Updated: Jun 19, 2018
Peonies have been my favourite flowers for as long as I can remember. Luxurious, elegantly blousy and all too fleeting, Much to the annoyance of many a bride they are available only for a few weeks each summer. They do however make the most perfect cut flowers, lasting up to 10 days in a vase – longer than roses. They are said to be difficult and sulky to grow but if planted correctly actually need very little care and will provide annual blooms for 50 years. ( As I am short of 50 and my Peonies are even younger than me I am actually yet to prove this, but have been reliably informed)
They are available in three classifications:
Herbaceous Peonies – Will die back to the ground over winter and re sprout in the springtime.
Tree Peonies - Woody stems which lose their leaves in autumn but keep the woody stem intact.
They tend to bloom early and with larger flowers than the herbaceous peony but are very slow growing.
Intersectional Peonies - These are a hybrid of the Herbaceous Peony and the Tree Peony and take the best of both worlds. They have large flowers and flower for twice as long. They have beautiful foliage and appear to have very good disease resistance. As they are still quite new they tend to be in short supply and so are very expensive.
Planting The most important thing when planting Peonies is that they are not planted too deeply as otherwise they will fail to flower. Plant a few centimetres below the surface of the soil between October and March. They will tolerate a little light shade but to give the best blooms they do need full sun. This is also the best time of year to move them if you need to. Many people think that they do not like being moved but just plant them at the right depth and they will flower for a good many years. The buds may attract ants but this will disappear when the flower opens.
Propagation It is easiest to propagate herbaceous peonies from division, but is also possible from seed. It can, however, take up to five years for them to reach flowering size so if you are not in much of a hurry then see my guide below.
Seed - Peonies are self-fertile so will produce seed true to type. They will, however easily cross with other peonies. Unless the species is isolated, hybrids will occur. Peony seeds need to be exposed to two chilling periods with a warm spell between them - the seeds are double dormant. The root emerges after the first chilling period and the stem and leaves only appear after the second winter.
Note: Cultivars and hybrids may not produce seed and where they do, they are unlikely to produce offspring true to the parent plant.
In late summer or autumn fresh ripe seed can be sowed 2.5cm deep in containers filled with a soil based seed compost. Cover the compost lightly with grit and leave outdoors ensuring that the compost does not dry out. It is best to use fresh seed as once dried the germination rate can be disappointing.
Division – For those of you who would like a quicker reward for your efforts. Peonies should be divided in the autumn by first removing the foliage and then carefully lifting the clump. You will then be able to remove or wash off the soil to expose the roots and growth buds. Using a sharp knife, remove sections of the crown with at least three dormant growth buds on each with attached roots. These sections can then be replanted with the buds sitting a few centimetres below ground level and watered in. They will take a couple of years to settle down and establish but will be well worth the wait.
To learn more about planting visit my spring time blog Spring is in the air.