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TREE PEONIES NOT REALLY TREES

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published – November 14, 2014

From the prices in a plant catalogs you know that tree peonies must be something special, but why? Despite a name that includes ‘tree,’ this relative of the garden peony is really a deciduous woody shrub.

The tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) is slow-growing but eventually reaches a height of six feet. Unlike the herbaceous garden peony, tree peonies do not die back to the ground in the fall. Two other close relatives, Paeonia lutea and Paeonia lutea ludlowii, have been used in tree peony breeding to create hardier and yellow-flowered tree peony hybrids.

Tree peonies are native to northwestern China and are reported to have been in cultivation for centuries in both China and Japan where a number of cultivars (cultivated varieties) have been developed.

Despite their exotic origins and large gorgeous flowers, tree peonies are supposedly not difficult to grow. Tree peonies are hardy to Zone 4 and deer resistant. Tree peonies need a well-drained neutral to slightly alkaline soil that is rich in organic matter. In our region they will need to be provided protection from wind and be located where they receive light or partial shade in the afternoon.

Before planting, loosen the soil in the planting bed to a depth of at least 18-24 inches deep and 12 inches wide. When preparing the soil, mix in organic matter, such as compost. Tree peonies can last many years with good soil preparation and proper care.

When planting bare-root plants, note the swollen area of the stem of grafted plants. This graft should be situated four to six inches below the surface of the soil. Non-grafted plants growing on their own roots should have the swollen portion of their stems located two inches below the surface of the soil. If you are planting a container grown plant, plant it at the same depth it was growing in the container.

Gardeners with herbaceous garden peonies know it is important to not plant them too deep or the plants will not flower. When growing tree peonies it is important to plant them deep enough and not too shallow.

If you buy a tree peony from a specialty nursery, like the Peony Farm in Sequim, WA (ilovepeonies), Klehm’s Song Sparrow (songsparrow.com) or Peony’s Envy (peonysenvy.com), you may be surprised to find that the least expensive ones cost at least $50 and others cost $75 to $200 or more. Sure, the large 6-9 inch single, semi-double, or double flowers are gorgeous and come in beautiful shades of white, yellow, gold, pink, red, purple, pink-purple, and maroon, but why do they cost so much?

First, grafted plants are more labor intensive to propagate, making them more expensive. Tree peonies are slow-growing, putting on only one to six inches of growth per year, lengthening the time it takes to grow them into saleable plants and making them more costly to produce. Finally, these are specialty plants and many of the cultivars are rare and not available in large numbers.

Garden peonies are a favorite of many, but tree peonies can add a touch of the exotic to a garden or landscape, plus they bloom a couple of weeks earlier than garden peonies. I just may plant one in my garden next spring.

Published: 11/14/2014 12:20 PM

THE GARDEN PEONY

written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 5/17/2013

One of my first gardening memories is helping my grandmother cut peonies. When I close my eyes I can see those pretty rosy pink blowsy flowers and smell their sweet fragrance. Peonies are a very old garden flower. Native to Asia, they have been cultivated as ornamentals for over 2500 years in China and since the eighth century in Japan. They came to North America in the 1850s via Europe.

In the ‘old’ days, most American gardeners like my grandmother grew three types of peonies …white, pink, and red, all with double flowers. Of course these were the most common varieties planted in home gardens. The diversity of peonies readily available to gardeners today is much greater, thanks to plant breeders.

Today’s peonies come in white, pink, red, burgundy, lavender, coral, and even yellow. Gardeners can find many different garden peony (Paeonia lactifora) varieties. The varieties are classified based on their flower types which includes singles, semi-doubles, doubles, Japanese, and anemone.

Peonies do best planted in a site with well-drained soil and where they’ll receive full sun. Plants should be located where they are protected from the wind and forceful irrigation sprinklers. The tubers are usually planted in the fall, but early spring planting can also be successful, as long as the tubers are still dormant. Before planting, work the soil up to a depth of 12 inches, mixing some organic matter in with the soil at the same time.

