Pe­onies — low main­te­nance and long liv­ing

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LIFESTYLES - By Bon­nie Balis

Pe­onies can live for a hun­dred years. If you want a pe­ony that will out-live you, choose a lo­ca­tion that has at least six hours of sun in the morn­ing, shade in the af­ter­noon, good drainage and not crowded by other plants. You will be re­warded for your ef­forts by an abun­dance of blooms in the spring.

The best time to plant pe­onies is in the fall be­fore the first hard frost.

There are many rea­sons to plant pe­onies aside from the beauty of the flower and its lovely fra­grance. It is a dis­ease and deer re­sis­tant plant, that is cold and drought hardy. It is also low main­te­nance. Herba­ceous pe­onies grow to ap­prox­i­mately three feet in height and are mound shaped. There is a tree va­ri­ety that can grow to 6 feet. Dif­fer­ing flower forms such as spi­der and sin­gle or dou­ble blooms cre­ate added in­ter­est.

While the pe­ony is na­tive to the Western United States, it does not per­form well in ar­eas that don’t get cold. With­out cold, a pe­ony is un­able to form buds. Check the zone rec­om­men­da­tion be­fore ac­quir­ing a pe­ony as dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars have been de­vel­oped for spe­cific ar­eas.

To plant a pe­ony, dig a hole that is 12-18 inches deep and slightly wider, three to four feet away from other plants. Loosen the soil at the sides. Into this hole, add a shovel full of com­post or some bone meal. Be­gin filling in the hole to a depth where the nodes at the base of the crown are no more than two inches be­low the soil sur­face. Any deeper and the fo­liage will be lush, but the plant will not bloom. Pe­onies do not need to be di­vided. Should you want more plants or wish to share the plant with oth­ers, care­fully lift the en­tire plant from the ground. Use a sharp knife and carve out clumps of root that have at least three to five eyes per clump. Re­po­si­tion the plant, gen­tly han­dling the brit­tle roots. Wa­ter the plant well. It may take the plant three years to be­gin bloom­ing. Be pa­tient, the blooms are worth the wait.

Dead­head flow­ers af­ter bloom­ing and cut the en­tire plant to the ground in the fall af­ter the leaves have turned yel­low. While not nec­es­sary, a gen­eral fer­til­izer can be ap­plied af­ter flow­er­ing in the spring and the plant can be mulched once it is cut back. Re­move the mulch in the spring to ex­pose the shoots to light.

Pe­onies make lovely cut flow­ers that can last more than a week. These plants are of­ten cov­ered by ants. This is nor­mal. Please don’t be tempted to use an in­sec­ti­cide to re­move the ants. The ants and the plant have formed a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship. In re­turn for the nec­tar, ants at­tack bud-eat­ing pests. Al­though pe­onies are dis­ease re­sis­tant, if crowded and not re­ceiv­ing good air cir­cu­la­tion, they may be at­tacked by a fun­gus (botry­tis). Parts of the plant will turn black.

Re­move this dis­eased por­tion and dis­pose of the waste in a trash can. Pe­onies dis­like be­ing moved so it might be best to move other plants should over­crowd­ing be­come an is­sue.

In­ves­ti­gate the type and color pe­ony you pre­fer. Plants can be ac­quired now from a lo­cal nurs­ery or or­dered in the spring for plant­ing in the fall. — Bon­nie Balis is a Vir­ginia Master Gar­dener with the Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Prince Ge­orge County Of­fice. Vir­ginia Master Gar­den­ers are vol­un­teer ed­u­ca­tors who work within their com­mu­ni­ties to en­cour­age and pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tally sound hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices through sus­tain­able land­scape man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Vir­ginia Master Gar­den­ers bring the re­sources of Vir­ginia’s land-uni­ver­si­ties, Vir­ginia Tech and Vir­ginia State Univer­sity to the peo­ple of the com­mon­wealth.

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