Way dumb on peonies

miriah(z5MI)August 30, 2005

Hello, I never knew I was supposed to divide peonies. I have one that hasn't been touched other then pruning in over 10 years. After it blooms I cut back the stalks and just before winter I cut off the foliage. I have noticed in the spring that the plant is pretty thick and hard, I am always amazed that the new plant can push through. SO, what do I do? This plant is the signature plant in a new flowerbed I am creating, it sounds like I should do something to insure it's always there.

Thanks for any input.

Miriah

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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)

Miriah:

Since Peonies live for many decades - if not, in fact, for several hundred years, there is really no need to divide them unless you need an extra plant of the same kind in your garden.

For a greater understanding of the world of Peonies, I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of "Peonies" by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. Obviously, you can find copies at your public library or through their inter-library loan system. Or, if you wish to add this superb book to your own library, there are various sources for new and used copies in near mint condition. Two excellent used book sources are listed below.

http://www.abe.com

http://www.alibris.com

The book provides an excellent history, overview, and an good discussion of an extremely wide variety of different types of peonies with various lists - including those suitable for cut flowers, fragrance, etc.

FYI - I have copied and pasted some information from Amazon.com below.

"Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's book "Peonies" is a ravishing book--the sort of book that you covet from the moment you see it--but it isn't just lovely to look at, it is also a wonderful read. It tells the long and fascinating history of this most beautiful of flowers, tracing its origins in the wild to its cultivation in the Imperial gardens of China and Japan and its journey to the West. The characters encountered along the way include an empress who arranged for the planting of many thousands of tree peonies, yet murdered her baby daughter and in her 70s took two brothers half her age as lovers, and a French missionary who spent most of his life in China collecting over 1,500 species of peony, most of which were sent back to France. As befits its subject, the book is lavishly illustrated with paintings and photographs that are both informative and appealing.

But this is not just a wonderful story well told. It is also a serious work of reference giving comprehensive information on peony varieties, how to grow them, where to find them, and where to see them. It's written with the international reader in mind, so references include information relevant to the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand as well as Great Britain and Europe. --Stephanie Donaldson"

An Amazon.com customer gives the following review of this book:

"If you are a peony lover, you will treasure this book. Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall not only knows her peonies and traces their fascinating history through the imperial courts of China and Japan, but she interweaves this with a history of how peonies have been used in paintings and porcelain. The beautiful pictures included not only show the various peony cultivars, but show the peony as it is used in Asian porcelains, paintings and European paintings. This book and its photographs are so lovely, that I expected to pay much more for it. It's a bargain, if you are a peony lover. Al Rogers "Peonies" is a bit more explicit about growing and cultivation, but this book compliments his, because of the romance it brings to the peony. It is also practical, listing the cultivars, showing many pictures, and recommending the more successful cultivars. If you love peonies and want to know more about their place in history, I heartily recommend Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Peonies." "

Another interesting source of information can be found at one of the most extraordinary gardens in the midwest: The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO. If you're in the neighborhood, I highly recommend a two day visit to this deliciously wonderful garden. I used to live in central Illinois - Peoria - where I was able to visit this garden every few years. Now that I live in Manistee, my visits are limited by distance - only.

The link below is to a description of one of the several peonies that I considering to add to our garden in Manistee - Paeonia lactiflora 'Duchesse de Nemours'. As you explore this particular peony, you'll find an array of useful information at this web site.

http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/Plant.asp?code=Q260

http://www.mobot.org

http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/Alpha.asp

Hope you and others reading this posting find this information more than useful!

Best regards!

Bill

    Bookmark   August 30, 2005 at 7:48PM
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maifleur01

Please explain what you meant by the statement "I have noticed in the spring that the plant is pretty thick and hard". I am curious.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2005 at 10:34PM
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calistoga_al

The top of the root is pretty gross to look at. Like several brown sausages with holes in them. Mine are always like that as they are high enough to be exposed to the air. Al

    Bookmark   August 31, 2005 at 2:19PM
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miriah(z5MI)

I mean that the plant, or the top op the plant at ground level is very dense. I have poked my fingers in there to loosen it up so the new shoots can break through. I don't know how else to describe it. I have wondered if I shouldn't lift the plant like I do iris to help loosen the roots up.
Miriah

    Bookmark   August 31, 2005 at 7:38PM
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maifleur01

Miriah, The shoots don't break through the crown. The bud nodes if present on the bottom will find a way to come up. If you haven't cut the foliage back follow one of the stems back to the roots. Very carefully remove part of the dirt. You may see what looks like small buds or pointy growths from the roots. These are the places that future stems will grow from. A plant that has been in the ground for years might have a woody section that appears to be eaten out. This is normal for non-divided peonies. When a peony is divided generally each division will have several buds and the older part is discarded. Some peonies buds do not enlarge until November or later depending where they are planted so don't be too suprised not to see actual buds but the pointy things that look some what like a dried root from the top. After looking put the dirt back over the plant and press firmly to prevent the dirt being washed away during the first rain.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2005 at 9:07PM
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miriah(z5MI)

How cool is this. I never knew that gardening was so much fun. I used to trail along with my grandmother as she tended hers. I guess my question is would it benefit the plant to clean out some of the woody stuff in the middle? This plant blooms her little heart out and is about 3'x3',she seems very happy and gets good care because of the roses that around her. I guess I should leave well enough alone.
Thanks for all the input.
Miriah

    Bookmark   September 1, 2005 at 9:33AM
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diannp

