This winter I was fortunate enough to attend a class on Peonies at the Northern Green Expo. It was given by LaVerne Dunsmore, a well respected Peony grower from Minnesota. I have always thought Peonies were beautiful and I would like to have a Peony bed in my yard. Listening to Mr. Dunsmore speak really inspired me to do a bit more research on them and to find out how to get the most out of the garden that I WILL plant someday. Here are some guidelines from Mr. Dunsmore for picking the best Peonies.
Hardiness: One of the good things about living in the great state of Minnesota is that our climate is perfect for peonies. Most varieties need to have a cold period of at least 30 consecutive days below freezing and we definitely have that here! Many peonies are hardy between zones 3-8. Sometimes even to zone 2.
Strong Stems: When it rains, a peony’s blossoms can hold a great deal of water and if it doesn’t have strong stems the plant will lay down. Sometimes the flower makes it worth growing a peony without strong stems. In that case, you may want to give them some support with a cage or some stakes.
Fragrance: Not all peonies have a scent and not all peonies that have a scent, smell good. I, personally, would pick a beautiful bloom over fragrance.
Bloom Season: Most peonies bloom for 1 1/2-2 weeks. If you pick your varieties with the time of bloom in mind, you can have peonies blooming from mid-May to early June.
“Longer” Bloom Season: Looking for a way to extend your peony season inside? Experiment with the below steps from the MSU Extension Office. And then let us know if you’ve been able to keep any until Thanksgiving too!
- Cut the stem when the buds are showing some color and are soft like a marshmallow
- Strip the leaves off the stem to reduce water loss and store dry
- Wrap the peonies completely, stem to bud, in clear plastic wrap, sealing both ends of the wrap
- Store them horizontally for up to three months
- When removing them from their cold storage, cut the stem and place in tepid water in a cool area. Once the peony is hydrated, it should bloom for about a week!
Free Blooming: Extreme weather does not alter the blooming period.
Colorfast: Holds its petal color no matter how hot it is.
Fast growing: This means it will establish itself faster and be able to handle the weather extremes better.
Disease Resistance: Peonies can be prone to fungal disease such as Botrytis and Phytophthora blight under the right conditions. He mentioned that peonies with thicker leaves tend to be more disease resistant. By choosing disease resistant cultivars, you can lessen the likelihood of leaf spot and dampening off happening in your peony bed.
There is such a variety of colors and shapes out there that I really think that there is a Peony for everyone. Some of my favorite ones that we carry are ‘Do Tell’, ‘Gay Paree’, and ‘Red Charm’. We also have some new kinds this year that I can’t wait to see in bloom. ‘Blaze’, an early bloomer with bright red semi-double flowers and ‘Bowl of Beauty’, a mid season bloomer with pink and ivory, Japanese type blooms.