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Peony Health
Planting - Fall Care
Cultivar Descriptions
Dead Heading
Peonies for the South
Moving Peonies

Peony Health
My peonies look healthy in the spring and their bloom is good.  Later in the
summer, the leaves get dark brown patches about 2 " across.
I live in Indiana.
Thanks JT.
Dear JT;
        Peonies always look good in the spring - gorgeous.
        Many peonies and especially some of the hybrids just get 'tired' by summer and fall. Dried foliage and discoloration are very common. Some of the hybrids are completely dormant by August. Summer sun, drying winds, heat and water stress all 'pile up'.

        Don't worry, it is just typical and will not effect flowering next spring. If they are kept well watered, fertilized and protected from stress even the most susceptible will look good longer in the season and the very best of them will look as good in October as they did in May.

        Gardeners want peonies that look good all season, not just pretty flowers in May. Now is a good time to look around and find varieties that have nice foliage and select those for locations where a brown plant is unsightly.

        Don't worry, be happy - as they say.            Jim W.

I live in central Indiana and planted two small peonies.  They take a beating
between the wind and rain and recently have developed brown spots on the
leaves and the larger plant seems to be dying.  Is this Botrytis blight?  How can I be sure?  is copper sulfate needed? 
Thank you for your help. TB
Dear TB;
        Botrytis is usually encountered when peonies are first emerging from the ground-especially in conditions when there is high humidity and any damage to the plant to allow the fungus to enter.  Your situation sure suggests botrytis. Fortunately it is easy to care for. The old methods call for using 'Bordeaux Mix' - available at most garden centers. The newer systemic fungicides also do a good job.
        Trouble is once the symptoms appear, it is almost too late to treat -this year. Fortunately botrytis rarely kills a plant at its first appearance. The best cure is prevention.

        1. Keep the peony bed clean. Botrytis over-winters on old peony foliage-remove all brown foliage in fall and dispose of-do not add to your compost pile especially if you use this compost on your peonies!!!

        2. Provide good sun and air movement in your peonies. This means lower humidity and less favorable conditions for the fungus

        3. Treat newly emerging foliage in spring at or BEFORE they emerge but check instruction on the 'Bordeaux' Mix packaging. Generally new plants need 2 treatments at a specified interval.

        4. Once you have a serious botrytis attack in your garden it may take a few years to be sure you have removed the fungus. Keep on treating a year or two after the last signs appeared as the fungus spores may linger unseen.

       Good luck               Jim W.

Planting, Shade, Desease, Fall Care
I live on an old farm in CT. When we came there was a dump in back of the house. We got rid of the tires and the rest of the junk and underneath were a row of peonies. That was about 12 years ago. The plants are very large and the flowers are white with shell pink "skirts." I think they are called sweet sixteen. That's the good news.

They've never been divided. They have bad botrytis. I just cut some of them down to the ground and bagged the leaves and stems, didn't compost. I
cleaned up any bits of the plants I could find. Now I'm worried that the roots needed the leaves to produce for next year. I still have lots more plants. Should I cut them down and discard the infected leaves? Or leave them and cut them in winter? And should we divide them? I never wanted to use any     pesticides.

We've added to our peony collection. My husband has a gift for knowing     exactly the depth they like and they are beautiful. And now we have even more.

A few months ago a friend offered us as many peonies as we could dig from her corral. She was worried that her horses would eat them and get sick. So we dug about 30, all lipstick pink, not my favorite color, but the price was right. I know it was the wrong time of year but she wanted them out. They were lining a stockage fence and had migrated inside the fence into the horses' domain.

We have a couple of dark red and a shell pink plants that I love but they are in too much shade and I know they should come out.

We need a peony doctor to perform some miracles around here. Any  suggestions?

Thank you very much for answering my call for help.

Dear NP;
Sorry to be so slow, but hope I can help with your multi-part problems. whew!

(1) "Free" peonies dug at 'the wrong time'. This is very iffy. If dug too early, peonies struggle or just die. They'll need a lot of help the first year with extra watering and regular fertilizing, then stand back and judge them their second spring to see what comes up and how strong.  Expect some losses. Since this depends on variety and all these are the same you might loose them all or save them all.

(2) Peonies in Shade will not do well. Dig them now(Fall) and plant in full sun. You can cut off all foliage now and it won't hurt.

(3) Botrytis- This can be terrible in certain parts of the country especially if  you have long damp cool springs. Therer are many standard treatments with use of 'Bordeuax Mix' the easiest and surest. This chemical is available at all garden centers. Follow directions for mixing and spray two or 3 times as suggested. With Peonies it is best to treat as soon as the red buds start to
show up and again 10 days to 2 weeks later. If it is really bad repeat in another 10 days to 2 weeks and depending on how long it takes for all the buds and foliage to emerge from the ground.

