Frequently Asked Questions

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Ants on Peonies
Peonies in the South
Yellowing Plants
Peonies won't open
Cutting Peonies
Peony Development

Ants on Peonies
Yesterday 6/3/2000 I went to the local nursery in Western New York and found a beautiful shrub called a Peony.  It would look great in the landscape in front of our home, amongst the yew's and the juniper plants. Well, after paying for it, and walking back to my car, the salesman said, "you know those do attract ants".  My in-laws have said the same since we brought it home.  'You'll get ants".  So, please let me know if I should be afraid of planting a Peony in a very nice landscaped bed, covered with dark mulch, in front of my home.  Will ants be a big problem, how big can this "shrub-like" Peony get?
We have a beautiful, professionally landscaped front bed.  About 15
different shrubs and trees, but we needed some color, so I took a chance
on the Peony.  Might I be better off placing it on it's own further away
from the house? Thank you for any comments you can share on what appears to be a very pretty flowering shrub.
Dear TAT;
        I am glad you did not 'fall' for this 'old wives' tale' about an ant invasion, but first some info:
        The peony you bought is probably not a shrub, but an herbaceous perennial that will die to the ground each winter and grow back to full height each spring.  There are a few true shrub peonies, but these would be more obvious with woody stems and branches.
        I'd guess you bought an herbaceous peony with large double flowers. These flower buds can get to the size of a gold ball and the buds naturally exude a sweet nectar like substance that does attract ants. The ants help the buds to open fully. These few ants are very obvious on the unopened buds, but they are the same few ants that are already in your garden and not new armies of ants attracted from afar. I assume the existing garden ants are no big deal; when the  peonies have bloomed the ants will be no more and no less than those now in your garden. They are just more obvious on buds.
        Most peonies get about 30 - 36 inches tall and equally wide. They are best planted in fall. Plant in full sun. 
        Good luck               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? 
Thank You LDMR2
Dear LDMR2;
        Living in Portland,OR 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 season and will either do poorly or perish in a climate as warm as Oceanside in southern CA. 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 the same peonies you are now growing.
                Good luck               Jim W.

Yellowing Peony Plants
My grandmother lives in the southeastern corner of Wyoming on a farm. Some of her favorite plants in her flower garden are her peonies. She has a problem though. The plants are yellowing. She said they are in bloom now. The are out in the open (not in a corner or up against a fence) and in full sun. If there is any information you could give me to pass on I would appreciate it.
Thank you very much!

Dear MLB;
        This is a hard one to tell. Normally peonies are pretty drought tolerant  as this might be a cause for yellowing foliage. If she is in a rural area it might be that some creature has dug under the peony and damaged or exposed the roots to allow the leaves to yellow. Check to see if there are mice,  voles-maybe even a prairie dog ???
        Of course they may also need fertilizing. Many people think peonies never need fertilizing and that can be true, but all peonies do better in fertile soils. Some mineral deficiencies can cause yellowing too.
        So here's three things: 1) check to see if the roots have been disturbed in some way. 2) Give the plants water -specially if it has been dry. 3) fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer like 12-12-12 and including trace minerals (might be an iron deficiency although this is very unlikely).
        I hope this helps, but I wonder if there might not be some other factors involved.
        Best of luck and enjoy your peonies.            Jim W

Peony buds don't open
I have a peony that I transplanted from my mother's garden to mine. It's been
there for three years. Each spring it looks very healthy, but the buds do not
open.  The buds look healthy. The plant gets sun all day long, and it's in a
bed with roses and other plants. Every thing else is healthy and thriving in
that bed. What's going on?
Dear peony grower;
        I think this is an easy question. One of the commonest errors in planting, transplanting, moving or dividing peonies is planting the crowns too deeply. Buds of most lactiflora peonies should never be planted more than 2 inches deep. In practice, I prefer to plant them so that the buds are just at the surface of the soil and then mound a small amount of soil over the crown.
        If planted too deeply the buds may still emerge and grow foliage, but may not bloom. Some peonies will take years to settle in and grow up to the right level. Here's two solutions: 
        1. Wait. In a year or two the buds may have grown up to the right depth and will bloom and get better each year after.
        2. This fall, after the first frost dig around the base of the plant and try to locate the bright pink 'eye' or dormant buds. If they are deeper than advised, I suggest you dig out a shallow, but wide depression to allow the buds to be situated at a shallower level. If they are really deep, you may want to dig up the whole plant and re-set it at a shallower depth.
        Good luck with this plant and enjoy your peonies.               Jim W.

Cutting Peony Flowers
I have a beautiful peony plant in my yard.  I am located in Massachusetts.  This plant is almost in full bloom.  Big white beautiful flowers and they smell wonderful.
My question??   I would like to cut some of the flowers off and place in the house, but I am not sure if I can do this and if so, where do I place the cut in the plant??
Thanks BG.
Dear BG;
        Aren't peonies wonderful? Seems like you are enjoying yours to the 'max'.  Peonies are the prime cut flower for most gardeners. 

Here's a few guidelines.
        1. When cutting use a clean sharp hand pruner and wipe off the blade with a clean cloth when going from plant to plant to reduce risk of passing any bacteria, viruses etc.
        2.Leave either fifteen inches of lower stem attached to the plant or no less than four leaves on the lower stem. This varies from one variety to the next. Removing more stem may weaken the plant. 
       3. Do no cut more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the total blooming stems as this may weaken the plant.
        4. Try to cut the stems in bud before they have opened fully. Peonies open better indoors in even light and will not fade or spot as they might outdoors.
        5. Peonies can be cut in even tight bud (and it takes some trial and error here), then wrapped and kept in a fridge for up to a month, then brought out and they'll open just fine. This allows you to cut stems when they are abundant and enjoy the flowers indoors long after the plants outside are done blooming.

