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Announcing My Favorite (and Easiest) Flower to Grow: The Peony

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By Bill Primavera

This week, I visited a very nice home in Croton-on-Hudson, which I will be listing for sale very shortly. In surveying the outside property, I spied a row of plants with buds of flowers that for many years were my favorite: peonies.

When I first moved to Westchester, I was delighted that I would once again be able to grow a flower garden like the one I had when I was a young boy living in the South.

Originally, I also had a vegetable garden, including a hardy couple of rows of corn, but I was more desirous of having a flower garden that looked pretty from spring to fall. Besides, vegetables are so easy to buy with none of the sweat to grow them.

The first two years, I was overly ambitious, even going so far as to plant annuals from seed and thinning out the spouts until each plant could grow with enough space around it to grow large.

Marigolds were my favorite choice to start with because they were so easy to grow, but once my taste became more sophisticated, I ventured into growing what became my favorite flower – the peony. Not only is it a perennial but it boasts the most beautiful blooms of any flower in the garden, and there seemed to be an endless variety of them.

Peonies grow from tubers, bulb-like structures that store the nutrients the plant needs to regrow each year. It is a gorgeous perennial that boasts breathtaking, fragrant blooms and a long lifespan. Some varieties have been known to live for as long as 100 years.

Peonies are hardy in our area, and there are many different cultivars within the main types of these plants (tree peonies and herbaceous peonies, or Paenoia suffruticosa and Paenoia officinalis). In spring, peonies produce large, multicolored blossoms that make for excellent cut flowers. Then, after its bloom, the peony’s shiny green foliage lasts all summer.

Caring for peonies is relatively simple, since they require little maintenance so long as they are planted properly. In terms of feeding peonies, great soil plus just the right amount of plant food is the perfect combination for healthy-looking blooms. Whether fertilizing peonies in containers or the ground, it’s important to give them the right kind of nutrition at the right time.

When deciding on a location, keep in mind that peonies thrive in fertile, rich, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Spacing is important; peonies should be three to four feet apart to allow for decent air circulation. Planting (or transplanting or dividing) peonies is best done in early fall, although they can also be planted in spring as soon as soils are workable.

When planting, dig a generous hole (about two feet deep and two feet across) and set the root so that the eyes face upward on top of a mound of soil in the hole, placing the roots two inches below the soil surface. Then, fill the hole back up, burying the root deeper than two inches. If growing a container peony, take care to cover it no deeper than it grew.

The best way to fertilize peonies is by using a tulip fertilizer. You should work the soil well before you plant, mixing in compost or another organic material like bonemeal or well-rotted manure and a small amount of fertilizer.

In the spring, when the plants begin to grow and the shoots are three to four inches high, you can apply a complete, dry, synthetic fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 or organic fertilizer such as 5-5-5. One application of fertilizer per year is usually sufficient to promote plant growth.

Using a low-nitrogen fertilizer for peonies is important, as a fertilizer with too much nitrogen could hinder the plant’s growth. Be careful to not overfertilize. Always add the fertilizer around the drip line of the plant; if you add it directly on the crown, it could burn the plant.

Once established, peonies require very little water, though they should be watered thoroughly upon first being planted and during their first year of growth.

Blossoms should be deadheaded when they begin to fade to promote flower production.

Peonies should not be covered with too much mulch; otherwise, they’ll be smothered. If temperatures dip below freezing, peonies can be mulched with shredded bark or pine needles. But mulch must be removed in the spring.

Support peony stems with wire tomato cages or another form of support, as stems tend to be weak, and their massive blooms can easily overpower the peony’s stem.  But the flower’s beauty is worth the trouble to support them.

Peony tubers are easily purchased at a variety of sites online and at local garden centers. When cutting peony flowers for the home, don’t cut more than one-third to one-half of the flowers and leave as much foliage as possible.

Then, just be grateful that God creates such floral beauty for our enjoyment.

Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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