Peonies in our area are bowing their heads this year – after nearly daily spring showers.
The reign of these lovely belles of the springtime ball is nearing an end. But they’re still beautiful even as their tiered skirts dust the ground, weighed down by the crystalline droplets that nest within the deep pink petals.
Peonies are one of my favorite spring flowers. Early settlers brought them to the Midwest, planted them on the lawns of farmhouse homes. Many of the plants whose roots were buried by our ancestors are still gracing our gardens.
Of Peonies and Memories
Peonies grew prolifically outside the rambling farmhouse where I was raised. They were planted by my grandmother on my father’s side, whom I never knew as she passed away before I was born. But my mother and foster grandmother who lived with us until her death I was six enjoyed them too.
Those ancestors passed on their love of peonies to me. Though the plants don’t seem to like my own lawn, every spring I visit the ones established beside the cemetery stones of my paternal family plot (also established by my father’s mother), and the ones at my parent’s grave on down the lane. My mother and I planted those together after my father passed.
The plants pictured in this post grow on the hillside where the caretakers’ house for a local dam used to stand. Sadly the house is now gone, though the garage is still there, used as a headquarters for absentee caretakers on erratic visits. Like lighthouses, apparently full-time stewards and their residences have been replaced by automated equipment.
But the peonies still appear each year. Once the roots of this plant settle into the soil, they’re there for a lifetime.
Love these gorgeous flowers? Following are a few tips to help you get them growing in your own garden.
Peonies have some particular site requirements. They don’t like to be disturbed or transplanted but if they the spot where they are set suits them, they can flourish there for a century.
How to Grow Healthy Peonies
Assessing the site
Choose a spot in the sun, away from trees and bushes that compete for nutrients. Peonies like deep, rich, fertile soil that drains well and has a neutral pH. Provide shelter from strong winds.
Proper Planting Procedure
Peonies are sold as bare-root tubers featuring several “eyes”. Space them 3-4 feet apart for good air circulation. Dig a hole for each plant 2 feet deep and 2 feet across. Place the tuber so the eyes are facing upward, on top of a mound of dirt in the center of the hole that comes to nearly ground level. Fill in the hole but never cover the roots with more than 2 inches of soil. Water thoroughly.
Stake if frequent rains make the plants droopy, deadhead after blooming. Only fertilize if needed every two years, immediately following flowering. Only mulch lightly, never heavily, if winters in your area are extremely frigid. That’s about it. Peonies are one of the most carefree of plants.
Peonies and Disease
Peonies are generally very hardy, rarely suffering from disease. But they are susceptible to some wilts and blights. Never spray the ants that peonies attract. They are simply enjoying the flower nectar in exchange for protecting the plants against harmful pests.
Planting in an area that is well ventilated is normally sufficient precaution to ensure continued health for these pretty plants.
For more details about growing peonies, see this Garden Design post.
Fun Facts About this Fantastic Flower
The downside of peonies is that they do attract ants. But the sight and scent of the fragrant blooms is worth the pesky presence of these insects who actually help protect the plants.
I’m not certain if peonies can directly relieve headaches and asthma. A theory of which I recently read. But a bouquet of them beside one’s bedside is certain to provide comfort and promote improvement of any condition.
Peonies Aren’t Always Pink
Peony patches are often composed of mostly pink plants. But the species does come in a variety of colors – nearly every hue except true blue. Here’s a great tour of types to help you find some favorites.
For a full list of twelve fun and useful facts about peonies see this Town and Country Magazine post.
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Keep calm and read on!