When ready to plant, dig a hole wide enough and deep enough to accommodate the tubers. Good quality tubers have three to five ‘eyes’ or pink buds. In the fall, you should be able to find some tubers at local nurseries, but specialty nurseries like the Peony Farm (Ilovepeonies.com) in Sequim, Washington have a wider selection of varieties.

(I have also seen some gorgeous potted peonies available at local nurseries this spring. These are planted like other potted perennials, just make sure they are not planted too deep.)

After digging the hole, position the tuber so that the eyes are no more than two inches below the surface. Because the tuber may settle deeper in the soil after you water, you should gently firm the soil around the tuber as you plant it. If the eyes end up deeper than two inches deep, you may get a peony plant that doesn’t bloom! However, it can take two or three years before a new plant provides you with a display of flowers, so don’t get discouraged if yours doesn’t bloom the first spring after planting.

When planting be sure your peony has enough room to grow. A space three to four feet wide will give it enough room to grow and allow good air circulation. Peonies do not need or do well with frequent dividing. Many do well in the same spot for 20 years or more!

After planting, peonies are a low maintenance perennial. Keep the soil slightly moist with regular irrigation and fertilize once a year with slow-release garden fertilizer if needed. Possible pest problems are powdery mildew and thrips.

The other thing I remember about my grandmother’s peonies were the black ants attracted to the sticky sweet nectar naturally exuded by the buds. I hated the ants, but liked those pretty peonies.

Published: 5/17/2013 2:12 PM

PEONIES – A PERENNIAL FOR MEMORIAL DAY

written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I can remember the peonies in my Grandfather’s flower garden. While I adored the fresh cut peonies and liked helping to arrange them in vases, I didn’t like being the one who had to cut them off the plants. That’s because they were covered with ants… and ants made my skin crawl.

Despite the ants, peonies are “perennial” favorites that reward us with beautiful blowsy flowers. In my opinion peonies are taken for granted because they don’t need much care and they have few pest problems. These beauties provide large, sometimes fragrant, blooms every spring. The flower colors include the traditional white, pink, dark pink, red, magenta, and maroon, but breeders and collectors efforts have resulted in some very lovely lavender, yellow, apricot, coral, salmon, and even orange flowered peonies.

There are two main types, the regular garden peony (Paeonia hybrids) and the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa). The garden peony is a herbaceous perennial that dies back to the

the ground in the fall. It grows back from its crown and fleshy roots in the spring. The tree peony is a deciduous shrub that drops its leaves in the fall and regrows from its branches in the spring, just like other hardy deciduous shrubs.

There is also a newer type of peony called an “intersectional.” This is just a fancy name for a hybrid peony that’s the result of a cross between a tree peony and a garden peony. The result is an intersectional peony that dies to the ground each fall, but has flowers and leaves similar to that of a tree peony. Where most tree peonies are not hardy in the coldest northern climates, the intersectionals are hardier. There’s also an interesting fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) with fernlike leaves. The fernleaf peony has single or double deep red flowers and the plant is smaller than most garden peonies. Because they’re difficult to propagate, fernleaf peonies are rare and quite expensive. You’ll also find that some of the newest peony cultivars and hybrids can be very expensive, as much as $100 or more per plant!

Some Things You Should Know about Peonies

Peonies may fail to bloom for several reasons. It takes some new peonies about three years to become fully established and start to bloom, but the wait is worth it. Another common reason for a failure to produce flowers is planting them too deeply. The “eyes” or buds at the ends of the fleshy roots should only be about one to two inches below the soil surface. Too much shade, inadequate fertilization, competition from other plants, and improper watering can also lead to a lack of blooms.

Peonies are easy to grow, but there are some basic growing conditions that should be met. Plant them in a sunny location with good drainage. Excess soil moisture or dry soils can lead to problems. Water frequently enough to keep the soil moderately moist.

