The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 18, 2014

Market Corner: Big, lush peonies impressive in any garden

A step-by-step guide to getting them growing

The biggest, lushest flower in most gardens is the peony.

Their care is relatively simple and plants can last forever, even outliving their human caretakers. Here are some of the steps:

1. Planting: A potted peony can be planted anytime through late October. Peony root pieces can be planted mid-September through mid-October.

2. Dividing: The best time to divide is after the first hard frost through mid-October. An experienced propagator may also have success with April divisions – but may not get blooms that year.

3. Spacing: Given plenty of room (3 square feet or more), peonies may never need to be divided. If the peony gets crowded by neighboring plants and/or the number of blooms decline, that would be your indicator that the plant needs dividing.

4. Air flow: Peonies can sometimes get foliar/leaf spots diseases — nothing that is usually deadly, and not necessarily every year. Allow for good spacing so foliage stays dry — always water at the base, not the foliage. Wet, humid and cloudy conditions are ideal for foliar issues to occur any time of year.

5. Planting depth: This is critical for peonies. The eyes of the plant can be no deeper than 2 inches below the soil surface and no more shallow than 1 inch. If planted too deep, it may not bloom. If your plant is established for 2-3 years and you have seen no blooms, it is likely too deep. Dig it up in late fall and replant. The pink growing points or "eyes" will be obvious. Mail-order plants can sometimes be so tiny (with only one eye) that they won't bloom for several years anyway.

6. Site selection; Peonies love full sun – at least 6 hours. In a shady location, the plant may survive but not thrive. Too much shade can also be a reason for reduced number of blooms. Move it in the fall after hard frost.

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