Friday, September 28, 2018

2018 Questions - Growing Peonies in the Deep South, Dealing with Fungus

I received this question from Ellery in zone 8a/9b:

"I was reaching out to see if there are any APS members with experience growing in the deep south. I garden in Thomasville, GA, and Tallahassee, FL (8A out in the country to maybe even a 9A microclimate in town), and have been experimenting for the past two years with peonies - P lactiflora, officinalis, cambessedessii, rockii, suffruticosa, as well as a variety of species from seed. Many of the plants are really hurting at this point. Some certainly have botrytis, others possibly phytophthora (though most are still potted, and in a very free-draining bark-based mix that I would not have thought conducive to phytophthora, but we have had rain literally almost every day this summer), but I just don't have the experience to diagnose for sure. General recommendations regarding sun exposure and other basic cultivation tips for this area would also be helpful."

Potted Peony Dealing with Fungus

I garden in the South, but I am in zone 7b. So just shy of your 8A. I'm noticing that you don't seem to have any Intersectional Hybrids. I would highly recommend trying these Itohs / Intersectional Peonies. They are a cross between a tree peony and herbaceous peonies, and they are quite vigorous and tolerate warm climates well. Peony 'Bartzella' a yellow variety is one of the best.

My web site also lists several varieties that grow well for me here under my "Best Performer" section... (intersectional, herbaceous, and tree)

No matter what peony you grow, all peonies will look ragged and worn by the now (the end of the season). Almost every peony I grow gets blight at some point in the season. It's just something I live with, since I don't like to spray chemicals. You could try experimenting with fungicides, but these are not a cure and would have to be sprayed every year on a regular basis to keep the fungal diseases at bay. That's all you are really doing is making the fungus less noticeable. It is always there in the environment. So I prefer to just live with it, try to grow cultivars that are vigorous enough to live with it, without succumbing to it / dying from it.

Some rockiis do well here and other don't. One I bought as a plant just died this winter with the bad thaw/freeze cycle we just had. However one of the plants I grew from seed was just fine and had two spectacular blooms on it this year. I don't grow too many species here, although I've tried to grow several from seed. None of them have really taken off besides p. rockii.

The easiest to grow tree peony (which has the hardiest roots as well), is Tree Peony 'White Phoenix'. It is also on my best performers page. It is a single white, but it grows larger with more blooms every year and the frosts this year did not affect it. The Chinese have grown this plant (from p. ostii) for thousands of years. They call it the Millennium Peony.

Also full sun is always best for herbaceous and intersectional peonies, while tree peonies can tolerate some shade. However for more blooms, more sun is always better. Also I would recommend trying to plant any of your potted peonies in the ground. Some of the varieties and species you are growing may not be suitable for your area. However I would definitely give some of our Southern Peony Best Performers a try, and if you need ideas on where to plant them check out our article on Top 5 Spots to Plant a Peony.

Hope that info helps!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

2018 Top 5 Spots to Plant a Peony

Top 5 Spots to Plant a Peony

It's that time of year, peony planting season, and if you'd like to get your peonies off to a great start, planting them in the correct place will get them growing on their way to a bush full of blooms. For home gardeners, there are definitely places you can grow peonies that will keep them blooming year after year. These are usually 'prime' spots that get plenty of sunlight and adequate water too. Herbaceous peonies do not need shade no matter what growing zone you are in. The more shade peonies are grown in, the less blooms they have, period. So if you want more blooms and larger plants year after year, consider planting a peony (or several peonies!) in one of these prime locations (assuming these locations receive full sun in your yard). Also don't be disappointed if your peony doesn't look this good the first spring. All of these peonies have been growing in these locations for 2-3 (or more) years before looking this good! So with peonies, patience (and location, location, location) are key.

Near Your Deck or Patio

Peony 'Scarlet O'Hara' Growing Near the Deck

Peonies grow very well near decks and patios (as long as your deck or patio is in the sun). The extra water that runs off from the deck or patio benefits any plants that are growing nearby. Also having shaded ground near the peony helps to keep the soil temperatures a bit more stable, protecting the plant from extreme temperature swings. Decks and patios are great places to plant a peony, plus you can enjoy them up close from your own outdoor haven (and your outdoor lounge chair)!

Near Your Mailbox

Peony 'Festiva Maxima' Growing Beside the Mailbox

If anyone ever tells me that they can't grow a peony because they have shade everywhere in their yard, I usually suggest they try growing their peony near their mailbox. The roadside will usually provide enough sunlight for your peony to thrive, and the extra moisture that runs off the road will help your peony grow too! This is basically the spot for people with brown thumbs (at least with regards to peonies) who want to grow a peony, to plant it. If you've not had luck growing a peony anywhere else, try planting your peony beside your mailbox, and watch it take off! (Plus get ready for all the compliments and oogling from your neighbors!)

