should I plant my tree peony?
peonies are extremely hardy and will survive almost anywhere, in both
sun and shade. They prefer an airy, reasonably open situation as air
movement around the plant helps prevent fungal diseases like peony wilt.
However, avoid a completely exposed situation where flower petals could
blow away quickly and shorten the life of the flowers. These plants
begin to grow very early in the year and young developing buds can be
damaged by frost if exposed to early morning sunshine. Ideally, plant
your tree peony where this can't happen, i.e. a north, south or west
speaking tree peonies prefer a fertile yet well drained soil. Fair amounts
of organic matter are especially useful. They favor a neutral to slightly
alkaline soil. Clay, chalk or sand is fine as long as they don't become
too dry in the summer or very wet in the winter.
a large planting hole, incorporating some bone meal and a fair amount
of well-rotted garden compost and manure. We do not recommend peat as
a planting medium because of its acidity. Plant bare rooted tree peonies
deeply. If your plant is grafted the graft union should be at least
3.5 inches below the soil. This will encourage the tree peony (scion)
to make its own roots and basal shoots. Some varieties are propagated
by division and don't have a graft union and deep planting encourages
new growth from beneath the soil. Pot grown, rootballed or containerized
specimens of all types should be planted slightly deeper than the soil
level in the pot. Water them well after planting and during the following
summer. For pot grown roots, incorporate more compost each year as summer
water and winter rain wash out the nutrients.
Note for local customers who purchase peonies in our 5-gallon nursery
remove the plant from its container until the fall when the plant is
dormant. Roots do not like to be disturbed during a growth cycle. As
these pots are black, they will absorb the summer sunrays and the roots
will heat up. To protect your roots and keep the pots from drying out
too quickly, if you intend to plant them in the ground eventually, dig
your hole now and place the pot into the hole to insulate the pot from
summer heat. If you intend to eventually put the plant in a larger pot,
select your pot now and fill it half way full of soil, put your potted
plant in the larger pot and fill around this pot with additional soil.
Remove the plants from their 5-gallon containers in the fall and replant
in the ground or larger container. Our plants need to be removed from
their original containers by the Sept following your purchase and placed
in a permanent growing environment either in the ground or in a much
a tree peony will grow away producing large handsome leaves and often
some new shoots from the base. However, the main stem may not produce
a shoot from the tip. Depending on the size of the plant you buy, flowering
can happen any time from the first year to 4 years from planting. Sometimes
a newly planted tree peony will appear to make little growth, if any,
in its first season but all its activity happens underground. Providing
the foliage looks reasonably healthy, don't panic. This may just be
a 'settling in' period. Occasionally the main stem may die back a little.
Although this might be worrying, wait until the next spring when vigorous
growth should resume from the lower part of the stem or even from below
soil level. If your plant is
grafted, look out for suckers from herbaceous or tree rootstock and
cut these off at ground level. The foliage is quite different from that
of the grafted tree peony. Wait until you are sure these suckers are
from the rootstock before removing them, as your tree peony will also
produce basal shoots and these are what you want.
peonies are heavy feeders but dislike large doses of fast acting nitrogenous
fertilizers. They respond well to a generous, early autumn top dressing
of blood, fish and bone, a slow release organic fertilizer. Its high
potash content encourages flowers to develop. A light sprinkling of
a general fertilizer can be applied in the spring if you wish but certainly
peonies respond well to pruning. You should aim for a broad, multi-stemmed
shrub of up to 4-5' in height, which will not need staking. Chinese
and American types have a naturally branching habit and will need
less regular pruning than the Japanese
and French types. In February, just as the growth buds are swelling,
trim off all the dead wood. You will often find that the new shoots
are coming from lower down the stem, leaving a small dead spur. Whole
branches will sometimes die. These should be pruned back to a live bud,
or to just above ground level. With a young plant, only remove dead
wood during the first two years to help get the plant established. Don't
be tempted to prune. After this if your plant forms a good shape, no
regular pruning is needed. However, if your plant has few stems and
is poorly shaped, then prune hard. You may see buds at the base of the
stem or shoots coming from below the soil. Prune back to these or down
to 6" or less from the ground. Even if you can't see any basal
buds, adventitious ones will form. The best time to prune is early spring,
although this may mean that you sacrifice some flowers in the coming
year. You can prune directly after flowering but re-growth is slower.
If you have, or inherit, an older tree peony, which has never been pruned,
it can be transformed and rejuvenated by applying this technique. It
is best to prune just one main stem each year, cutting it down to about
15 cms. It takes courage to do this, but is usually successful.
a Tree Peony
no need to worry about moving even a large, mature tree peony. Just
move it during late autumn as you would any other woody deciduous shrub.
Peonies in Pots
peonies can be grown successfully for several years in a large container
(at least 12” diameter) and make very fine pot plants. When planting,
it is important to use a soil-based compost. Your plant should be grown
outdoors during the summer, autumn and winter. In the spring, when the
flower buds swell, you could move it into a cool conservatory to enjoy
the blooms but be sure to return the plant outside when the flowers
fall. Tree peonies must be outside in winter, as cold temperatures are
needed to form the flower buds.
peonies rarely suffer problems from pests and are unpalatable to rabbits
and deer. The only disease you are likely to encounter is peony wilt.
This may appear in early spring, usually before flowering. Soft brown
lesions develop at the base of new shoots and buds. These wilt and become
covered with a characteristic gray bloom. As soon as any damage is seen
trim back the affected shoots to healthy wood. Spray the whole plant
with a systemic fungicide containing carbendazim. This should be repeated
at 10-day intervals until no further damage can be seen. The fungal
spores of peony wilt can over winter on old foliage so it's important
to pick up and burn old leaves in the autumn. With deep planting, good
hygiene and regular observation, although peony wilt may appear occasionally,
it rarely causes serious damage to a mature plant.
and Freezing Temperatures
I am a grower in Northern California, I do not have any experience in
growing peonies where the ground freezes. I would like to share tips
on growing tree peonies in the east provided by a wonderful customer
in New Jersey :
"I live in NJ so it will be getting into freezing temps at
night in the fall. This is what I do. We probably won't have a hard
freeze until Dec. What I mean by that is day and night temps in the
freezing. Even with this cold/freezing temps I plant my Peonies deeply
making sure that the soil is packed around the roots. Plant them, and
water them thoroughly, cover with 1 inch of wood mulch and walk away.
When the temp is freezing both day and night early Dec, I cover the
Peonies with straw/hay to act as some winter protection. Also if you
get really cold blowy winter weather you could cover the Peonies with
a burlap bag to make sure the end buds don't die back. I found that
the weather here in NJ doesn’t kill the peonies but I had so much
die back due to winds. The burlap keeps the end buds nice. In March
remove the burlap bags and your new babies should be fine."
you, Adam Weiner!