Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 Newly Planted Peony Sprouting in Fall

As you can see this peony is a little confused. Yes, we have been having a quite mild winter so far this year, and yes it was 70 degrees this weekend. Nice weather for me, but confusing weather for the new peonies I just planted this fall. They think it's spring! I wish. :) Unfortunately this is not good. The weather here is definitely going to get colder, and there's no way the buds on these two sprouts will ever open. That's not good for this peony root either. The plant is going to waste a lot of energy from it's storage roots to try to grow these sprouts, the colder weather here will kill the sprouts, and the roots will have to send up more sprouts in the spring. The waste of that much energy will probably set this plant back at least 1-2 years in it's development.
Fall Sprout on Newly Planted Peony 'Pink Parasol Surprise'

This has happened to me several times previously. The problem is caused because these roots are used to a much cooler climate (since this root was purchased from Song Sparrow - a Wisconsin climate - zone 5a vs zone 7b here). For this peony root to see these kinds of temperatures, it thinks it is spring. This is not always a problem for every root I purchase, but it has happened several times in the past. My hopes is that in the future there will be more commercial southern peony growers so that southern peony aficianados can orders their roots from growers with a climate similar to their own.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 How to Cut Back an Herbaceous Peony

Herbaceous peonies should be cut back each year to create a pleasing aesthetic in your peony gardens, maintain good air circulation, and prevent the spread of disease. Diseased, dying, and dead peony foliage isn't very nice to look, and cutting back your peonies will definitely present a cleaner and neater appearance in your peony beds. Old foliage from the previous year is going to prevent air circulation around the base of the plant which would create a moist environment ripe for the growth of foliar disease. Also any diseased foliage left in the peony bed gives the disease a chance to infect the newly emerging foliage in spring.

Herbaceous Peony in Fall


Cut Back Herbaceous Peony at Base of Stem

Using sharp clippers cut each of the peony stems back at the very base of the stem, even with the ground. Take care to avoid clipping any pink buds (peony eyes) that may be showing. These are the beginnings of the peony's growth cycle for the coming year. These pink buds will develop into next year's shoots. So be careful to stay away from those buds since they will become next year's foliage and possibly blooms as well!

Hollow Stem of Cut Peony and Pink Bud (Peony Eye)


Remove the Cut Peony Foliage

After cutting back all of the peony stems, make sure to throw all of the stems and foliage away. Do not compost the cut back peony stems and foliage. It is best to completely remove all of the cut peony foliage from the garden. I usually keep a plastic bag with me in the garden while I am cutting back the foliage, and I will put the cut foliage in the back as I go. Also examine the ground after removing the cut foliage to see if there are any peony leaves that were left behind. Take care to remove any loose peony leaves that you find.

Short Stem of Cut Peony

Some people will leave a short 2-3 stem on all of their peony shoots when cleaning up in the fall as shown on one stem in the picture above. I think some people like to keep the short stems to help them remember where their peonies are planted. However here in my growing zone, I can almost always see the pink buds (peony eyes) showing through fall and winter. I also make sure to keep my plants labeled and mapped, so I know their location and variety. I always cut my peonies back even with the ground. I figure if you are cutting back the plant to remove the green plant parts to prevent disease, the more you cut back, the less surface area for the disease to use as a host.

Herbaceous Peony Completely Cut Back

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Cut Back Fall Foliage on Peonies

I can't believe it's December already, the last month of 2012. On Friday, the last day of November, I got a start on cutting back some of my peonies. That is the earliest I've started cutting them back in a few years. In the last couple of years, I've just been so busy that I haven't gotten around to cutting them back until after the new year. I actually cut back a few of them that still had some color on the foliage. Most of them were already brown, however. Here are the before and after pictures from cleaning up and cutting back my Saunder's peony garden. I also took the time to record the stem counts for any peonies I hadn't yet recorded the data on, and I also made sure to bag up all of the old peony foliage to try to prevent the spread of disease. Everything looks so much nicer now. Having a nice clean peony bed makes me long for spring when their soft pink tendrils will once again emerge from the soil!

