Heartland Peony Society
Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions are answered as time allows

Ants on Peonies
Planting Peonies
Old Cultivars
Peonies in the South
Leaf Damage
Staking Peonies
 Dividing Peonies
Tree Peony Suckers

Ants on Peonies
I was visiting a friend today who has many varieties.  The buds were 
covered with ants.  She commented that she needed to spray them with an 
insecticide.  I thought I had read that ants were beneficial to the peonies. 
Is that correct and if so, just how do they help?
       Do not try to get rid of the ants on your peonies. This is a
natural and temporary activity. It is believed that peonies produce
small amounts of nectar and other ant attractants to encourage ants
to help in opening the dense double flower buds found in many
peonies. The ants may be found covering certain varieties and
avoiding others, this is totally normal.
      Once the buds have opened the ants will disappear - also normal.
      Some people think ants are REQUIRED to open the flowers, but
this does not to appear to be true.
      It seems a debatable question whether ants are beneficial or 
harmful. I think they are neutral.
      Should you spray a pesticide to get rid of the ants? That is 
a definite no. Since the ants are not harmful and some pesticide 
residues are harmful, why endanger yourself, the plants or the
peony's pollinator (good insects) with poisonous sprays?
Just don't spray.
       Instead just enjoy the unique interaction of ants and
peonies; an evolutionary effect thousands of years in the making and
posing no problems in the long run.

Planting Peonies
I have a favorite herbaceous peony that I wish to move. When should I move it?
The best and safest time to move your peony is in the fall.  The day before, give your peony a good soaking in order to make digging easier.  Be certain to dig well away from the crown of the plant & try to get as many roots as possible.  Once you have the plant from the ground, remove all the foliage & wash the root ball so the crown and roots are visible.  If your peony has been in the same location for several years, it maybe possible that you can divide to make more plants. Using a sharp knife, cut the plant into divisions with at least 5 eyes or buds each.  Now  you can re-plant the divisions in the locations of your choice and you can add fertilizer to the soil at this time.  Make certain that the eyes are no deeper than 2" below the soil level.  The plant also appreciates mulch during the first winter.  This lessens the chance of heaving which can damage the new plant.

Old Peony Cultivars
Thus far, I have only been able to find new hybrids for sale by
nurseries.  I am writing in the hope that you can give me advice as to
where the following older peonies might be available for home gardeners:

Madame Crousse (Calot, 1866)
Madame D. Treyeran (Dessert, 1889)
Mary Woodbury Shaylor (Shaylor, 1910)

Thank you.  Any advice you can give me as to likely sources will be
greatly appreciated. J. S.

Yours is an all too common complaint. New varieties constantly replace older varieties and older varieties fall by the wayside. Often this is because new varieties are improvements on old varieties and grow better, have bigger, better flowers or are easier and faster to propagate. Even so new varieties might lack the charm of smaller flowers, delicate growth and pastel flowers.
Some plant societies urge the conservation of older historic cultivars such as the 'Historic Iris Preservation Society' and others. I think it is time to start an 'Historic Peony Society' (another HPS !!) or as a committee of a larger peony organization to keep these older peonies from being lost totally.
Finding older cultivars can be difficult or nearly impossible. Allan Rogers in his recent book 'Peonies' (Timber Press, 1995) listed all the cultivars now listed in catalogs anywhere around the world. None of these you seek is listed. They may still be grown in private gardens, but it will take the cooperation of growers or members of this forum to lead you to these rarities.
Incidentally, the Heartland Peony Society has tried very hard to acquire 'lost' cultivars and we have offered a few rarities in our past sales such as 'Black Monarch', 'Madame Gaudicheau' and a few others.
Good luck on your quest.                Jim W.

Peonies in the South
I live in Portland, Oregon and am moving to Oceanside, Ca.  I have been told that my peony will not grow there.  Can you enlighten me on the subject?
Dear LDMR2;
        Living in Portland, Oregon you are in prime peony climate and can grow herbaceous and tree peonies to their best. Most of the herbaceous peonies need a long cold dormancy and will either do poorly or perish in a climate as warm as Oceanside in southern California. If you are growing standard garden herbaceous peonies, do not expect them to thrive or survive.
        There are alternatives and these depend on the exact local climate of your new location. Some people have success with tree peonies and others with herbaceous peony species from Mediterranean climates. I suggest you wait until you get to your new location and ask local gardeners and nurserymen for suggestions about which type do best for your area.
        Do not expect to grow the same peonies you are now growing.
Jim W.

Leaf Damage
The leaves on my peony are rolled, without any evidence of insects. I do not believe it is planted to deeply. The peonies are herbaceous. Zone 6 in Illinois. Weather has been dry, but for the past couple of weeks has been wet. Peonies were planted last year, had huge blooms about the size of a saucer. Thanks for any information.      Cin
Dear Cin;
        I suspect the problem may have been solved already. Sometimes any plant will respond oddly early in the season. If a plant emerges during a wet weather period the foliage may 'get used' to lots of moisture, then 'over react' to sudden dry conditions especially if hot sun and drying winds cause evaporation far faster than the new foliage was adjust to keep moist. The plants will eventually adjust and tolerate more season variation. Even a sudden one day extra hot, dry windy day can cause leaf curl and it may take a plant another couple of days to move enough water to even things out.
        If the plant has not already adjusted (and I assume you've give it some more water by now), the roots may have been disturbed during moving, insects or even mice and voles around the roots. Anything that might disrupt the movement of water from the soil through the stems to the leaves.
        Often new plants may sulk the second year after planting as it take them a while to adjust to new locations. Make sure they are in full sun and give them a light complete fertilizing a couple of times a year, spring and fall.
        Good luck and enjoy your peonies.    Jim W.

