Sunday, September 18, 2016

2016 Questions - Growing Peonies in South Carolina

I received this question from Tony in zone 8b:
"I live in Mt. Pleasant, SC, zone 8 (“8b” I think) and would appreciate your help with some peonies I’ve planted. My wife is crazy for peonies and I’ve begun to try to cultivate them even though I realize we are at the outer reaches of their comfort zone."

"The herbaceous varieties I purchased and planted 2 years ago were all of the early flowering variety, mainly tending towards the pink/burgundy and white themes. According to directions, I planted them not deep, striving for the tops of the roots being 2” under the soil surface, and in areas that are either full sun or more sun than not. My soil is particularly acidic (typical for this area of SC) and I’ve tried to amend it from the 5.5 pH it started at to somewhere closer to 7.0. In several of the small plots (2-4 plants each) I’ve more or less achieved the hoped-for result, but in several others it may take me another year or so; they are now at 6.0 or so."

"The results, so far, are by no means outstanding. Of the 5 small plots planted so far, the typical is that one or at most 2 stems have come up from each, and in both Summers each plant has grown to approximately 1’ – 1.5’ tall, one single stem, with healthy-looking leaves but few of them. No apparent fungal infections, and each of them brown up and die (over a period of several weeks to a month) and are completely done with their season by the end of August or early September. When the top growth is obviously dead, I clip the stems at ground level and get rid of the clippings. None of the plants has flowered in the two years since planting. I typically sprinkle a bit of 8-10-10 around all my perennials twice a year (early Spring when growth starts, early-mid Summer) and rake it in lightly."

"My question(s) is(are) : Does this scenario sound typical for peonies – at least starting out – for my area? Should I be doing anything different or additional to maximize their potential for success? I will continue to add lime (and scratch it into the soil) to get to, or maintain, a neutral pH; I will continue to drench the plots with a mild fungicide (different each year) in Spring when growth breaks the soil. Until the plants have grown substantially in size and abundance I’ve felt no need to add a drench of minor nutrients like “Palm Nutritional” with Mg, Mn, Boron, Copper, Iron, Zinc, etc."

"I also have one “tree” peony with similar concerns. It has grown but sparingly in the two seasons since I planted it, similar pH concerns, and similar growth slowness and leaves seeming to complete their year’s duties by early September. But since it otherwise appears to be healthy, albeit very slow growing, I am not as concerned about its ultimate survival."

"I would appreciate any helpful hints or suggestions you may be able to render. I’ve not as yet explored your whole website, but I do note that in addition to peonies you also highlight lilies (Lilium, not those ‘imposters’ the daylilies) which are about my favorite flowers ever. If I can find a relatively easy way to keep the deer around here from decimating my lilies – along with about 90% of everything I plant – I will surely be ordering some of those from you in the future. Thank you in advance for your attention."

Peony Eyes Visible at Soil Level

The only thing that really jumps out at me is the 2" below the soil. Herbaceous Peony roots need chill hours in order to develop the blooms for next spring, and the deeper you plant them, the less chill hours they will receive. I am in NC, and I plant my peony roots even with the soil. I do also add a 1" layer of mulch on top of all of mine. However, I usually take care not to put too much mulch around the crown of the plant, and often many of my herbaceous peony's pink buds are visible throughout the winter. If these pink buds are buried too deeply in the soil in our climate, the peonies will not bloom.

That being said, since all of your peonies are relatively young, I would not necessarily expect any blooms yet. However, if I were you, I would lift your herbaceous peonies this fall and bring them closer to the soil surface. Tree peonies are a different story. Since most of them are grafted to a nurse root stock, it is better to plant them very deep (in hopes that the tree peony stem will start to send out roots of its own).

Another thing I was trying to get at with the photos is - What is planted near your peonies? Are they near trees, shrubs, other perennials, a fence, a wall, etc.? Do they have any competition? Is the soil evenly moist, watered on a timer, or left to Mother Nature?

Also my peonies do start to "turn brown" in the summer. It is a slow progression of foliage, whereby a lack of moisture, disease pathogens, and/or fungi affect the foliage over the course of the year. Since peonies only get one set of leaves per year, the foliage will naturally start to look ragged by the end of the summer/early fall. Right now there are some peonies in my yard that have turned completely brown, but most of them are still green/brown.

Also some herbaceous peonies varieties do better in the South than others. I didn't see you mention the herbaceous peony cultivars you were growing. I was going to offer any experience and advice I might have if you could name the cultivars. I personally have only a few tree peonies, and I don't have as much experience with these as I do herbaceous and intersectionals. Here is a page on my site where I recommend peony cultivars that do well for me in the South... Southern Peony Best Performers

Another thing I wanted to mention to you was that intersectional peonies may be something you'd want to try in your climate. Intersectional peonies are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies, and they grow quite well and fast. Many of their blooms are not as large as the herbaceous double peonies, but some of them are larger! One I would definitely recommend is Peony 'Bartzella', a lovely yellow double.

I hope this information helps.

No comments:

Post a Comment