Forget the myths, peonies are easy to grow. In fact, once established they will live for more years than most people are likely to inhabit their houses. When you move house they can come too.
Peonies need a soil that does not become water-logged at any time during the year. A good well-drained loam is ideal, but they are just as happy in a clay soil provided it does not stay wet. Being plants of the open ground they prefer full sun, but they are able to tolerate a light shady site. They can take up to three years to flower, but once established can live for more than 50 years.
Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with their roots no deeper than 2cm (1inch) below the soil. If they are planted any deeper they may refuse to flower. Tree peonies, if they are grafted, need to be planted with the grafting point up to 12cm (4 inches) below the soil surface. Instructions are sent with each order.
A little very well rotted manure can be placed around the dormant plant in winter if the ground is severly deprived of nutrients, but in general peonies do not require fertilising.
Contrary to what has been written in the past, peonies do not mind being moved - especially if they are not divided. If a plant has become too large, and needs to be divided, make sure the transplanted clumps have at least 3 eyes (leaf buds).
The only ailment peonies may suffer from is botritys, a fungus that tends to increase when the weather is damp. Evidence of it can be found at the base of the stem or on the bud, which become brown and mouldy. If this happens remove the infected foliage and spray the plant with a fungicide.
Failure to flower
There are three reasons why peonies fail to flower.
1. They have been planted too deeply. Lift the plant in autumn and replant with the buds no more than an inch below the surface of the soil.
2. The plant is too dry during the spring growing season. This can be recognised when the buds fail to swell and stay small and look dried up.
3. The plant is growing in a very shady spot, which can lead to dry roots.
Sometimes we asked why spots appear on the leaves of peonies. This tends to occur later in the summer just before the plant starts to enter it’s dormant state. The foliage of some varieties of herbaceous peonies start to change colour in late August. There is no need to worry about this.
Another question often posed is how to get rid of ants that appear on the buds. The answer is don’t. In my experience ants do no harm. They appear as the flower bud swells, feeding on the sugary substance that exudes from the bud. The ants may even help the bud to open properly. As soon as the buds open the ants disappear.
For more information about peonies you could look at The Peony Society website.
by Claire Austin
Posted on 30/08/2010