Near a Sidewalk

Peony 'Keiko' 愛幕 (Adored) 'Pink Double Dandy'
Growing Near the Sidewalk

Sunny sidewalks are the perfect place to grow a peony. The peonies love not having to compete with any trees or shrubs. So plant them along your driveway or up the sidewalk to your front door. Greet your guests and visitors with some big, bright peonies. They will give your friends and family a smile (and you too every time you come home). Planting them on a walkway gives you the chance to take a sniff every time you walk by.

Near Your House

Peony 'Lake o' Silver' and Peony 'Martha W.'
Growing Beside the House

Growing peonies next to your house is a perfect spot (as long as there are no trees next to your house). The sides of the house create a micro-climate for the peonies that is usually more moist (because of the rain runoff) and more stable in soil temperatures (because of the protection from the house). Instead of building your garden around the edges of your yard in, trying building it from the edges of your house out. You'll be surprised with the results! Growing your peonies near your house will give you larger and more abundant blooms than in drier parts of your yard that are too close to trees or shrubs.

Middle of the Yard

Peony Garden in the Middle of Yard

If none of those spots work for your yard because they are all already filled with trees, large shrubs, and too much shade, then it's time to cut down some trees!!! Okay, kidding aside (but that may be necessary for some), the default spot to plant a peony is right in the middle of your yard. Yes! Just take out a large patch of that grass you don't really want to mow anyway and convert it into a mulched planting bed. The peonies will be happy because they have no competition whatsoever, tons of sunlight, and a nice top dressing of mulch to keep their roots cool in the summer. Just keep in mind that no matter where you plant your peonies, it will take a few years for them to become established, but the wait will be worth it!!! Happy Peony Planting!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

2018 Southern Peony Affected by Hurricane Florence

Southern Peony Affected by Hurricane Florence

We've all been hunkered down for the past few days hoping Hurricane Florence will pass us by with as little damage as possible. Even before that we've been prepping for a week or more, buying supplies, washing and drying as much as possible, preparing coolers, freezing bottled water, bringing in everything we could from outside. I would say we've been lucky. Today my little boy and I took a walk outside to survey for damage. We found one tree top down in our back yard. (It honestly looks like a small tree down, which is what I thought it was when I first saw it.) The tree top is right on top of the very first peony garden I planted here. Luckily this was the only damage we found, and it shouldn't be too hard to clean up. Also lucky it is the tree top from a sweet gum ball tree, my least favorite tree of all because of the spiky sweet gum balls it drops every fall/winter.

Tree Branches Smash Peony Garden

Tree Branches Cover Peony Garden

Now I feel a bit ancy to get out there and start cleaning it up. It looks like it knocked a small obelisk I have a little sideways, and I'm worried about what peony flowers it might have damaged as well. There are branches everywhere in that garden, and I want to get them picked up so they're not smashing any peony growth buds for next year. It's not over yet. More rain is coming. We still have a flash flood watch until 8pm tonight. Our power has been off once, but luckily it's been restored. Let's hope the soggy ground doesn't take down any more trees. However in the scheme of things, I'm sure this is really, really small. The damage that is still to come in the days and weeks ahead from flooding all across our state is sure to be devastating. I can only hope that we will overcome all of this together. The sun will shine again.

Sweet Gum Tree Branches Cover Peony Garden

Green Sweet Gum Balls Hand from Fallen Tree Top

Sunday, September 2, 2018

2018 Peony Companion Plants Tall Garden Phlox Paniculata

Phlox Paniculata 'Peacock White'

Garden Phlox is a great tall summer blooming perennial plant to sneak into your peony beds to give them color long after your peony blooms have faded. Phlox Paniculata (Garden Phlox) is the taller variety of phlox. There is also Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) which is generally more common in my area. However both of them will grow equally well here, and Garden Phlox makes a taller plant that will show off well around your peony bushes when they are no longer in bloom. Also Garden Phlox comes in a wide range of colors to suit any color palette - hot pinks, pale pinks, oranges, purples, lavenders, and whites.

Pink Garden Phlox

The really great thing about Garden Phlox is that it will bloom all summer long. It starts blooming around the first of June here (just about the time peonies have finished blooming) and goes well into September or October. Usually it will have a first huge flush of flower heads and then keep up it's blooming here and there until fall. If you'd rather have another flush of flower heads, you can deadhead all of the flower heads, and the plant will regrow new ones (trying to make seeds for reproduction). This will give you another round of fresh flowers on the plants.

Phlox of Many Colors - Pink, Pale Pink, & Coral

Since Garden Phlox gets started blooming just as your peonies are finishing, it makes a great plant to add some color to your peony beds. Just be careful to give it enough space. Phlox plants can grow about as large as a peony. So don't plant them too close to your peonies, so they don't compete with your peony plants for water and nutrients. Give them enough space to do their thing, and they will be a happy (and colorful) companion to your peonies (for years and years)! Also since Phlox does produce seed, you may want to remove the seed heads in the fall to prevent reproduction (or leave them if you'd like a few new colors of baby Phlox plants to add to your garden).

White and Lavender Tall Garden Phlox
Growing in Peony Garden