Saunder's Peony Garden with Dead Foliage


Saunder's Peony Garden Cleaned Up

Saturday, November 24, 2012

2012 Ashes on Peonies for Acidic Soil

Today I was excited to empty the ash bucket from my wood burning fireplace. I know that means I get to adjust the pH of the soil I grow my peonies in, naturally! There were a couple of spots in full sun that were starting to grow moss. Moss usually grows in shady, acidic soils. This spot is not shady. So I know I need to make some adjustments to make my acidic soil a bit more alkaline. The ashes from my fireplace are just the thing to do it! The soils in the southeastern United States are generally more acidic, but you can get your soil tested if you're not sure of the level. If you want to learn more, there's an article on Natural Fertilizer Materials from our local NC State University. If you're lucky enough to have a wood burning fireplace or even an outdoor firepit, be sure to save your wood ashes for your peonies!

Moss Growing in Peony Bed


Bucket with Wood Ashes for Peony Bed


Wood Ash on Peony Bed

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012 Colorful Fall Peony Foliage

I took these fall peony pictures 2 weeks ago today. As you can see there is a great range of color - red tipped green, yellow, orange, red, even black! Some varieties definitely display more fall colors than others - the more peony varieties, the better the display. Not only is there a range of color depending on the variety, but at times, a variety of color on the same plant! There are many reasons to plant peonies - their interesting new growth in late winter, their beautiful blossoms in spring, their lush green foliage in summer, and an array of colorful foliage during the fall season when they're slowing storing their energy reserves for the next year. So if you needed another reason to plant peonies, here's one more! :)
Peony 'Belleville'
Peony 'Feather Top'
Peony 'Feather Top'
Peony 'Kansas'
Peony 'Sea Shell'
Peony 'Sea Shell'

Saturday, November 17, 2012

2012 Peony Mulch with Paper Bag Weed Barrier

With a half day off from work yesterday, I was able to get in a little bit of work in my yard. It's always tough in the fall when the time changes. The days are already getting shorter and the hour you lose just makes it that much darker when you finally do get home. I've been needing to mulch around the new peonies in my Saunders peony bed where I added on to it this fall. There is quite a bit of open space around some of them, and a few fall weeds had already begun to sprout. A great chemical free way to prevent weeds is with a layer of mulch, but what to do when the weeds are already sprouting? A good way is to lay down a barrier underneath the mulch. I am definitely not in favor of the plastic weed barriers. They never biodegrade. The weeds grown through them eventually, anyway, and you are left with a really big mess! What I like to do, that I've done in the past, is lay down a layer of brown paper as a weed barrier underneath the mulch. It protects the bed from weeds for a few seasons, and by the time is it no good, it has already started to biodegrade - so no mess! Also you can just keep adding layers of paper and mulch if you like. Here's a step by step pictorial to get you started.

Materials Needed: Paper Bags, Scissors, and Mulch


Peony Bed Addition with Weeds Sprouting


Peony Bed with Paper Bag Weed Barrier


Peony Bed with Mulch Piled on Paper Weed Bag Barrier


Peony Bed with Fresh Mulch Over a Paper Bag Weed Barrier

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 How to Plant an Herbaceous Peony


Dig Hole for Herbaceous Peony

Herbaceous Peonies should be planted similar to Intersectional Peonies, taking care to make sure the root is facing the proper direction. This is very important for intersectional peonies as well and even more so with tree peonies. The first step and perhaps the most important step in planting a peony is preparing the soil. I usually dig at least a 3 foot round hole for each root, spading the soil with my shovel to make sure the dirt is nice and loose. After the hole is dug and the soil has been loosened, I add some organic fertilizer and lime (dolomitic limestone) to the soil in the hole and mix it in. The fertilizer is used to add nutrients to the soil and the lime is used to adjust the PH of the soil. In my area, most soils are acidic, and peonies prefer a more neutral to very slightly acidic soil, around a PH of 6.0 to 7.0.

