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John's Garden - John Norman


One of my new favourite large perennial flowers is the peony.

These sun-loving, long-life perennials are among the hardiest and easiest to grow ornamental flowers on the market. That being said, peonies do have, like all plants, certain likes and dislikes aiding or hindering success.

Keep in mind that these amazing flowers, available in shades of white, pink, red, yellow, and coral, are almost like small shrubs since they develop into three-foot tall and three-foot wide plants.

The only thing differentiating these flowers from shrubs is their herbaceous growing habit (they die back to soil level each fall; shrubs do not).

With their tremendous size and top-heavy flowers, which tend to droop like pendulous tissue balls, peonies are attractive additions to any perennial border. They are best situated near the middle or back of gardens, due to their height, in full sun.

Think sun when choosing a site for your peonies. While they can tolerate some light shade, these flowers will produce the greatest blooms in full sun. The blooming season for peonies is about four weeks (without high winds) and various varieties bloom throughout the spring and early summer.   

Potted peonies from a nursery can be planted any time during the growing season (fall brings great sales!). If you already have a large peony growing in your garden, early fall is the proper time to dig and divide peonies in your garden as well.  

Planting a peony involves some specific instructions since soil type and planting depth will control success rates. The average potted peony would require a 12-14 inch hole in loosened rich, clay-based soil. If your soil is poor, add compost or manure and remove any larger rocks from the hole. Newfoundland soil is predominantly slightly acidic while the large perennials enjoy slightly alkaline soil - add bone meal to aid ph.

Peonies grow from tuberous roots, which should never be more than two to four inches below the soil's surface. This means that the root ball that comes out of the pot should be close to the surface of the hole since a reputable grower would have planted it near the correct depth within the pot.

Finish filling the hole with your soil mixture and water well. If planted too low in the hole, peonies will produce lots of leaves and very few blooms in the future.

Once your peony is planted, keep the ground mulched to minimize weed competition and moist to encourage root growth. Peonies prefer to be kept moist, but not wet. If possible, avoid getting the foliage wet.

Peonies do not require major feeding (obviously since they survived in the gardens of our grandparents for the last hundred years), but with that said, peonies can enjoy a light fertilizer in the spring to increase blooming intensity. Peonies are not heavy feeders and over-feeding can often result in excessive foliage and fewer blooms.

On a side note, ants love peonies! If you grow these oversized perennials, ants will find their way to your garden. The flower buds of this species produce sweet droplets of moisture that exude each spring, drawing ants with a sweet aroma. The ants will not cause damage so don't worry about them.

Plant a peony in your garden this spring and over a three to five-year period, watch it grow into an incredible specimen that may attract some impressed gardening friends.

If you have any questions about gardening in Newfoundland and Labrador, email me at ‘johnnorman21@gmail.com’.

John Norman is an avid gardener who lives in Bonavista.

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