Peonies really are a must have perennial garden plant. The enormous and gorgeous blooms are a real sight when in flower and they are so versatile that they can be grown almost anywhere.
The beloved Peony has been around for years of course, but their relevance and place within any modern garden is never in question. Grown for their giant majestic flowers, they look amazing as part of a late spring or early summer border and are accommodating enough to compliment various other perennial plants such as Heleniums, Lupins, Digitalis, Salvia and Poppies.
The staying power of these perennials is amazing and can offer endless pleasure for many years after planting (with stories of lasting over 40 years in parts of America).
We are now entering late autumn and the weather is a little cold outside but no frosts have arrived yet in what we all must agree has been a relatively mild autumn this year. Temperatures are still in double figures in some parts of the country and conditions are perfect for planting Peonies. In fact autumn and spring are ideal times for planting, in preparation of a great show in late spring and throughout the summer months. Loose rooted plants are great for planting now and with three or four growth buds you normally find they are more reliable and establish quicker than pot grown Peonies.
Planting Peonies from loose bare roots is quite an easy task and is suitable for gardeners of all skill levels, and is actually a great introducing to growing perennials for a beginner. They will tolerate neutral to slightly acidic soil, provided good drainage is present and the soil is well drained. It is often best to start them in autumn in pots, then transplant into their final position in the border once they have been established in late winter or early spring.
- Unpack the rooted plants on arrival and prepare the soil by adding some organic matter. Alternatively you can use multi-purpose compost (such as John Innes) which will have an added feed that will be beneficial to encouraging the foliage to grow quicker.
- Add a couple of crocs to the bottom of the pot. This will allow the moisture to drain away regularly during the growing period.
- Add compost or soil to approximately one third the height of the pot. Place the roots with the buds facing upwards.
- Mix some fish and bone meal with the remaining compost and fill firmly around the roots, right up to top of the pot. The fish and bone meal will act as a feed, encouraging vibrant and healthy foliage.
- As the roots supplied are hardy field grown, the pots should be moved outside and not kept indoors or in a warm greenhouse. They are used to the cold weather so will easily survive outdoors
- Plant outdoors in sheltered areas as they don’t like windy locations too much, although choose sunny location if possible. Choose a place where you know you are unlikely to move them again such as near larger shrubs, trees or a fence.
Top Tip : Peonies hate being disturbed! To avoid this make sure that once the foliage is well establish and ready to plant outdoors into their final location, gently remove the entire contents of the pot and replant into a hole the same depth of the pot (replant all in one go, no division of roots from soil). This essentially tricks the plants into thinking they haven’t been disturbed and won’t result in a slowdown of growth.
Peonies are relatively easy to care for and provided you don’t move them too much you will find they offer little problems. Because of the large sized heads they produce, you may find that you will need to offer the plants some support and staking the stems can be beneficial. Water lightly on a regularly basis during the early periods but they are drought resistant once established, provided the soil is getting enough moisture.
You can provide a liquid feed in spring to encourage more vibrant and colourful flowers, however provided the soil is relatively fertile, this doesn’t need to be more than once or twice a season. Once flowers begin to fade you can deadhead blooms and cut back to a strong leaf and at the end of the flowering season it’s probably best to cut right back to ground level after flowering has finished. This will help to avoid any overwintering diseases that may occur, while also looking neater and tidier on the whole.
You can apply a light winter mulch in the first year if very cold frosts exist to avoid the new roots from heaving out of the soil during frozen periods. The roots are field grown and very hardy so a mulch is not a requirement but can be extra protection if you feel it is needed. After the plant has become fully establish and survived a full calendar period, then there is no need to mulch at all.