Put Herbaceous Peony Root in Planting Hole

Next take a look at the peony root and make a smaller hole in the middle of your 3 foot round hole that will accommodate the size of the peony root. Herbaceous peonies stems die back to the ground each year. So there is not woody or semi-woody stem on the root. The herbaceous peony roots are usually a large storage root with perhaps smaller side roots and pink buds on the crown. The pink buds are where the new shoots and foliage will begin to emerge. Make sure to put the roots into the soil and try to put the buds pointing up towards the sky. In my southern climate the pink buds of the crown can be planted even with the soil, so that the roots are below the soil and the pink buds are slightly above, even, or just barely under the soil.

Cover Herbaceous Peony Root with Soil

Once the peony root has been planted, I cover the planting hole with a 1-2 inch layer of mulch, taking care to put only a small 1/2 inch layer of much over the crown itself. I may even leave it so the pink buds are barely visible or just below the mulch. You don't want to put too much mulch on herbaceous peonies in this climate. Otherwise the roots may not get enough chilling hours needed for blooming. They do however need enough mulch to retain moisture (It does get really hot here!) and prevent weed growth. After the peony has been mulched, I water the newly planted peony root. You can water your root before or after you mulch it. I just like to water mine afterwards because it seems like the soils stays in place a little better with the mulch already on top.

Mulch Herbaceous Peony

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2012 APS Convention Peony Auction Plants

I got a lot of fall planting done yesterday. I'm not finished yet, but I got a lot accomplished. One thing I finished planting were the peonies I won at the 2012 American Peony Society convention auction. This was the first time I bid on anything at the auction, and I was really happy with what I received. I won three peonies at the auction this year, and each of them was from a different donor. I won Peony 'Halcyon' from Adelman Peony Nursery, Peony 'Top Brass' from A-1 Nursery, and Peony 'White Cap' from Scott Parkerson. It was so nice of all of the companies and individuals to donate their time, peony roots, and shipping fees to raise money for the American Peony Society. It was also nice to be a part of the process and actually bid on the peonies. I got some nice varieties that I wanted for my garden and got to help the APS at the same time. If you're interested in donating peonies for next year's convention and/or are interested in attending next year's convention so you too can participate in the auction (and lots more), please contact the American Peony Society. I hope to see you there! :)

APS Convention Auction Plant, Peony 'Halcyon'

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

2012 Brother P-Touch Peony Outdoor Plant Labels

I am working on making some plant labels for my garden today. Brother is a great company for label makers. I used to use the Brother P-Touch label makers that were handheld. The first one I purchased required batteries. The second one I purchased you could plug in, which really saved a lot in batteries. Now I have the Brother P-Touch that you can connect to your computer. This allows you more flexibility in what you want to put on the labels, the fonts you can use, the layout, etc. I always use the 1" Extra Strength Adhesive Tape for outdoor applications. I have been using this for years now, and it does not peel off or fade. I would highly recommend it if you're looking for labels for your garden that will last and last!

Brother P-Touch Label Editor Software

Brother P-Touch PC-Connectable Label Maker

Sunday, October 21, 2012

2012 Fall Peony Sales

I got an email this weekend about a peony sale at one of my favorite peony vendors, Khlem's Song Sparrow. Not only is now a great time to plant peonies, but it is also a great time for peony sales. If you're not on the email list of your favorite peony vendors, you should go ahead and sign up so that you'll get all the latest information on their products and special sales. The current sale they're having is for Herbaceous Peonies - 3 for the price of 2! I already have 3 boxes of peonies waiting for me to plant, but I'm still tempted to order more (and I probably will) since this is such a great deal. The deal is good from now until November 15, 2012. So you've got some time to check it out, but shop early for the best selection! Also you can check the websites of other peony vendors this time of year. Sometimes they will post sales or specials to their web sites as well. You may be able to pick up a peony you've been wanting a bit cheaper or try out a different peony that wasn't on your list. Either way, happy peony shopping! :)

Khlem's Song Sparrow Fall 2012 Sale

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 Questions - Itoh Peony Planting Depth

Itoh Peony 'Barztella'
I received this question from Karen in Zone 6:
"How deep do you plant your Itoh peonies?"

