Peonies are a traditional Memorial or Decoration Day flower, used to adorn the graves of those who died in service to our country. These lush blossoms captivate many gardeners and there are only a few details to master to grow your own.
Peonies are long-lived perennials, but they bloom only once each year, near the end of May.
Traditional peony “bushes,” are herbaceous species, dying to the ground each winter but there are also shrubbier varieties, Both are available in a range of flower colors, mostly pinks, reds and whites. Their flower forms range from a simple single bloom to fully double blossoms. Hybrid crosses between the herbaceous and tree peonies, called intersectional varieties, may be more disease resistant and require less staking than herbaceous peonies, are also available.
Can you grow herbaceous peonies here? Yes, but Peonies don’t do well in hot climates, and at the same time need full sun to bloom best. Read the description of the plant carefully. Choose the site and varieties with lower “chilling hour” requirements for the South. Many newer varieties are bred for much colder climates. Locate in a well-drained site with a neutral pH (6.0 to 7.0).
Fall planting is preferred, allowing peonies to establish their root systems before the stresses of warm weather;. Plant bare root peonies, transplants or divisions only in the fall. Be sure that the “eyes” are no more than 2 inches below the surface. Too much nitrogen fertilizer may also interfere with flowering; fertilize in early spring with 5-10-10.
Don’t worry if ants overrun the swelling buds. Ants are neither necessary for, nor harmful to, opening flowers. They are simply attracted to the sticky, sweet secretions.
Article written by Debbie Green, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.