by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Peonies are a perennial favorite in my flower garden and were named the official flower for the State of Indiana in 1957. They grow and flower regularly, some for over 50 years and are quite capable of outliving the gardeners who plant them. Have you ever driven past an old, abandoned farm whose grounds have not been tended in like forever? I have no doubt that you probably saw some peonies growing somewhere in that untended landscape, showing off their beautiful blooms, which usually arrive near the end of June.
In the spring, when the shoots have reached about four or five inches, you should place some supports around the plants. Once the plant has leafed out it will be much more difficult to capture all the stems into a support cage. Peonies grow anywhere from two to four feet tall and the blossoms can be quite heavy, especially after a rain. If you gently shake the water out of the flower right after a rain they will sometimes stand back up. Without support, the beautiful flowers will droop to the ground and if left there will only last a few days. You will miss enjoying them in their full glory. It is ok to leave a few stems outside the support to give the plant a more relaxed look.
It is not difficult to add supports to keep the flowers upright. Some peony varieties grow taller than others so it is important to choose the right size support for your plant. If your supports are too short the flowers will simply collapse over the top of the support. Also keep in mind that a large bush will need a wider support than what a smaller bush will need.
It is not difficult to add supports to keep the flowers upright and they come in a variety of forms. Heavy duty wire tomato cages and stackable rings on a stake will work as will a grow through plant support, but sometimes they can be a bit pricey. These can usually be found at the local garden center. The diameter of the support cage should be larger than the diameter of the peony rootball. If the cage is too small you risk damaging the peony roots when you push the cage legs into the ground.
There is also the DIY support. I like to minimize the appearance of the supports so that the focus can be on the gorgeous flowers. This type of support is best put in place when the peony bush has reached its full height. For each peony plant insert 5 stakes equidistant from each other around the outside edge of the clump. Then take a length of twine and tie it around one of the stakes a few inches below the buds. Going counter-clockwise, pass the twine through the plant going around every other stake wrapping it tightly. Keep going until you are back where you started. When you are done you should have a twine star shape in the middle. To catch the outer flowers, wrap the twine around the outside of the plant, wrapping it one time around each stake to encircle the entire bush. This method supports the bush in sections instead as one entire clump.
Once the plant is finished blooming, the support can be left in place or removed. The support cages are a bit harder to remove than the DIY one without taking some of the foliage with it. Trim off the dead flowers after they have put on their show to give the plant a tidier look for the summer. Do not cut the foliage down too early or your peony won’t have enough time to store up the energy it needs to bloom in the spring.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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