a seedling peony, food made in the foliage strengthens the underground tuber roots. Over time, more growth buds develop, and the number of tubers multiply to form a clump with several leaves. As long as seedlings remain healthy, a peony produces its first flower either after three, four or five years, and then continues to bloom regularly each spring.

Transplanting Peonies

  • If a peony growing in a nursery container has reached an age where flowers have already occurred, it will bloom in spring after transplanting. The key is not disturbing or damaging tubers during transplant into the garden. Also, transplanted peonies must not be planted too deeply, as it inhibits flower production. The growing buds or eyes on the tubers of herbaceous peonies or the woody crowns of tree peonies need to be covered with only 2 inches of soil.

Re-establishing Plants

  • Peonies do not require frequent digging and dividing to remain productive. A large clump’s roots may become too entangled after about 10 to 15 years of growth, leading to diminished flower production. After digging up and replanting smaller clumps in late summer or early fall, it takes about two years for the plants to re-establish and again produce lots of flowers. Larger peony roots with three to five eyes begin to produce flowers more quickly compared to younger, smaller root tubers with fewer eyes.

Tree Peonies

  • Modern varieties of tree peonies often are grafted onto wild species’ rootstocks. You can see a graft-union with the eye tissues fused atop strong root tissue. Newly planted grafted tree peonies need three years to establish and produce their first flowers, according to Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont Extension.

How to Get Rid of Grass in Peonies

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Peonies are large, flowering landscape shrubs that can thrive for several decades with the right care. These plants are hardy, but they require some specific conditions for growing. Keep your peonies in cool, protected areas, with partial sun and nutritious soil. Weed the peony plot regularly, because these plants don’t tolerate crowding or competition. If you don’t have time to weed the peony plot, use mulch to protect against weeds and grasses.

Difficulty:
Moderately Easy

Instructions

Things You’ll Need
  • Rake
  • Mulch
  • Landscape fabric
  • Scissors
  • Landscape staples/nails
    1. Use organic mulch if you want to maintain an organic peony garden. Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch over the soil and any weeds or grass growing there. The mulch restricts light to the grasses to halt growth. Mulch also maintains soil moisture and warmth for better peony growth.
    2. Use landscape fabric for stronger weed and grass control. Rake the site to even it out and remove rocks or sharp objects that may cut the fabric. Roll out the landscape fabric around the peonies, and cut it to fit the site. The fabric should cover all the exposed dirt under and around the shrubs. Leave 1 inch of space between peony trunks and landscape fabrics to keep from putting pressure on the trunks.
    3. Push landscape staples or nails through landscape fabric and into the ground to secure the mulch layer. Put staples at the four corners of each length of fabric, and along edges as necessary.
    4. Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch over the fabric to further secure and hide it. Water the peonies at their bases from this time forward, to ensure that water gets through all mulch to the roots

How to Germinate Peonies

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Peonies are large-headed, brightly colored flowers. They are a graceful addition to any yard, and in the fall, they produce large pods that are full of seeds. Peonies are perennial plants that return year after year, but if you would like some new plants to add to your garden or you would like to give your friends or families some peonies of their own, collect the seeds in the fall and germinate them into full-grown plants.

Difficulty:
Moderately Easy

Instructions

Things You’ll Need
  • Plastic bag
  • Vermiculite
  • Mister
  • Peony seeds
    1. Add about ¼ cup of vermiculite to a plastic bag.
    2. Mist the vermiculite with water using a plant mister lightly. The vermiculite should be barely moist, not drenched.
    3. Place five to 10 peony seeds into the bag.
    4. Seal the bag.
    5. Place the bag in warm area of the house. Do not place them in the sun, though indirect light is fine.
    6. Check them once a week for sprouts and to moisten the soil with the mister. Depending on the conditions and the peony cultivar, it may take several weeks to several months for the peonies to sprout.
    7. Wait until the roots are about 1 inch long.
    8. Place the bag in a dark cool place, where the temperature is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You may choose to place them in a basement or in the back of the refrigerator.
    9. Leave the bag alone until the shoot appears. The shoot is the portion of the plant that becomes the stem. This typically takes 10 to 12 weeks. Check the peony seeds every few days to see if the shoot has appeared.
    10. Plant the spout once the shoot appears.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be patient when waiting for flowers. It may take five to seven years for a peony plant to produce flowers.