Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions are answered as time allows

Cutting Peonies
Reduced Blooms
Blooms won't open
Planting Peonies
Peony Books
Peony Change Color
Removing Spent Blooms
No Blooms
Peony Reverted Back

Cutting Peonies for Later
Wed, 23 May 2001
Because of an approaching strong storm, I had to cut some peony buds off before they had opened.  Now that the buds are in a vase, how can I get them to open?

Also, I can't find my article that said after cutting peonies, put them in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for a while.  Do you know why the article said to do that?  Maybe to get rid of ants?

Thanks so much for your help.  I really appreciate it.  My peonies are from my husband's grandmother.  After 3 years from being transplanted, they finally bloomed this year!!

Thanks again,

Dear Deb;
Peonies cut in bud can be stored in the fridge for as long as a month and still open fully. It does take some trial and error type of practice. Cut in bud and placed in a vase, most buds (except for the smallest, tightest ones) will open eventually in a warm room.

You can store cut peonies in plastic bags in the vegetable area of a refrigerator. Recut stems and place in fresh water and you'll extend the bloom season.

Don't worry about the ants, they are just temporary and not a long term problem.

Most peonies take a minimum of 3 years to recover fully from moving. The biggest error in moving old peonies is failing to divide the plants down to just a few new stems.

Sounds like you're doing a good job with these beauties.
Jim W.

Reduced Blooms
Thu, 24 May 2001
I have two tree peonies ordered from a large well know reliable peony source. I planted them beside each other.  The first year after I planted them they both bloomed beautifully.  The next year the blooms on one were smaller than the previous year on that tree.  Now 3 years later it is not blooming at all.  It produces buds, but they never open.  The other bush is heading in the same direction. Each year its blooms are getting smaller, and less numerous.  I know in the South we have to be extremely cautious not to plant peonies too deep--in fact plant them at soil level.  What seems to be my problem?  Thanks for your help.
Dear KRB;
Without location info I am hard pressed. You said 'the south' - how far south? If much beyond Zone 7, your chances of success are reduced. Since you bought these from a large reliable nursery, I'd be inclined to suggest you call them for specific info about the exact cultivars you are growing. They stand by their plants and know how they do in many different climates.  Write again once you've spoken with these people and tell me more about where these are growing (What Zone and altitude), are they in full sun or shade, northside of the house, etc.
Best            Jim W.

Blooms Don't Open
I have had a glorious large, pink blooming peony for years.  About two years ago, some of the buds did not open. I asked a nursery and was told that the plant has thrips. I have used the spray they sold me, but this year, NONE of the large buds
opened fully. What should I do?
Thank you! JH
Dear JH;
Thrips are rarely a cause for bud failure. Other likely causes are botrytis, other fungus, frost damage, even root nematodes or potassium shortage.

Make sure your peonies are completely cleaned up in fall -remove all old foliage and stems, do not mulch. At first appearance of shoots spray with something recommended for botrytis (You garden center will recommend something). Repeat in 2, then 4 weeks. 

This August/Sept scratch a handful of 12-12-12 around each peony plant and water this well.

I assume plants a growing in full sun.
No guarantees.....      Jim W.

Planting Peonies
I just received a peony plant in a container 6" X 9" deep.  It is about 12" tall and has a few pink buds. I live in North-Eastern Ohio. Should I leave it in the container until fall or can I plant it now? My yard is mostly shady - do I need a sunny spot? What about the drainage, damp or dry soil area? Can I give it 10-10-10 fertilizer? Thank you  L&B
Dear L&B,
You obviously 'know' that peonies should be planted in the fall - it's a "no brainer". In spring, you have a pile of problems.  Here's what I suggest, but it is just for one plant. Select a 'final location' in full sun, good drainage and out of the wind. Dig a big hole and add compost a handful of 12-12-12 and a handful of bone meal, Mix this all in. Bury the pot and all so that soil level in the pot is equal to the new soil. Mix a tablespoon on 12-12-12 (or 10-10-10) into the top inch or so of soil in the pot. This will need less water than you think because the plastic pot will keep the soil moist.

In August-maybe even late July, pull the whole pot out of its prepared spot,  carefully tip the pot to remove the soil ball. By then the new roots will hold the soil together well. Try to not disturb the roots at all and lower this back into the hole. Scratch another handful of 10-10-10 around the new planting and water well.