Staking Peonies
When staking peonies, how high up the stem should the twine come?  Should the plant be made to stand up straight or should it be allowed to drape over the twine?   DK
Dear DK,
        Although you didn't say what kind of peonies you are growing I assume you refer to herbaceous peonies with large double flowers.
        Staking is most often required on these kinds.
        Some suggestions: 
        1) Staking is only needed if it bothers you; many people don't.
        2) Instead purchase or make a wire peony cage that will support the entire plant.
        3) I do not recommend string or twine as the heavy blooms will cut into stem and damage the plant.
        4) Newer hybrids often have sturdier stems and a single flower per stem making staking un-needed.
        5) Many gardeners grow varieties with Single, Japanese or Semi-double flowers which rarely need staking like the older too heavy ' double flowers.
        So the actual answer is: Whatever you find pleasing, but don't use twine. Also, try some other varieties with sturdier stems or less heavy double flowers.
        Best            Jim W.

Dividing Peonies
When I moved to my home there was a large peony bush snuggling the side of my house.  In the fall of 1997, I dug up the bush, divided it into seven sections and planted them in the yard.  I made large holes and covered the roots with some new soil and added Miracle Grow.  Five of the seven little
bushes have only grown only to maybe a foot tall. I have also noticed that 
in the Spring, some of the leaves turn blackish brown and die off.  The other 
two I won't even mention.  Why is it taking so long for the bushes to grow up and produce flowers?  I do put a little fertilizer on them in the Spring but it surely does not make them grow any faster.
Dear Dec,
        Thanks for the questions but there are lots of possibilities here. 
        You did the right thing dividing the plant in the fall, but only seven divisions from a large plant  might not have been so good. Surprisingly, peonies seem to do best if divided into smaller pieces to encourage stronger growth- commercial growers reduce divisions to 3 to 5 'eyes' (large pink buds), but home gardeners might want to get just slightly larger or place two small divisions in the same hole a few inches apart. A large plant should produce 2 or 3 times as many good healthy divisions.
        New plants should go into well prepared holes- lots of soil enriched with compost, composted manure, fertilizer and organic matter. New plants should go into full sun avoiding shade as much as possible and most important, the crown of the plant and those pink buds should be no more than 2 inches deep. I usually plant the buds at ground level and mound a little dirt over them.
       Fertilizing does help, but only if the plants are growing well to begin with and many people suggest fall fertilizing is also good.
        It sounds like the plants were planted too deeply. If this is their first year in the ground, it is possible that the survivors will make new buds this fall at a slightly higher level. I suggest that in early fall you dig around the crown very carefully- use a small tool or your fingers and see how deeply they are planted.  If the buds are more than 2 inches deep carefully pull soil away until they are nearly exposed and then just sprinkle soil over to barely cover. Add a thin layer of dry leaves to protect them the first winter.
         Be sure to remove all old stems and foliage as these may carry botrytis. This fungus disease may be the cause of blackish dying leaves, but the stress of moving may have added to the problems. First get the plants at the right level then treat the next problem. It may take large divisions planted deeply a couple years to readjust and grow well.
        Best of luck            Jim W.

Tree Peony Suckers
I have a tree peony that is doing very well but I noticed many smaller shoots coming off of the base. They do not look like the stems of the tree peony but of regular peonies and when they flowered last year the flowers were much smaller. Are these separate plants and should they be dug up and planted independently? Will they hurt the original plant if left where they are? 
Thank you for your help. M.S.
Dear MS,
        This is very common and potentially dangerous for your tree peony.  Most tree peonies are sold as a graft on the root of an herbaceous peony. This is called a nurse root and should just keep the tree peony going until the TP has its own roots and is healthy, sometimes these nurse roots begin to grow and can take over a tree peony.

        1.)Here's what to do if the graft is below the ground and that the tree peony has its own roots. You can only tell this by digging up the whole plant in the fall (after August in most locations). Locate the nurse root-usually thick and red-brown, the tree peony roots will be white and thinner. Often the graft is marked by a major swelling in the nurse root.

        2.) If the TP has good roots of its own proceed on to #3. If you see no TP roots and the graft was not planted deeply enough do the following:
        a: remove all the nurse root suckers close to the nurse root.
        b: cut the nurse root by a third or so
        c: plant it deeper with the graft union much deeper-at least 3 or 4 inches of the tp below soil level. You can also make a slight scratch in the tp and dust with a rooting hormone.
        d: wait a year or two and follow #3 below

        3.) If the TP has good roots - at least 2 or 3 roots 6 to 8 inches long, you should locate the graft union and remove ALL of the nurse roots. Usually the nurse roots are fairly fleshy, while the base of the TP will be woody. Keep cutting the nurse root back until you feel the resistance of the TP. BE VERY CAREFUL that you do not remove the TP roots.

        Replant so that the TP roots are about 3-4 inches lower than before.  Fertilize with 10-10-10 and keep well watered.

        This will remove all the nurse root suckers and allow the TP to grow faster and stronger on its own roots.

        DO NOT try this in the spring as it will surely kill the plant, but cut off all herbaceous peony suckers and keep well fertilized and watered.

                Best of luck             Jim W.

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