(4) Fall Care. Peonies can have all their foliage cut back in early fall without much damage, but the earlier you do this the more you drain the plants. Now is the time to dig and divide, but be forewarned, digging and dividing a big old plant is hard work. Try digging the entire plant in one clump, then carefully with a fingers, small tools and water pressure divide the large 'crown'
into smaller divisions with 3 to 5 large pink buds-they should be clearly visible. Do not make large divisions with 6 or 10 buds, make small divisions.
Plant new divisions with buds about an inch deep (to their tops) in rich soil, in full sun. They'll take 2 or 3 years to be almost as big as 'mom' except you'll get dozens from each large plant you divide. Give extras to friends and share the wealth.

Clean up and remove all old foliage, stems and debris. Avoid mulch.

Hope this gives you a start. Don't be discouraged but start one project at a time. Now is the season to dig, divide, replant and BUY NEW PEONIES-lots of them. You can do this right up through the first few frosts.

Good luck and enjoy Jim W.

Cultivar Descriptions
I've just recently registered as a HPS new member and started collecting peonies, of all kinds and now have, without realizing the number, 170 peonies. I've been trying to find some specific information on the last few.
(Following a list of culitvars asking for bloom season, height, etc).
Dear C;
        You have found that peonies can be very addictive. Once exposed to the range of forms, colors, seasons and other variables, gardeners often get slightly  wild about acquiring a wide range of peonies. The second stage is finding out more details about their new plants. This is all very natural and unfortunately not nearly as easy as it should be. There is no single source for all this diverse information. Instead let me suggest a mini-bibliography of sources of peony names. All are incomplete.

        The American Peony Society has published three official Registration Books. These should list all registered peonies giving a brief descriptions of form, size, color, bloom season etc. These books are available directly from the APS only. Unfortunately they are not complete or consistent.

        "Peonies' by Al Rogers has a list of peonies in commerce which includes both registered and unregistered cultivars (there are quite a few peonies in the nursery trade that have never been registered). If you have recently purchased a new plant, it should be in this book.

        "The Gardener's Guide to Growing Peonies by Martin Page has a similar, but shorter list. Emphasis is on more significant cultivars with longer descriptions.

        'Peonies ' by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall has yet another list, which has more emphasis on older and historical cultivars. These are more modern descriptions including some older varieties and very informative.

        'The Peonies' Ed. by John Wister is a reprint publication by the American Peony Society (from the American Horticultural Society) that is very informative in giving brief descriptions of many cultivars and often some interesting background on significant hybrids.

        Finally, the most obvious and slowest way: if you have recently purchased a new peony and it isn't listed in any of the above sources, go back to your source and ask the nursery for more information. A good, reliable nursery owner should be able to provide basic information such as you request, even  for unregistered and newer peonies.

        This has gone on a bit long, but it only emphasize the lack of a single authoritative source for peony information. The Heartland Peony Society has been adding more and more information in various areas of this website.   You might try for a database of descriptions of peony cultivars.   For this list to be most useful, it needs you to add your information and make it more complete. The HPS web site relies on its members to share information with each other. The more each one puts
in,  the more everyone gets out.

        Thanks for the question and hope this guides you to a few specific answers.
                        Best            Jim W.

I have collected seeds from some old variety peonies in a churchyard.  Can these be grown ? If so, are there special conditions or treatments required for germination? I'm just curious to see what would happen.
Thank you. RN
Dear RN;
        Contrary to a lot of info you might hear about this topic, peonies really are fairly easy from seed if you are patient.
        The easiest and fastest way is to plant the seed AS SOON as it is ripe-that is as soon as the seeds are dark brown or black and still in the pod. Plant them in the garden or in pots about 1 inch deep in good rich soil. Make sure that they are watered and kept at warm (outside) temps. Then keep seeds cold over winter (easy if they are outside). They should germinate in spring with a single leaf - or 2 or 3 if you are lucky. They are quite small. Be sure to keep them well watered and fed the first year and mark them  carefully.
        The second spring you'll get a nice stem and a typical-small peony plant. They'll take 3 to 4 years to bloom if they are growing happily.
        Problems; If the seed is allowed to dry out it can become quite dormant. Without enough of a warm moist period, the seeds will not sprout after their first winter and may sit in the ground all year until the next summer, then germinate the year after.
        Germination has two distinct phases and a warm moist period must be there and long enough for the first phase of germination, but seeds can sit in the ground until the conditions are right. Some very dormant seed may take 2 or 3 years to germinate-especially if they are stored dry and or cool.
        So plant them right away in a warm sunny spot and hope for germination next spring.
        Good Luck               Jim W.

I would like to know if after your peonies have bloomed in the spring, it is ok to prune the spend flower buds to promote new growth or should they simply be left alone?
Dear JJW;
        There are a couple reasons to remove the old flower heads after they have bloomed.
        1. Some varieties do not drop their old flowers very well, but remain hanging and rather ugly. Remove the the whole flower stem for appearance. To do this use a small sharp scissors and cut the stem below the flower all the way down to just above the top leaf. This keeps them looking good.

        2. Some peonies will produce a lot of seed and can self sow around the plant. Seedlings will probably not look like their parents, but may grow faster and kill off the better special named hybrid parent you bought. Removing the flowers simply prevents seed production. Clip as above.

