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“Roses, as big as cabbages,” said Marco Polo when he first saw peonies.
Peonies are native to Asia, southern Europe, and the western United States. They have been cultivated in China for more than 2,500 years and are considered a symbol of good fortune. In Chinese, the word for peony is ‘sho yu’—meaning ‘most beautiful.’ They are the national flower of China and the state flower of Indiana.
To plant peony roots, dig a hole about two feet in diameter and work in a little compost—our grower does not recommend manures at this stage. Plant the roots with the eyes covered only one to two inches deep. If you plant roots too deep, the plant will come up but will not bloom well, if at all. Try to plant peonies in a spot where they can live for years because they resent being transplanted or moved.
Feed peonies with a lower-nitrogen fertilizer (I use Bulb-tone) when the foliage begins to unfurl in the spring. Feed again, lightly, in late summer. Never remove peony foliage until it dies back on its own. It needs a chance to send all its energy to the roots for next year’s flowers.
To prevent any problems, keep the base of the peony plant free from debris (keep mulch about 12” from the crown of the plant), remove the leaves in the fall as soon as they die back, leaving a three-inch stem. Avoid overhead watering, if possible.
Ants love peony flowers. They eat the nectar the buds produce. Garden legend says that the ants eat the waxy coating on the buds so the flowers will open, but this is a myth. The buds will open with or without help from the ants. However, in order to protect their nectar sources, the ants will fight off other insects that might damage the buds, so just leave them alone.
Remember, not only are peonies beautiful, they are tough, durable, deer resistant, most are fragrant, and all are very long-lasting perennials—living a hundred years or more.
Speaking of being a symbol of good fortune, fresh locally grown peony roots have just arrived here at the Great Big Greenhouse. How fortunate is that?
Come in and let me help you select your “Rose—as big as a cabbage!”