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Peonies have a long lifespan

Early June in Northwestern Pennsylvania is peony time. This beautiful and elegant flower is the backbone of many perennial borders. The flowers come in colors of white and yellow and many shades red from the darkest hue to a pale pink. They have become a popular wedding flower as well as a beautiful centerpiece for the dining room table.

Peonies can thrive and bloom for 100 years if planted properly. My own stand of peonies has been in place for more than 70 years. They never fail to bloom with abundance. An abandoned perennial boarder near me stills blooms each June with assorted shades of peonies.

There are three types of peonies. The peony bush is an herbaceous peony that is low maintenance, requires little water and is naturally pest resistant.

The peony tree, a native of China, blooms in April or May. The stems of the peony tree stay above ground all year. This plant produces much larger flowers than other varieties. The intersectional peony is a cross between the herbaceous peony and the tree peony. This variety of peony is lower in height than the other two types.

Peonies should be planted in late summer or early fall. This will allow the plant to get established before winter weather. The peony plant needs 5 hours of sunlight with some afternoon shade. An inch of water a week will keep the peony hydrated although they can come through a drought very nicely. The soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter.

When you plant your peony plant with the eyes up and the roots down. The eyes are pink or white buds on top of the roots. Do not place the roots more than 1 or 2 inches below the surface of the soil and water carefully. Peonies are planted in a very shallow hole.

Ants can be found on the peony because of the sweet nectar that collects on the bud. These ants are not a problem and have no effect on the peony. As soon as the peony blossoms the ants disappear.

Once your peony blooms remove the spent blossoms. This keeps your garden tidy and allows the peony roots to energize for the next season. Tall varieties will need support.

Seeing your peony flowers on the ground is a sad sight. Peony rings can be purchased at the garden center or you can make your own support with sticks the height of the peony with a string matrix to support the plant.

The supports should be placed on the plant early in spring so the plant can grow naturally through the support. This will allow the support to become invisible through the growing season.

Our area is just right to raise peonies. To be successful the peony needs our cold winters and our beautiful summer weather.

There are many varieties which will allow the home gardener to extend the peony season many weeks. Check the garden center tag on the plant. It will tell you if the plant is an early bloomer, mid-season or late season. Your peonies will steal the show whether in the perennial border or on the dining room table.

Rebecca Norton Ryan is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener and member of Warren Garden Club.

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