Peony plants don’t need dividing very often, in fact they don’t take kindly to frequent digging and dividing. However, over time their flower production can decline due to crowding. Dig and divide the plants in the fall only if necessary.

Because of their heavy flowers, many of the garden peonies will flop over in wind or rain. They will look their best if staked with flower stakes that blend in with the leaves and stems making them practically unnoticeable. Consider staking your peonies if they don’t stand up straight. Also, make sure your plants have plenty of sun and adequate nutrition.

Why those bothersome ants? Ants like the sweet syrup secreted by the flower buds. They don’t harm the flowers and aren’t needed for the blooms to open. Cut the flowers just before they open and remove the ants before bringing them indoors.

Published: 5/27/2006 11:17 AM

PEONIES – AN OVERLOOKED PERENNIAL

written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Weren’t the peonies beautiful this year? I can remember the peonies in my Grandfather’s flower garden. While I adored the fresh cut peonies and liked helping to arrange them in vases, I didn’t like being the one who had to cut them off the plants. That’s because they were covered with ants… and ants made my skin crawl. Despite the ants, peonies are ‘perennial’ favorites that reward us with beautiful blowsy flowers. In my opinion peonies are taken for granted because they don’t need much care and they have few pest problems. These beauties provide large, sometimes fragrant, blooms every spring. The flower colors include the traditional white, pink, dark pink, red, magenta, and maroon, but breeders and collectors efforts have resulted in some very lovely lavender, yellow, apricot, coral, salmon, and even orange flowered peonies. There are two main types, the regular garden peony (Paeonia hybrids) and the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa). The garden peony is a herbaceous perennial that dies back to the the ground in the fall. It grows back from its crown and fleshy roots in the spring. The tree peony is a deciduous shrub that drops its leaves in the fall and regrows from its branches in the spring, just like other hardy deciduous shrubs. There is also a newer type of peony called an ‘intersectional.’ This is just a fancy name for a hybrid peony that’s the result of a cross between a tree peony and a garden peony. The result is an intersectional peony that dies to the ground each fall, but has flowers and leaves similar to that of a tree peony. Where most tree peonies are not hardy in the coldest northern climates, the intersectionals are hardier. There’s also an interesting fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) with fernlike leaves. The fernleaf peony has single or double deep red flowers and the plant is smaller than most garden peonies. Because they’re difficult to propagate, fernleaf peonies are rare and quite expensive. You’ll also find that some of the newest peony cultivars and hybrids can be very expensive, as much as $100 or more per plant! Some Things You Should Know about Garden Peonies Peonies may fail to bloom for several reasons. It takes some new peonies about three years to become fully established and start to bloom, but the wait is worth it. Another common reason for a failure to produce flowers is planting them too deeply. The ‘eyes’ or buds at the ends of the fleshy roots should only be about one to two inches below the soil surface. Too much shade, inadequate fertilization, competition from other plants, and improper watering can also lead to a lack of blooms. Peonies are easy to grow, but there are some basic growing conditions that should be met. Plant them in a sunny location with good drainage. Excess soil moisture or dry soils can lead to problems. Water frequently enough to keep the soil moderately moist. Peony plants don’t need dividing very often, in fact they don’t take kindly to frequent digging and dividing. However, over time their flower production can decline due to crowding. Dig and divide the plants in the fall only if necessary. Because of their heavy flowers, many of the garden peonies will flop over in wind or rain. They will look their best if staked with flower stakes that blend in with the leaves and stems making them practically unnoticeable. Consider staking your peonies if they don’t stand up straight. Also, make sure your plants have plenty of sun and adequate nutrition. Why those bothersome ants? Ants like the sweet syrup secreted by the flower buds. They don’t harm the flowers and aren’t needed for the blooms to open. Cut the flowers just before they open and remove the ants before bringing them indoors.

Published: 6/10/2006 11:14 AM

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