DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Pretty As A Peony

The peonies have put on a picture-perfect show this past spring. Cooler temperatures, adequate rainfall and a lack of blustery winds at blooming made for wonderful memories of those magnificent flowers. If you don’t have peonies in your garden, consider adding some this fall. They require little care and can stay in the same location for a half-century or longer.

There are about 30 species of peonies that are native to the Northern Hemisphere. One, the the tree peony, is actually a shrub. The common peony is native to Europe. This variety came with early settlers in the 16th century. Today, it is a rare occurrence to see a common peony in someone’s garden.

The garden peony is native to China, where the plants were grown in the gardens of emperors. From China, the garden peony came to Europe and America in the late 1700s. In the early years of the 20th century, they reached their peak in the U.S. as a flowering plant.

Today, there are thousands of cultivars in an amazing array of color and form. Some are solid white and red; others are pink and white.

Barring bad weather, the blooms will stay nice for weeks. Even the foliage looks nice during the growing season. The plants can serve as a border, fence, wall or even an informal hedge.

Another real beautiful peony to include in your garden is the Chinese or Memorial Day peony. It is more difficult to start than the regular peony. The Chinese variety has a frilly foliage and comes in red as well as white and yellow. They normally bloom near Memorial Day, hence the name. They rarely miss this deadline.

Peonies take our cold winters in stride. They need well-drained, rich garden soil. When planted in poor soil, dig a hole 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep and replace the poor soil.

While peonies can be used as a foundation planting, care has to be used since they require more water when planted in open locations.

According to Steve Sagaser, Grand Forks County horticulturist, September is a good time to plant or divide peonies. Roots set in September will become established before cold weather sets in.

Not more than 2 inches of soil should cover the top bud. Peonies set deeper than 2 inches may make excellent foliage growth but often bloom poorly or not at all.

Don’t allow your plants to bloom the first year. Permit them to flower the second year, and in another year or two, they will provide excellent blooms. Cultivation should be shallow.

For answers to other questions or problems, contact Sagaser at stevan.sagaser@ndsu.edu.

Leave a Reply