Plant Profile: Peonies

Everywhere I look these days, I see peonies blooming their little hearts out. In nicely landscaped yards, around older and established homes, and near abandoned homesteads. Perhaps that should be the criteria we use to select plants for our landscapes…if it can survive on an abandoned homestead, then it deserves a place in our garden.

Peonies are one of those old-fashioned plants that your grandmother probably had growing in her garden. They’ve been cultivated for seemingly eons and with good reason. They are really tough plants and once they’re established, they’re almost maintenance free. For all of your hard work (not) you are rewarded with gorgeous blooms that can be as large as 8″ across.

peonies

They come in singles and doubles and in colors that range from pink to white to red and bicolors.

peonies

peonies

peonies

 

Peonies flourish in full sun but will do quite well in lightly shaded areas as well. They are tolerant of a wide range of soils but will not survive in wet soils. If your yard is plagued with low spots that retain water, either plant your peonies in containers or pick another plant.

The foliage of peonies is deciduous and it’s best to cut back and remove the foliage once the first hard frost arrives in fall. Peonies are pretty pest and disease free but if the foliage is left throughout the winter, they can suffer from some fungal issues. (Pssst…don’t tell the ones that were left behind on the homesteads…they obviously don’t know any better).

peoniesA common question regarding peonies is whether or not the ants that undoubtedly run amok on the blossoms affect the blooms or the health of the plants. The answer is no. The ants are only there because the buds have a sweet covering and they’re looking for a little snack. Ants are often overlooked as pollinators but their role in the ecosystem is vital.

Peonies make beautiful cut flowers and they last a good while indoors. To get the greatest longevity out of your blooms, cut them when they’re in the marshmallow stage: the buds haven’t quite opened yet and the buds have the texture of a marshmallow. They’ll open beautifully indoors where you can enjoy the blooms up close.

Butterflies love peonies when they’re in bloom. Pick early, mid and late blooming peonies to extend your season of bloom from April through early June. The butterflies will thank you and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing display of breathtaking blooms.

Which peonies do you have growing in your garden? Are they hand-me-downs from fellow gardeners? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!