Peony FAQ

What are the optimum growing requirements for peonies?

Peonies do best in full to three-quarters sun.  They prefer well-drained soil.  To amend soil that does not drain well, dig a deep hole (see next question for more details) and amend the bottom of it liberally with a good loose compost and coarse gravel.  When established, a peony only needs to be kept free from weeds and grass, watered deeply as needed, composted in the fall and fertilized in the spring with a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as bone meal or 10‑10‑10 all-purpose fertilizer.  When applying compost or fertilizer, be careful not to cover the crown with either.

How do I plant my new peony?

In the Fall, you can best prepare a home for your new peony root by digging a BIG hole, up to 15” in diameter and depth.  In the bottom of the hole, mix together the best soil from the top with a good grade of compost and a couple handfuls of bone meal.  Tamp the soil down and add another few inches of good topsoil upon which you will plant the root.  Fill in the dirt around the root covering the top eye by no more than 2 inches of soil.  Leave a slight basin and fill it several times to ensure that no air pockets exist around the roots.  Water again in the fall only if the soil around the root becomes very dry.  Mulch first-year roots after the ground has frozen hard in late Fall with a loose medium such as straw, evergreen boughs, or coarse wood chips.

What pests or diseases may affect my peony?

Peonies are relatively free from most insect or fungal diseases.  One disease that can affect plants, particularly during cold wet springs, is botrytis, a fungus that leaves black spots on the foliage and, if severe, can even cause crown rot.  The best prevention is to water only when necessary and use drip irrigation if possible.  Also, cutting back all dormant foliage in the fall and burning it will help prevent the disease from overwintering.  Finally, there are organic sprays, either neem oil or bacterial-based, that can quite effectively limit the spread of the fungus.

What is an intersectional peony?

An intersectional peony is a cross between a tree peony and a herbaceous or lactiflora peony.  Some of the best of these hybrids display the nicest characteristics of both parents.  The advantage to growing an intersectional peony in climates such as Montana's is that the plant becomes completely dormant in winter so there is little chance of damage to the buds and stems as there sometimes can be with tree peonies.  Intersectional peonies are very hardy, vigorous growers, and long lived.  Perhaps the best known of these crosses are two outstanding yellow varieties, Garden Treasure and Bartzella.  However, as time passes, many other lovely hues are being developed.  Intersectional peonies are still quite expensive because they are relatively new to the market.  While you will see some vendors offering these peonies at relatively low costs, be aware that they are frequently offered in 4-inch pots, so they may take up to two years longer to develop flowers compared to a standard 3- to 5-eye root division.

Do peonies need ants to bloom properly?

No. Ants are drawn to a sweet sticky sap exuded by peony buds.  However, your plants will bloom just fine without any ants on them.

Do deer eat peonies?

Peonies, either their foliage or buds, are generally not attractive to deer.  I would hesitate to say that a peony is deer proof, but relative to many other ornamentals, peonies are quite resistant to deer damage.

What is a Gold Medal peony?

Each year American Peony Society members choose their favorite peonies in a popularity poll.  The winner is accorded the Gold Medal.  These peonies are an excellent first choice to consider when selecting peonies for your own garden.

Do I need to stake my peonies?

Because many older peonies, particularly the doubles, were bred to make excellent cut flowers, their stem strength was often not sufficient to support the heavy blooms especially under wet or windy conditions.   Therefore, a number of the more common varieties may still need to be staked.  However, there are many newer peonies such as the intersectional or herbaceous hybrids and many single or Japanese peonies that do not require staking.  Examples of outstanding no-stake peonies are Coral Sunset, Garden Treasure, Garden Lace, and Old Faithful.  Private Stock Perennials specializes in growing and selling some of the best of the no‑stake varieties.

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