Itoh Peonies are intersectional peonies. Toichi Itoh is credited with being the first hybridizer to successfully cross a tree peony with an herbaceous peony, resulting in an intersectional peony. Since these peonies are a cross between tree peonies with woody stems and herbaceous peonies with herbaceous stems, the stems of intersectional peonies are semi-woody. These stems can be left on the plant and cut back to the lowest bud or be cut off completely. This picture is of intersectional Peony 'Bartzella' whose stems were cut back to above the lowest bud. I have drawn a line on the picture to show the proper planting depth for this type of peony. The stems (above the red line) face up towards the sun, and the roots (below the red line) should be planted below ground. So the proper planting depth for intersectional (Itoh) peonies is right at this joint between the stems and the root. If your intersectional peony does not have any above ground stems, then I would recommend planting the roots below the soil with the eyes or buds facing up towards the sun. The eyes or buds should be even with the soil level or just below the surface of the soil.

Friday, September 28, 2012

2012 Intersectional Peony Garden Dead Foliage

I went out to water the newly transplanted peonies in my intersectional peony garden today, and the ones that were moved from partial shade to full sun were toast. The new ones that I'd gotten on Ebay and planted out at the beginning of summer are the only ones that still have green foliage. The foliage on the ones that were planted in shade was a lighter shade of green (presumably because those plants were used to their partially shady conditions), but it became decidedly droopy, brown, and crispy. So I decided to go ahead and clean off all of the foliage from the older intersectional peonies that were transplanted from the shade. Now as you can see the garden is mostly just sticks, save the four very small, new intersectional peonies. I'm thinking the foliage on all of these intersectional peonies will be a nice dark green color when they leaf out in the spring. I can't wait!

Intersectional Peony Garden with Dead Foliage


Intersectional Peony Garden with Trimmed Foliage

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

2012 How to Plant an Intersectional Peony


Intersectional Peonies

Intersectional Peonies should be planted similar to Herbaceous Peonies, except a bit more care should be taken to make sure the root is facing the proper direction. This is important for herbaceous peonies as well, but more so with intersectional, and even more so with tree peonies.

Dig Hole for Intersectional Peony

The first step and perhaps the most important step in planting a peony is preparing the soil. I usually dig at least a 3 foot round hole for each root, spading the soil with my shovel to make sure the dirt is nice and loose. After the hole is dug and the soil has been loosened, I add some organic fertilizer and lime (dolomitic limestone) to the soil in the hole and mix it in. The fertilizer is used to add nutrients to the soil and the lime is used to adjust the PH of the soil. In my area, most soils are acidic, and peonies prefer a more neutral to very slightly acidic soil, around a PH of 6.0 to 7.0.

Put Intersectional Peony Root in Planting Hole

Next take a look at the peony root and make a small hole in the middle of your 3 foot round hole that will accommodate the size of the peony root. Intersectional peonies are hybrids of tree peonies and herbaceous peonies, and they exhibit some characteristics of both. The intersectional peony roots usually have a definite delineation between the roots and the stem. The stem usually has pink buds on it, from which the new shoots and foliage will begin to emerge. So make sure to put the roots into the soil and put the stems/buds pointing up towards the sky. In my southern climate the point where the roots meets the stem can be planted even with the soil, so that the roots are below the soil and the stems/buds are above the soil.

Cover Intersectional Peony Roots with Soil

Once the peony root has been planted, I cover the planting hole with a 1-2 inch layer of mulch. You don't want to put too much mulch on peonies in this climate. Otherwise the roots may not get enough chilling hours needed for blooming. They do however need enough mulch to retain moisture (It does get really hot here!) and prevent weed growth. After the peony has been mulched, I water the newly planted peony root. You can water your root before or after you mulch it. I just like to water mine afterwards because it seems like the soils stays in place a little better with the mulch already on top.