        There's quite a bit of trial and error, but if you cut buds early, chill some and allow others to open indoors and on your plants, you'll have a long season of bloom indoors and out.

        Enjoy your peonies and be sure to cut the best smelling ones for indoor arrangements.
        Jim W.

Planting Peonies
Hello I just found you're site on the web and I was thrilled. I love peonies and have always wanted to grow them.  Unfortunatley I am just starting out in gardening and I am not sure how to go about planting the peonies I just purchased.  These plants are just the roots and it says they should only be planted 2" deep, is this correct?  Also I was not able to access any of the info on your web site? Do I have to be a member to open the web page? If so I will be happy to join, in the meantime any information you can give me to help would be very much appreciated!!  One last question, what is the crown?  I read about that in the FAQ section (the only area I could access) and it confused me because it sounded as if they were talking about the base of the plant but crown makes me think of the top of the plant.  I'm not usually so dull-witted but I really want to have beautiful and healthy plants and like I said earlier this is my first attempt at gardening and I've never been considered a "green thumb".
Thankyou, KL.
Dear KL;
        This is a whole set of beginner questions. I suggest you read
a good book like 'Peonies' by Al Rogers (Timber Press) which will be
available at most libraries even if on inter-library loan. Anyway
here's a few starting points:

        Peonies should only be planted in the fall as 'bare roots';  these consist of a couple of large thick roots with some pink buds. Older plants will develop a 'crown' composed of all the current and old bud materials-sort of between the buds and the roots.
        If you plant peonies in spring and summer they are less likely to succeed or may take much longer to settle down.  A typical purchased peony 'root' consist of 3 to five large pink buds and 1 to 3 thick roots up to about 6 inches long.
        They must always be planted shallowly-that is the buds should not be more than 2 inches below soil level. What I do is plant them so that the tips of the buds are 'just showing' at soil level. It soil washes away I can always scrape a bit more soil on top or even scrape a bit more the first winter. If they are planted too deep they may not bloom.
        I plant the roots in fall from Mid-Sept to late Oct and they do fine. They are just going dormant then, but the still warm soil allows some new root growth before cold temperatures.
                Enjoy your peonies              Jim W.

Mulch, Fertilizer, Deadheading, Pruning
 Would it be possible to add some top soil and pine bark mulch around the plants to control the weed problem or would this harm the peonies.
Also, what type of fertilizer would you recommend and when should the plants be fertilized.  Do plants need to have spent blooms removed and do they need to be trimmed back in the winter?
Make sure the buds are never more than an inch or two from
the soil surface. NEVER. Add rich garden soils as needed. You can
mulch to keep down weeds, but keep the mulch off the stem bases and
do not cover buds.
 Some people NEVER fertilize their peonies, but I'd recommend
a modest application of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 or similar in spring and
again in fall. Do not let it touch the stems and if possible scratch
it into the soil. A liquid fertilizer may be used instead.
 Do plants need to have spent blooms removed and do they need to be trimmed back in the winter?
Spent blooms usually fall, but it depends on how neat you need your garden to look. Some people go out and 'dead-head' each day. If you want to grow seeds, you must keep the old heads of course. As a general rule, when the frost has browned all the foliage, cut herbaceous peonies to the ground removing all stems and foliage completely. Be sure to remove this cut foliage from the peony area-it can be composted, burned or thrown out. In some areas old peony foliage can harbor diseases.
Good luck and please read up on basic peony cultivation the
'Peonies' by Alan Rogers (Timber Press)available at most libraries.
                Best            Jim W.

Typical Development, Deadheading
I have one peony plant (herbaceous) which I planted in the Spring of 1999. It didn't bloom last year, but this year I have six  beautiful flowers.  Are six  flowers per plant fairly normal?  Should I have more?   If so, what should I be doing to have more flowers?  Does "deadheading" the flowers encourage new flowers or new growth?
Thanks,  PG  Arlington, Washington
Dear PG;
        Every peony variety is different. Some are more vigorous and have more flowers than others.  Newly planted peonies may not bloom at all for a year and sometimes two, but usually increase each year.  I'd say your experience is fairly normal.
        More flowers are encouraged by regular fertilizing and weed removal. I suggest you read 'Peonies' by Alan Rogers available in most libraries.
        Deadheading is mostly for looks and to prevent seed production. If your variety has lots of buds per stem, prompt removal of early flowers will send more energy to later buds and might get you a one or two more and larger flowers. Usually it has little effect on growth.
Jim W.

I have some peonies planted and they are not growing so how deep should I plant them.
Thanks ENL.
Dear ENL;
        You didn't give me much detail.
        First peonies should be planted in late summer to fall (Sept
or Oct) for best results.
        They should be in full sun or have very light shade. This
depends in part on what part of the country you live in.
        One of the prime reason peonies fail is because they are
planted too deeply. The large pink buds should be LESS than 2 inches
below the surface. I plant them at ground level and heap a thin layer
of soil over them as needed.
        Peonies demand good watering-especially the first year in the
ground, fertilizer and good cultivation.
        Although this may all sound complex, peonies are generally
very trouble free, fool-proof and easy. I might be able to tell you
some details of why your plants seem to have failed if I knew more
about how and where they were planted.
        Good Luck               Jim W.
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