Peonies are the backbone of any garden. They bloom dramatically and reliably in early summer when most other flowers are still developing. This perennial creates an overwhelming sensory experience because it produces large beautiful flowers with a powerful, intoxicating aroma. It is very long-lived with an extensive color range. With diligent research, a gardener will be able to find plants that bloom in white, black, cream, coral, crimson, pink, purple, rose, scarlet and yellow. That’s not a bad selection for a reasonably undemanding plant. One can ensure that peonies flower for 6 to 8 weeks by paying attention to the bloom period of each variety because different varieties of peonies bloom early, mid-season and late.
For maximum enjoyment, peonies that share the same bloom time should be planted together in open groups of three because one peony does not show well as a specimen [i.e. planted on its own]. Even when incorporated into a flower bed, its best to have at least three peonies blooming at the same time.
Growing in zones 2 to 8, peonies thrive in full sun but will tolerate very light shade. Because new tubers planted in spring may not bloom for several seasons, it is best to plant them in September to give them a head start. Peonies develop into deep-rooted plants. The tubers that make up their root system do not like being moved. It will take 10 to 15 years before one will notice that they are overcrowded and require dividing. However, given ample room to grow, peonies can remain in place forever.
When planting a peony tuber, ensure that its eyes are no more than 2 inches deep otherwise it will not bloom. During the flowering season, this plant must be dead-headed after flowers fade because seed development will rob next season’s flowers of their nutrients. As well, harvesting too many flowers for indoor enjoyment will reduce flowering in the future. As a rule, remove no more than 1/3 of the flowering crop each season.
Another precaution is to allow the foliage to grow untrimmed after the blooms have faded. Peony leaves are a nutrient factory for next season’s flowers and they will spend the rest of the summer in production. At the same time, their glossy green texture makes a lush background for later-blooming perennials.
Large flowering peonies cannot withstand heavy wind or rain. They are prone to flopping over and cracking their stems due to the heavy weight of the flower head. To avoid damaging the flower, stake the plant before buds open. This can be done by first inserting 4 or 6 stakes around the plant. Then a lattice of green twine is woven in and about the peony stems and attached to the stakes. This will prevent opened flower heads from flopping over. If not for this important maintenance step, this plant would qualify as a truly care-free plant.
Peony “Sorbet “ shown in the image above is unusual because of the distribution of its pink and white colors. This variety will grow to about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide and each flower head should measure 6 inches across.