NZ Life & Leisure
PEONY TIPS FROM THE SMITH-HAZLETT CLAN
PLANTING: Peonies grow and flower best in full sun but will tolerate some light afternoon shade. Deep, fertile soil is best, but they can still do well in relatively poor soil if it is well- drained and fertilized. Allow an area of one square metre when fully grown/mature (i.e., about three years). Peonies resent trees, shrubs, or even overhanging branches too close to them, which is probably the most common reason for their failure to thrive. Plant the buds upwards at a depth of five centimetres, no deeper.
GENERAL CARE: Cultivation is probably the best form of weed control. You can use bark mulch, but straw and compost may increase the risk of botrytis (grey mould). This can be sprayed with a fungicide in the spring. A general garden fertilizer may improve the colour and size of blooms but avoid excessive nitrogen, which may increase susceptibility to fungal disease. Fertilizers high in phosphate and potassium and low in nitrogen are most suitable. We use a potato fertilizer.
BLOOMS: Herbaceous peonies die down every autumn. Different varieties pop up through the ground in spring at different times. Don’t panic if one type is three or four weeks later than another, and don’t expect too much in the first year. There may be only one or two stems, and the flowers may be absent, small or atypical. In the first year, don’t cut the stem off for cut flowers (stems do not regrow during the season, and the leaves are required for building up strength for the following year). Never cut the foliage down after blooming but leave it until it turns colour in the autumn. Then cut it down to about five centimetres above ground level and remove any foliage on the ground as this may help prevent the carry- over of some fungal infections.