Paeonia officinalis is a European peony, the first to bloom in late spring. The flowers are double pompons up to 4 inches across. The foliage remains attractive until fall, disappearing underground entirely for the winter. Many cultivars are available. Peonies are herbaceous perennials arising from thickened tuberous roots. Largely invisible, hidden underground most of the year, they are quite spectacular when they emerge. In spring, purple divided leaves push through the soil, rapidly unfurling and turning green. The fine foliage is attractive in its own right, the flowers are very showy, coming in three types: single or semi-double, Japanese, with one row of petals and a large center, and highly ruffled double forms. The colors generally range from white, light pink to magenta and red. Plant peony tubers in the fall, 1 to 2 inches deep, in well prepared garden beds, with organic matter worked in. They respond well to a yearly fertilization, and addition of bonemeal. It is best to leave them undisturbed, dividing them infrequently. Botyritus can be a problem during humid spells. Peonies are one of the longest living hebaceous perennials often found in older gardens, for once established they will survive neglect. One hundred year old peonies are not uncommon.
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Size: Height: 2 ft. to 2.33 ft.
Width: 2 ft. to 2.33 ft.
Plant Category: perennials,
Foliage Characteristics: medium leaves,
Flower Characteristics: showy, single,
Flower Color: burgundy, creams, pinks, purples, reds, whites,
Bloomtime Range: Late Spring to Early Summer
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9
AHS Heat Zone: Not defined for this plant
Light Range: Part Sun to Full Sun
pH Range: 4.5 to 7.5
Soil Range: Sandy Loam to Some Clay
Water Range: Normal to Moist
FertilizingHow-to : Fertilization for Annuals and Perennials
Annuals and perennials may be fertilized using: 1.water-soluble, quick release fertilizers; 2. temperature controlled slow-release fertilizers; or 3. organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion. Water soluble fertilizers are generally used every two weeks during the growing season or per label instructions. Controlled, slow-release fertilizers are worked into the soil ususally only once during the growing season or per label directions. For organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, follow label directions as they may vary per product.
LightConditions : Light Conditions
Unless a site is completely exposed, light conditions will change during the day and even during the year. The northern and eastern sides of a house receive the least amount of light, with the northern exposure being the shadiest. The western and southern sides of a house receive the most light and are considered the hottest exposures due to intense afternoon sun.
You will notice that sun and shade patterns change during the day. The western side of a house may even be shady due to shadows cast by large trees or a structure from an adjacent property. If you have just bought a new home or just beginning to garden in your older home, take time to map sun and shade throughout the day. You will get a more accurate feel for your site's true light conditions.
Conditions : Full to Partial Sun
Full sunlight is needed for many plants to assume their full potential. Many of these plants will do fine with a little less sunlight, although they may not flower as heavily or their foliage as vibrant. Areas on the southern and western sides of buildings usually are the sunniest. The only exception is when houses or buildings are so close together, shadows are cast from neighboring properties. Full sun usually means 6 or more hours of direct unobstructed sunlight on a sunny day. Partial sun receives less than 6 hours of sun, but more than 3 hours. Plants able to take full sun in some climates may only be able to tolerate part sun in other climates. Know the culture of the plant before you buy and plant it!
WateringConditions : Moist and Well Drained
Moist and well drained means exactly what it sounds like. Soil is moist without being soggy because the texture of the soil allows excess moisture to drain away. Most plants like about 1 inch of water per week. Amending your soil with compost will help improve texture and water holding or draining capacity. A 3 inch layer of mulch will help to maintain soil moisture and studies have shown that mulched plants grow faster than non-mulched plants.
Conditions : Normal Watering for Outdoor Plants
Normal watering means that soil should be kept evenly moist and watered regularly, as conditions require. Most plants like 1 inch of water a week during the growing season, but take care not to over water. The first two years after a plant is installed, regular watering is important for establishment. The first year is critical. It is better to water once a week and water deeply, than to water frequently for a few minutes.
PlantingHow-to : Preparing Garden Beds
Use a soil testing kit to determine the acidity or alkalinity of the soil before beginning any garden bed preparation. This will help you determine which plants are best suited for your site. Check soil drainage and correct drainage where standing water remains. Clear weeds and debris from planting areas and continue to remove weeds as soon as they come up.
A week to 10 days before planting, add 2 to 4 inches of aged manure or compost and work into the planting site to improve fertility and increase water retention and drainage. If soil composition is weak, a layer of topsoil should be considered as well. No matter if your soil is sand or clay, it can be improved by adding the same thing: organic matter. The more, the better; work deep into the soil. Prepare beds to an 18 inch deep for perennials. This will seem like a tremendous amount of work now, but will greatly pay off later. Besides, this is not something that is easily done later, once plants have been established.
How-to : Pinching and Thinning Perennials
Once you plant a perennial, it does not mean that you will enjoy years of maintenance-free gardening. Perennials need to be cared for just like any other plant. One thing that distinguishes perennials is that they tend to be active growers that have to be thinned out occasionally or they will loose vigor.
