The peony is a spring flower that is a welcome addition to any garden. They brighten any bouquet and have a great vase life when harvested at the correct stage. While they do not have a long harvest window, peonies are known to store well.
As perennial plants, peonies are a great investment for a flower farm or yard. Requiring little maintenance, they will reward you with blooms year after year.
Peonies take about three years to get established. There are two different views as far as harvesting within those first three years, which I discuss below.
Our farm has single, semi double, and double peonies in shades of pink and white. We have a few different varieties of Itoh peonies that are especially beautiful (see the yellow blooms in the photo).
Growing up in Texas, we did not have peonies because the growing zone was too warm. Peonies grow best in zones 3-8 and rely on winter temperatures to bloom. I remember seeing peonies blooming our first spring in North Carolina, and I knew I wanted to grow my own. When we settled down in our current home, I purchased two peony plants and got them in the ground. However, the plants never thrived because the locations I chose were too shady. There just was not a sunny enough spot on the property surrounding our house. Once I transplanted the peonies into a sunny spot on the farm, they took off. Each year, I have added a few more plants. Most of the peony roots I have came from friends and family dividing their plants or rescuing plants. I love using peonies in bouquets and am looking forward to working with them this growing season.
Care & Maintenance
As noted, peonies need sun. They do best in spots where they get sun most of the day.
The best time to plant peony roots, transplant peonies, or divide established peonies is in the fall. Cut back the plant in the fall after the leaves have died down. Cover with a layer of mulch to help the plant overwinter.
In the spring, once the weather starts to warm up, pull back the mulch as the peony plant sends up shoots. I apply a weekly foliar fish fertilizer as leaves are growing in the early spring. Once the plant has developed buds, stop applying the fish fertilizer. You can disbud the smaller buds that develop around the main bud to send energy to the main flower.
Peonies take 3 years to get established after planting the tuber. There are two trains of thought regarding harvest in those first three years. One train of thought is that all buds should be pinched and no flowers should be harvested during those first two years. This is so that the plant can put energy into growing and not waste energy on flower development.
The second train of thought is that the peony plant develops the buds for the next growing season in the fall and expends that energy in the fall. Once the buds grow, the plant has already expended the necessary energy. This means that you can begin harvesting flowers in the first growing year.
Taking both of these views into account, it seems the most important thing is to make sure the plant still has enough foliage to continue to grow over the summer and re-energize the plant through photosynthesis. When I harvest from a newer plant, I cut short stems, leaving as many leaves on the plant as possible. The older the plant, the longer the stem I am able to cut.
Harvest buds when they feel like a marshmallow when squeezed. Cut right above a leaf. Harvest stems into a clean bucket of cool water. Remove most of the leaves on the stem. Refrigerate buds to keep them from opening.
If you are harvesting for dry storage, wrap peonies in newspaper or paper towels and store in plastic shopping sacks in a refrigerator.
Other things to consider
Peonies can suffer from botrytis and powdery mildew. The best course of action is to monitor your plants and remove affected areas as soon as you spot them. Throw out infected leaves. Do not put them in your compost.
Ants have a simbiotic relationship with peonies and help the plant. Don't fear ants on your peonies. Just shake the bloom to get the ants off.
Do you live in an area where you can grow peonies? Do you have a favorite variety? Enjoy beautiful peonies while they last!
This post is part of a year-long series on flowers and plants that we love and grow on the farm. Check out other flowers that we love.