If she's happy leave her alone. Peonies don't like to be fussed over or with a whole lot. :) If there is a bloom reduction or some such thing, then divide her and let her be happy again.:) Otherwise, tend to your Rose divas. :)

Diann
IA Z5a

    Bookmark   September 1, 2005 at 4:37PM
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miriah(z5MI)

Diann, Now why do you call roses 'divas?!! I am beginning to agree with you though. My peonie is very happy and simple to care for. Do they like a certain type soil? Could I make her happier if I gave her a taste of something? Not now but in the spring. I get sooo many compliments on the old girl I'd like to pay her back if possible.
Thanks.
Miriah

    Bookmark   September 1, 2005 at 6:55PM
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diannp

Miriah, I always think of Roses as Divas! :) Even the most carefree of them require more care than Peonies.:)

Seriously, if your peony is blooming fine and is a happy little peony leave it alone. More people kill peonies by fussing with and over them than than not.

Kick back and enjoy your garden. If you're looking for something to do, you can always come help me weed mine. :)

Diann
IA Z5a

    Bookmark   September 6, 2005 at 12:43PM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)

Diann:

Roses! Divas? Not in the least - unless you want to become, be, or remain the "horticultural drug dealer" in your garden. ;>)

Try some of the old-fashioned roses or some of the modern ones, such as those developed by Dr. Griffith Buck formerly of Iowa State University. His "Hawkeye Belle" is one of my favorites; grew it for many years in central Illinois (Peoria) and now here in northwestern Michigan (Manistee), where is it completing it's second year.

I had the honor of briefly meeting Dr. Buck many, many years ago when I and a member of the Heritage Roses Group - then living in Marshalltown, IA - met with him. At the time, he was retired and served as Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Buck told us that he once encountered several elderly ladies visiting his garden, engaged in a lively conversation and shaking their heads in disbelief. Walking a little closer, he overheard them talking to one another about how terrible it was to name a rose "Hawkeye Belly" - they had obviously mispronounced the name. ;>)

Heirloom Roses carries a number of Griffith /Buck hybirds - they list them as Buck Hardy Rose Bushes - along with a goodly number of old-fashioned and other varieties. Here's a link to their main web page.

http://www.heirloomroses.com/

And here is a link to "Hawkeye Belle" at heirloom roses.

http://www.heirloomroses.com/cgi/browse.cgi?page=item&cat=28&item=373

Besides searching around the Old Rose Forum or Old Garden Forum, you might wish to visit one of the more interesting little gardens in your neck of the woods. You might also look/search for the "Heritage Roses Group" on Google for additional advice/information.

If my memory serves me correctly, there is a small, but wonderful rose/perennial garden located in an old "mill run" of a former mill on the Des Moines River. It was started up and completed by an imaginative lady who obtained a grant from a horticultural foundation in England. Again, if my memory serves me correctly, it is located within the Bentonsport National Historic District in Bentonsport.

Other than these sources, you might enjoy reading "The Fragrant Year" by Helen van Pelt Wilson and Leonie Bell. Unfortunately, this gem is out of print, but it should be available at or through your local public library via their Inter-Library Loan system. If you wish to add a copy to your own personal library, you will find copies at either abe.com or at alibris.com - both excellent sources of new/used reading materials.

Another book, which I also highly recommend is "Green Thoughts - A Writer in the Garden" by Eleanor Perenyi. It is also out of print - I think - but it should be readily available through the various sources mentioned above.

FYI - I have a great fondness for the State of Iowa - mostly because I received my undergraduate degree at Simpson College in Indianola, IA. For me, Simpson was an exceptional educational experience that is still bearing excellent fruit.

Best wishes in your gardening endeavors.

Bill

    Bookmark   September 6, 2005 at 4:00PM
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diannp

Mozart2, I have a couple of Buck roses new to me this fall, and I've bought several others roses from Heirloom Roses (great place to buy roses). I agree that one should either get the old garden roses or the "newer" more hardy ones developed by Dr. Buck, or the Canadian Explorer series. Own root roses are the way I'm headed, but I still deal with the dreaded Japanese Beetle and I've also noticed that the Northern Corn Rootworm (adult beetle, or at least that's what I think it is) seems to like munching on my roses and such. But I still say that compared to Peonies, Roses are still divas. :) I don't do pesticides well, so I tend to just not use them in my garden. I had to use some on Iris borer this spring and that stuff stunk to high heaven and I can still smell it in some areas. If roses are going to survive in my garden they will have to do so without much help from me. Thanks for the info on roses, tho!

Diann
IA Z5a

    Bookmark   September 6, 2005 at 5:57PM
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carc(Ontario)

This lovely peony is around 20 years old, has always produced mid-sized soft rose shaded blooms that smelled like heaven. About 5-6 years ago, the smell was gone, though it is still lovely. It lives on the north-west corner of my front yard, where winter freezes down to 40o or 45o degrees below zero and the ground may freeze from 2 feet to 5 feet from January to early March. This plant has remained faithful to every spring and cheered me up all the time, and though I don,t want to "dump it", I sure would like to get that sweet lift its fragrance always gave me so generously after surviving such cruel cold. Help us me and my (old peony)? Thanks

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 11:35AM
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maifleur01

Is it posible that the peony still has the same smell but your nose has lost some of its smelling capacity. For years I have had to bring the air into my mouth over the back and then out through the nostrils to smell anything. A couple of years ago with a medicine change I started being able to smell through my nose.

It could be that the original plant failed and seedlings took its place without you noticing. Next spring have someone you know discribe to you what they smell.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2005 at 12:01AM
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