As perennials establish, it is important to prune them back and thin them out occasionally. This will prevent them from completely taking over an area to the exclusion of other plants, and also will increase air circulation thereby reducing the incidence of diseases like botrytis and powdery mildew.
Many species also flower abundantly and produce ample seed. As blooms fade it is advisable to deadhead your plant; that is, to remove spent flowers before they form seed. This will prevent your plants from seeding all over the garden and will conserve the considerable energy it takes the plant to produce seed.
As perennials mature, they may form a dense root mass that eventually leads to a less vigorous plant. It is advisable to occasionally thin out a stand of such perennials. By dividing the root system, you can make new plants to plant in another area of the garden or give away. Also root pruning will stimulate new growth and rejuvenate the plant. Most perennials may be successfully divided in either spring or fall. Do a little homework; some perennials do have a preference.
How-to : Planting Perennials
Determine appropriate perennials for your garden by considering sun and shade through the day, exposure, water requirements, climate, soil makeup, seasonal color desired, and position of other garden plants and trees.
The best times to plant are spring and fall, when soil is workable and out of danger of frost. Fall plantings have the advantage that roots can develop and not have to compete with developing top growth as in the spring. Spring is more desirable for perennials that dislike wet conditions or for colder areas, allowing full establishment before first winter. Planting in summer or winter is not advisable for most plants, unless planting a more established sized plant.
To plant container-grown plants: Prepare planting holes with appropriate depth and space between. Water the plant thoroughly and let the excess water drain before carefully removing from the container. Carefully loosen the root ball and place the plant in the hole, working soil around the roots as you fill. If the plant is extremely root bound, separate roots with fingers. A few slits made with a pocket knife are okay, but should be kept to a minimum. Continue filling in soil and water thoroughly, protecting from direct sun until stable.
To plant bare-root plants: Plant as soon as possible after purchase. Prepare suitable planting holes, spread roots and work soil among roots as you fill in. Water well and protect from direct sun until stable.
To plant seedlings: A number of perennials produce self-sown seedlings that can be transplanted. You may also start your own seedling bed for transplanting. Prepare suitable planting holes, spacing appropriately for plant development. Gently lift the seedling and as much surrounding soil as possible with your garden trowel, and replant it immediately, firming soil with fingertips and water well. Shade from direct sun and water regularly until stable.
ProblemsPest : Aphids
Aphids are small, soft-bodied, slow-moving insects that suck fluids from plants. Aphids come in many colors, ranging from green to brown to black, and they may have wings. They attack a wide range of plant species causing stunting, deformed leaves and buds. They can transmit harmful plant viruses with their piercing/sucking mouthparts. Aphids, generally, are merely a nuisance, since it takes many of them to cause serious plant damage. However aphids do produce a sweet substance called honeydew (coveted by ants) which can lead to an unattractive black surface growth called sooty mold.
Aphids can increase quickly in numbers and each female can produce up to 250 live nymphs in the course of a month without mating. Aphids often appear when the environment changes - spring & fall. They're often massed at the tips of branches feeding on succulent tissue. Aphids are attracted to the color yellow and will often hitchhike on yellow clothing.
Prevention and Control: Keep weeds to an absolute minimum, especially around desirable plants. On edibles, wash off infected area of plant. Lady bugs and lacewings will feed on aphids in the garden. There are various products - organic and inorganic - that can be used to control aphids. Seek the recommendation of a professional and follow all label procedures to a tee.
Pest : Slugs and Snails
Begin looking for slugs and snails so that you may set traps.
MiscellaneousGlossary : Border Plant
A border plant is one which looks especially nice when used next to other plants in a border. Borders are different from hedges in that they are not clipped. Borders are loose and billowy, often dotted with deciduous flowering shrubs. For best effect, mass smaller plants in groups of 3, 5, 7, or 9. Larger plants may stand alone, or if room permits, group several layers of plants for a dramatic impact. Borders are nice because they define property lines and can screen out bad views and offer seasonal color. Many gardeners use the border to add year round color and interest to the garden.
Glossary : Herbaceous
Herbaceous refers to a non-woody plant that dies back at the end of its growing season, generally after frost or during the fall of the year. The rootstock of perennials will overwinter, providing the plant is hardy in that area, and resume growth in the spring.
Glossary : Perennial
Perennial: traditionally a non-woody plant that lives for two or more growing seasons.
Glossary : Old Fashioned or Heritage Plant
Old Fashioned or Heritage Plant is any plant that is reminiscent of early times or tied to a particular region. Often found in the yards of grandmothers or abandoned home sites.
Glossary : pH
pH, means the potential of Hydrogen, is the measure of alkalinity or acidity. In horticulture, pH refers to the pH of soil. The scale measures from 0, most acid, to 14, most alkaline. Seven is neutral. Most plants prefer a range between 5.5 and about 6.7, an acid range, but there are plenty of other plants that like soil more alkaline, or above 7. A pH of 7 is where the plant can most easily absorb the most nutrients in the soil. Some plants prefer more or less of certain nutrients, and therefore do better at a certain pH.