Long Live Pe­onies!

If these scented, showy flow­ers are kept happy and healthy, plants may bloom for 100 years or more with a lit­tle at­ten­tion, says Adri­enne Wild

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Hello! -

Out­liv­ing the av­er­age per­son, it’s no won­der that granny’s favourite peony can be­come a fam­ily heir­loom. Of­ten re­ferred to as ‘queens of the gar­den’, herba­ceous pe­onies (Paeo­nia lac­t­i­flora) make im­pres­sive bushy plants with lux­u­ri­ant leaves and sump­tu­ous, thick, ruf­fled blooms, which not only last for decades but also al­ways play a star­ring role in the gar­den.

Their peak flow­er­ing sea­son is in late May and early June, with the show last­ing for about six weeks. But they also de­mand at­ten­tion as soon as their wrin­kled, wine-red shoots emerge from the soil in spring and long after their flow­ers fade, when the leaves go on to pro­vide a back­drop for later-bloom­ing peren­ni­als.

As the sea­son pro­gresses, peren­ni­als add more in­ter­est to fad­ing bor­ders when the leath­ery leaves turn from green to yel­low in late Au­gust, then au­tumn shades of red or or­ange, fi­nally shriv­el­ling to brown be­fore drop­ping off.

Stag­ger­ing show

If the weather is cool, in­di­vid­ual plants will pack a punch for about two weeks. For max­i­mum im­pact, select sev­eral varieties that will pro­duce flow­ers to co­in­cide with tulip dis­plays.

Tra­di­tion­ally plants are avail­able in au­tumn, as bare­rooted spec­i­mens con­sist­ing of sev­eral fleshy roots and a crown of at least three pink buds or ‘eyes’. These freshly dug plants get off to a bet­ter start than any that are dug in spring, as the soil is still warm and there is no risk of the plants be­com­ing dry at the roots in the com­ing months. Bare-rooted plants must al­ways be planted as soon as pos­si­ble, so if there’s to be a de­lay, wrap the roots in moist news­pa­per, place it in a ven­ti­lated plas­tic bag and keep out of sun­light. If pro­longed weather con­di­tions are not suit­able for plant­ing, then con­sider buy­ing con­tain­er­grown plants, which can be planted at any time of year.

Pe­onies thrive in rich, loamy, well-drained soil – most pre­fer it neu­tral to slightly al­ka­line – and a shel­tered spot that re­ceives full sun in the morn­ing with some af­ter­noon shade. It’s im­por­tant to keep them as a per­ma­nent fix­ture in a flower bed and give them space to ma­ture as these tough, win­ter­hardy and drought-re­sis­tant plants can reach a height and spread of 90cm.

When plant­ing, dig a gen­er­ous hole deep enough to ac­com­mo­date the roots and so that the growth tips sit about 4cm be­low the sur­face of the soil. Bury­ing them too deep or cov­er­ing the crown with a thick layer of mulch spells disas­ter, as plants will sub­se­quently fail to bloom! Wa­ter well after plant­ing and if it doesn’t rain,

keep the soil rea­son­ably moist un­til the first frost.

Newly planted pe­onies will bloom in the first year but it usu­ally takes at least two sea­sons be­fore they be­come fully pro­duc­tive. With the right care you will soon have a prized spec­i­men with plump, fully charged roots that can be di­vided and passed on to friends and fam­ily.

A good head start

The heavy, flam­boy­ant flower heads, which can be up to 20cm in di­am­e­ter, are best sup­ported with a cage made from pea sticks or wire to keep them up­right. This needs to be put into po­si­tion early in the sea­son so the fo­liage will cam­ou­flage the cage.

Pe­onies make great cut flow­ers, but for the big­gest blooms, you need to de­bud the side shoots in April. But al­ways leave around a third of the flow­ers on the plant so that they grow and nour­ish the roots for the rest of the sea­son.

If you no­tice a re­duc­tion in the pro­duc­tiv­ity of an old plant, you may need to dig it up and di­vide it. You can split a large clump into three to five pieces, each with healthy buds, and share these with friends. These new plants will take about three years to flower but give a life­time of plea­sure.

By mid Novem­ber, you will need to cut down to the ground all the dy­ing fo­liage on es­tab­lished plants and dis­pose of it in the dust­bin. Any botry­tis cinerea fun­gal spores that are left be­hind may lead to peony wilt, which will cause the new-sea­son buds to look mouldy and the stems to sag.

In se­vere win­ter weather, a thick layer of straw will help in­su­late the roots. Keep the soil around pe­onies weed-free and, in spring sprin­kle a hand­ful of Grow­more fer­tiliser around the root zone to give plants a boost.

You’ll soon find that pe­onies are very ad­dic­tive plants. Once you’ve got one in your gar­den, you al­ways crave more!

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