        3. Even after you have clipped the flowers, the plant may still not look right. Peonies should not be pruned like typical perennials or shrubs as once the stems have been cut they will rarely produce new foliage and continue growing. Stems or foliage may be cut and trimmed to give the whole plant a more pleasant or balanced appearance.

        4. Of course many people never clean up, prune, or shape their peonies and they still do well. It is all a matter of taste.

       Good luck               Jim W.

Is it true about peonies and ants?  I am totally uneducated about this subject.
        Peonies and ants: Talk about 'Old Wives Tales' ! Peonies in  general do NOT attract ants, but some peony flower buds do. There are both scents and tastes associated with the flower buds of some varieties that attract ants, but we are not totally sure why this is so. Some theories are that the large flowers of peonies can open more easily with the help of ants, but ant-less peonies seem to open just as well.
        Some think ants fertilize the flowers, but they are not the prime pollinators.
        In any case ants just seem to be common with peonies because that's when most people are looking at their plants closely at bloom time: 99% of the growing season peonies are ant-free. 
        Growing peonies will start NOT an ant infestation. If you don't like ants on your peonies for the month they are in bloom,  spray them with an insecticide, but it is hardly worth the trouble and the ants do no harm. It is also an opportunity for you to tell your less knowledgeable neighbors that the ants are 'just visiting', and don't belive all they are told.

Peonies for the South
My husband and I are buying a home in Zone 9 in Florida.  This house comes with 1.3 acres of garden areas.  Since both of us originated from childhood homes in  zone 5, we both love the peonies of our grandmother's yards. Are there any  varieties of these plants that are able to adapt themselves to Zone 9?  Please let us know what may be available.
Thank you so much,   R & SJ

Is it possible to grow a peony tree in northern Florida.  Our winters may or may not be cold.  We usually have one or two freezes per winter.  I love the Peony and would love to try to grow a Peony Tree in my yard.  Any suggestions?  I would appreciate any help that you can give me on the basic growing climates and needs of this beautiful flower. 
Thanks J.

Dear J and R&SJ,
        Peonies in general are plants of temperate and northern climates. Some varieties thrive even in chilly areas of Zone 3 and 4 well into Canada. They are usually considered common plants of middle latitudes such as Chicago, New York etc. The further south you go, the fewer varieties you can grow. So the short answer is NO you can't grow peonies in Florida, but there's more.
        The common herbaceous peonies can be grown at least to Zone 7 and maybe somewhat further south depending on micro-climate. Further south these will not get enough winter chill to produce new buds and they'll decline.
        Tree peonies-more accurately shrub peonies do grow much further south.  some varieties are perfectly happy in almost frost free zones, but do better where winter frosts occur. These are easy to grow and beautiful with large flowers in a variety of colors and forms. Most people are not fully aware of their beauty or availability. In your specific climate they may do just fine ....or not.
        First do you see any peonies growing in your area when you drive around during bloom season? If you do the answer is definitely 'YES", if you don't see any, the answer may not be "NO".
        Instead, I suggest you inquire of gardening friends "Does anyone around here grow tree peonies?. If no one knows, go to your local agriculture dept. or extension agent and ask again. If you still do not get a definitive 'NO!", call one of the larger  mail order dealers of tree peonies such as Brothers Herbs and Peonies or Reath's Nursery and ask if they have customers in your area that you could talk to about growing tree peonies or which exact variety they
might recommend for your exact climate.
        So the specific answer is "Probably not, but you may find a few varieties of tree peonies suited to your exact climate. Try a few and see what works."
        Good luck. Jim W.

Moving Peonies
I am buying a new house that will not be ready until June 2001.  I would like to take the seven peony plants with me (from my old house.)   Would they
survive if I dug them up, cleaned them off, put them in a bag with peat
moss and put the bag in a refrigerator?  I would be digging them up now- in December.  The ground has not yet frozen solid.  I live in Reno, NV.  Thank you so much for your help. 
Dear MLN;
        Lucky you. This is perfect timing.
        As long as the soil is not frozen and the plants are (surely) dormant, dig them now.
        Be careful that you don't cut off too many roots. You can shake off all the soil-even hose off the soil. Purchase some peat moss- the kind that is called milled and looks like dry brown soil. It should be dry-add no water-the roots will have enough moisture. Place one or two roots with ample peat moss to fill a one or two
gallon capacity plastic bag- this takes a lot of peat. Close by twisting gently and using a wire twist tie: this allows a little air to enter. If the plants are labelled keep them together as it is easy to mix up names and colors.
        Store the bags in a cool dry place- above freezing, but below
45 degrees. They may be kept like this until at least March or April,
but as it gets close to the end of this period , you might check to
see how they are doing. If they have started to grow, they should be
planted in the ground or a large pot of good soil.

        They will get their needed winter chill in these conditions
and can be planted in early spring- March. If you still haven't moved
or are not ready, plant them in large pots and allow them to produce
their full growth in pots for fall planting. Do not move them or
replant them after April or May as this may kill them or set back
their growth.
        Properly stored and planted -even if potted first and planted
in the ground in the fall; they should have no problem and do just
        Good luck.              Jim

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