Mulch Intersectional Peony

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 Peony Experiments - Intersectional Divisions

I divided a huge Peony 'Bartzella' this week with 24 stems. I ended up with 10 divisions. Four of the divisions have large root systems, and I know they will grow fine. However 6 of them had little to no root left on them. Since Peony 'Bartzella' DNA seems to be quite valuable these days, and I am not currently in the business of cloning :), I thought I'd plant them out to see if they'd survive, grow, and thrive. Some of them have only a stem and a bud on them. So those I planted a little deeper hoping for an adventitious root. I know some peonies are known to create adventitious buds. So I'll be curious to see if these are able to develop adventitious roots. :) I planted these out in my new peony seedling test bed which I guess is now just my peony test bed. I also had a little helper that sprinkled a bit of water on them. :)
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with Small Roots
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with Small Roots Planted
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with Tiny Roots
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with Tiny Roots Planted
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with No Roots
Peony 'Bartzella' Division
with No Roots Planted


Peony Helper

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 Intersectional Peony Garden Planting

Wow! Planting the intersectional peonies in their new garden bed was a dream. The new soil was so soft and even the earth below was easy to work with considering how much rain we've had lately. At first I couldn't decide on the layout. I wanted the layout to be different than my other peony beds. I finally decided on concentric circles with Peony 'Bartzella' in the center.

Intersectional Peony Bed Layout

I guess I will be enlarging this bed very soon. I pretty much filled it up. I dug up or divided 6 intersectional peonies that I already had elsewhere in my garden - shadier spots, which is why they needed a new home! I've had them for years with little to no bloom. I'm hoping with the move they will be happier and produce lots more blossoms! Those peonies were Peony 'Copper Kettle', Peony 'Cora Louise', Peony 'First Arrival', Peony 'Hillary', Peony 'Julia Rose', and Peony 'Morning Lilac'. I also added my four intersectional Ebay peonies Peony 'Canary Brilliants', Peony 'Lemon Dream', Peony 'Old Rose Dandy', and Peony 'Scarlet Heaven'. Then I planted two new intersectional peony roots that arrived last week Peony 'Garden Treasure' and Peony 'Sonoma Amethyst'. I can't wait to see how this intersectional peony garden develops over time!

Intersectional Peony Bed Planting

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 AmScope Microscope for Peony Research

I am really excited! I just placed an order on Amazon for an AmScope 40X-640X Glass Optics Student Compound Microscope + USB Digital Camera. I was able to get it for $59 after points from my Amazon Visa and some Amazon gift cards I had. Now I can take really close up pictures of peony components! I can't wait to use it. I want to look at foliage, blooms, stems, roots, and even diseases! This is going to be so cool. It even has a built in camera, so I'll be able to post some pics to my blog. If there's something you'd curious to know that you'd like me research with it, please feel free to send me a question! This will be a valuable tool for future Experiments.

Microscope for Peony Research
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Shutterfly Hardcover Peony Book

I love Shutterfly. It lets me combine two things I love (peonies & photography) into something tangible! They have a great offer right now - a free 8X8 hardcover photo book with the coupon code SUMMERBOOK. Today is the last day, though. I am such a procrastinator! :-P However I did get my 2012 Peony book finished today. The price is usually $29.99 + $8.53 shipping. With the coupon code you just play $8.53 for shipping, a great deal! Shutterfly has a nice interface that allows you to use different photo layouts, backgrounds, fonts, etc. I have just created a blank template for myself to use each year for my peony photo book. I like the simplicity of a white background. It contrasts nicely with the bright colors of the peony flowers. If you're looking for a nice way to get some photos printed into a photo book, I would definitely recommend Shutterfly. I've been using them for years now, and I have always been impressed by their quality and customer service.

Shutterfly Peony Book Layout


Shutterfly Peony Book Preview