While their growing season may be brief, nothing says springtime like blossoming peonies! The big, pastel flowers grow in large bushes and give off a lovely floral scent.

Peonies are a timeless flower, and have been grown in Eastern gardens for over 4,000 years. In Europe, herbaceous peonies are a part of ancient Greek mythology and are highly regarded for their medicinal properties.

If you are thinking of adding peonies to your garden this growing season, here are a few things you might like to know before you get started.

  • Although the best time to plant and divide peonies in Minnesota is late August and September, many garden centers have potted peonies on sale now.
  • Plant peonies in a sunny, well-drained site so that the eyes are approximately 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.
  • Mulch newly planted peonies with 2 to 3 inches of straw, pine needles, or bark mulch in late fall.
  • Peonies benefit from a support system of wire stakes and rings to help prevent the stems from flopping over when heavy with flowers.

Potential Problems

  • No flowers — Planting the tubers more than 2 inches deep or in a shady or poorly drained location can also prevent or reduce flowering.
  • Botrytis blight — This is caused by a fungus that overwinters on dead leaves, stems, and roots. The disease usually appears in mid-summer, especially during cool, wet weather. Black, soft buds and wilted or soft stem tissue under the buds are usually an indication that botrytis blight is present. For control, remove diseased foliage that develops during the growing season and cut plants to the ground after a killing frost and destroy the foliage.
  • Phytophthora blight — This is less common than botrytis blight but can be more devastating. Black leathery spots first occur on the buds. Stems dry up turning brown and leathery; plants may rot at the ground line or crown. Control measures recommended for botrytis blight should be followed.
  • Leaf spots — Several fungi can cause leaf spots on peonies. Leaf blotch is a disease that usually occurs after flowering. Infected plants have small red or reddish-brown spots that later enlarge into purplish-brown blotches on the leaf surface. Destroy affected foliage as it occurs and all foliage after a killing frost.
  • Virus — Mosaic virus produces yellowish blotches and rings on the foliage. Infected plants are not dwarfed or deformed. Destroy infected plants to prevent spread.
  • Ants — Ants often will feed on the sweet, sticky secretion which covers the flower buds. Very little direct damage results from their feeding.

Visit a local peony farm now to see the varieties and colors, and order your peony roots for fall delivery.

For more information about growing peonies, visit: ag.ndsu.edu/publications/lawns-gardens-trees/popular-peonies/h281.pdf.

Until next time, happy gardening!

*** “The little boy nodded at the peony and the peony seemed to nod back. The little boy was neat, clean and pretty. The peony was unchaste, disheveled as peonies must be, and at the height of its beauty. Every hour is filled with such moments, big with significance for someone.” ~ Robertson Davies

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Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Contact her at 320-762-3890, or at trot0053@umn.