Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Passion for Peonies by MJ Lechner

Every Spring I watch and wait.  Ever-so-slowly, the little reddish shoots emerge through the cold early spring soil and my heart skips a beat- the peonies are back!  From the first spotting until, I watch and wait patiently until one day, they burst into bloom!  It is then I am sure that spring is truly here to stay.
So, what is it about peonies that make them so darn enchanting?  Named for the ancient Balkan region & tribe, Paeonia, peonies hail from Asia and southern Europe.  They are an herbaceous (bushy) plant, meaning that they die all the way back in the winter.  Their color range is almost endless, with new hybrids being introduced each year.  Some tried and true favorites are singles, (e.g. Athena, Dad, Krinkled White, Scarlet O’Hara, Sea Shell) Japanese, (Nippon Beauty, Madame Butterfly) Semi-Double, (Paula Fay, Coral Charm, Miss America, Buckeye Belle) Double (Ann Cousins, Gardenia, Kansas, Paul M. Wild, Tourangelle) and Bomb-Double (Red Charm, Raspberry Sundae, Mons Jules Elie).

Planting, transplanting and dividing peonies is relatively easy and is best done in early fall (but may be done in spring as soon as soils are workable). Each plant requires an area about three feet in diameter. Dig a generous hole, large enough to accommodate the roots and incorporate aged organic matter, such as compost, in the bottom. Place the peony in the prepared hole so that the eyes (small, red-colored buds) are one to two inches below the soil's surface. This is crucial, as planting them too deeply will leave you with a beautiful bush, but alas, no blooms.  Backfill and water well.
Peonies may be left undisturbed for many years. A decline in flower usually indicates overcrowding and the need for division. Carefully lift the clump and wash away the soil to expose the eyes. Using a clean, sharp tool, divide the clump into sections, each with three to five eyes and good roots. Replant immediately.
Now, what about those darn ants?  Are they really necessary for the blossoms?  In a word, “NO!” That is just a persistent old wives tale.  The presence of ants on peony blossoms is neither beneficial nor harmful to the plants--they are simply attracted to the sugary liquid secreted by flower buds.  If they persist after the flowers open, cut the stems and shake the flowers and the ants will fall out of them.
 In the Chinese culture, the peony symbolizes happiness and prosperity.  May they grace your garden and bring you both in the springtime!