OR wait until Sept/Oct. then dump out the pot and you can clean out old soil from the roots, divide the plant (if big enough) or untangle rots crammed into the pot. Cut the stem to 1 inch. You should be able to see the big pink 'eyes' which will be next year's stems. Plant the dormant plant and add the good fresh mixed soil as in the rest of the ground. It will actually be happier with this second method.
Good luck               Jim W.

Peony Books
 I am having trouble finding books only on Peonies.  I would apppreciate any help you can give me. 
Thank you , LL
Dear LL,
You are lucky because a number of excellent peony books have been published in the last few years and are at your public library. I suggest you buy the best one:

Peonies by Allan Rogers, Timber Press.
Check or other web sites for details. 

A few others include:
The Gardener's Guide to Growing Peonies by Martin Page
Peonies by Jane Fearnely-Whittingstall
The Peonies by J. Wister

And a number of recent magazine articles have appeared especially on the tree peonies.

Have fun reading.       Best            Jim W.

Peony Changed Color
Sun, 3 Jun 2001
Do peonies change color as the bush gets older? I have been told that they do. My mother has several peony bushes and she thought they were red when set out and now they are white. I told her that they were probably always white but she says they were not white when they first bloomed.
 Dear MLW;
 The simple answer is 'NO, peonies do not change color' - a red peony is always a red peony.
Memories are not accurate, but sometimes they appear to change colors because of interlopers. People do not realize it, but peonies make seeds. These seeds  usually fall down in the soil next to the parent plant. They are usually not even noticed, and may take 3 or more years to grow to flowering size. Since the seedlings foliage looks just like the parent, they are not noticed until they bloom.
Seedlings may be a different color from their parent so a 'red' peony can produce a seedling with white flowers. You may notice a variety of colors in old plantings all
originally one color.
So you just have to pay more attention to your plants. Look around the base of older peonies and you may see seedlings from this year with only one small leaf and year old plants will have a small stem or two, etc.
Good luck               Jim W.

Removing Spent Blooms
Tue, 05 Jun 2001
I have a large peony plant with large double flowers and was wondering if you are supposed to remove the spent blooms?
Dear Dan;
The process of removing spent flowers is called 'dead heading' and is mostly a matter of aesthetics. Do you find the dead flowers attractive? Some varieties quickly drop their flowers without human care, others hang on to old brown blobs 'forever' and seem really ugly especially if they turn brown, hang on and get a rain or two.

Some of the newer hybrids have this character of self-dead-heading built in and always drop spent flowers.

Of course if you have been hybridizing or just want to save the seed, do not remove dead flowers as this will also remove seeds. Some people want to prevent seeds so they quickly remove spent flowers.

So it is a matter of choice, looks and intentions. Most
people dead-head to one degree or another.

Best            Jim W.

No Blooms
Wed, 6 Jun 2001
I live in northeastern Ohio and transplanted both white and burgundy peony plants from one location to my garden about eight years ago.  Each year, the white ones bloom beautifully, but the burgundy ones do not. Their buds never seem to develop fully.  What can I do?
Dear PFB;
It may seem hard to believe this can even happen, but....

There are usually few reasons why peonies don't boom, but one of the most common is when peonies are planted too deeply. Ideally the buds should be no more than 2 inches below soil depth. Plant one any deeper and they won't bloom. Worse, they may take many years to move up to a shallower position - even if only another inch or two.

Of course this depends on the cultivar, soil conditions etc.

To correct this possible problem; wait until fall, then dig around the base and check out exactly how deep the new buds are growing. If the buds are more than 2 inches deep, dig the entire plant and re-set it more shallowly. This is also the best time to
divide the plant. It may take yet another year for the plant to recover fully but if dug this fall, expect flowers in 2003. Patience.

        Good luck               Jim W.

Peony Reverted Back
Thu, 7  Jun 2001
My tree peony Saidai ended up reverting totally back to herbaceous.
 Dear Cathy;
      Your tree peony didn't 'revert', but the nurse root has taken over. There's still hope as long as any of the tree peony still exists. Here's a repeat of an answer I provided on an earlier FAQ:

1. In the fall dig the entire plant. Locate the nurse root-usually thick and red-brown, the TP 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 in #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 (use a sharp knife).
    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 base of 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 CAEFUL 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. Cut the top growth of the tp to a few short stems.

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 until you can dig in the fall.

Best of luck and hope this helps.             Jim W.

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