Friday, September 28, 2018

2018 Question 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."

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!

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