Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Peonies ready to burst

May 12, 2005


If they haven't already, peonies will soon be popping open, peppering Lawrence with grapefruit-sized blooms in a magnificent array of colors from soft pastels to hot pinks and reds.

The bursting of the peonies this season should be quite a show. Cooler temperatures will make this peony season bountiful. Peonies thrive in cool spring conditions and should bedazzle us with a longer blooming period.

We cursed Mother Nature every time we had to cover our plants in preparation for another frost, but we will be thanking her for this year's peony production.

Peonies are easy to grow, have long-lasting blooms, can live to be hundreds of years old, make a great cut flower and are quite attractive with just their foliage.

The Chinese refer to the peony as "Sho Yo" meaning "most beautiful." The peony originated in China but now is found everywhere the growing conditions suit them.

Brief history

Originally propagated more than 2,000 years ago for their medicinal purposes, the peony was believed to soothe most ailments.

During the T'ang dynasty (618-906) peonies became so popular in China that they were placed under imperial protection. The best varieties of peonies garnered huge prices and were often a part of a dowry settlement. By the end of the 10th century the peony was immensely popular in the Sung capital city of Louyang and was recognized as the center of the peony culture. Louyang continues to throw its annual peony festival in April. The Chinese have about 1,000 varieties of tree peonies and about 400 varieties of herbaceous peonies.

Japanese horticulturists began experimenting with the peony in the eighth century. They created a lighter, less complicated flower head which has remained very popular. A large majority of the world's tree peonies were derived in Japan.

A peony is a perennial with a highly productive life of 25 years or

A peony is a perennial with a highly productive life of 25 years or more.

In Europe only herbaceous species of peonies were in existence until 1789 when a tree peony was brought over. The first yellow hybrid tree peony was created in Europe by French peony breeders. The English also tinkered with peonies and introduced nearly 300 varieties by the turn of the 19th century.

The gardens of North America were introduced to the peony by the early pioneers who brought their treasured plants from Europe and Russia and staked claim to their settlement with a hole in the earth and a peony placed inside.

The peony

Peonies come in two varieties: the tree peony and the herbaceous peony. Tree peonies grow to eye level on woody stems with few branches. Tree peonies are not used as a cut flower. Their stems stay alive all winter and they tend to bloom before herbaceous peonies. Herbaceous peonies are more common in North America and do well in a variety of soil types and climates. They produce bushy stems that are green, pink or red and grow 2 to 4 feet high. The herbaceous peony's leaves range from broad to grass like and their flowers range in colors from white and creams to deep reds. The flowers are grouped into types depending on their shape: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double, bomb and double.

The peony is a perennial with a highly productive life of 25 years or more. Once a peony is planted it would ideally like to stay in that place for its lifetime. It is crucial to start the root of the peony in fertile soil, possibly with some organic matter. Peonies like to have good drainage and be in the sunlight. They prefer a spot that is somewhat protected from heavy winds and a place where they do not have to compete for root space.

RedEarly: Kansas; Raspberry Ice; Flame (single)Midseason: Felix Supreme; Howdy; Midnight Sun (Japanese)Late: Old Faithful; Philippe RivoirePinkEarly: Mister Ed; Coral Charm (semi-double); Edulis SuperbaMidseason: Angel Cheeks; Gay paree; Sea Shell (single)Late: Hermoine; James Pillow; Nick ShaylorWhiteEarly: Charlie's White; Festiva Maxima; Miss America (semi-double)Midseason: Bridal Shower; Gardenia; Marshmallow PuffLate: Elsa Sass; LullabySources: K-State Extension Office, and

Peonies should be planted between Sept. 1 and the time the ground freezes. It is best to water a peony at its roots rather than getting the leaves and blooms wet. The peony can withstand dryness without succumbing, but they do enjoy a reasonable amount of water, particularly when they are in bloom. Once a peony is planted it will take four to five years before a good harvest of blooms occurs. The first three years just snip the buds. By the fourth year, the peony will produce anywhere from 20 to 30 flower stems for cutting, and by the fifth year that peony should produce 36 to 50 flower stems. In the fall when the leaves have turned brown and faded, cut the peony as close to the ground as possible for it to overwinter. Peonies will not produce flowers unless they have the cold winter season.

Harvesting the blooms

Harvest in their bud stage. The green sepals should be separating, revealing the petal color.

Harvest when the buds feel like marshmallows when you squeeze them.

Pick during the cool part of the day and always leave a few leaves on the stem after cutting which will prevent putting the vegetative cycle at risk.

Strip leaves so they are not in the vase water and the blooms should last 5 to 10 days once the buds open.

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