Monday, September 26, 2016

How not to Transplant a Peony

I've worked my shovel in a wide circle around the peony, and the root ball feels as though it has begun to give, so I pry down gently on the shovel. I shift position a few more times and pry down again. There seems to be a gradual upward movement...and then there is a horrible "crrrack". 

Have you ever heard the sound that ice on a frozen lake makes when it shifts and then cracks? This noise was just as ominous!

"That can't be good," I say to myself. This is the third peony I've attempted to move this afternoon, but the others were small and things went well. This last peony, on the other hand, was at least three years old. When I bought it I had no idea where I wanted to place it in the garden, so I had unceremoniously dumped it in my nursery bed. 

Despite the lack of thought, I gave to its placement, the peony thrived and grew into shrub-like proportions. This spring the fragrance of the fluffy white blooms was just lovely. 

I should have moved it last fall, but life somehow got in the way. Now I was paying for the delay. 

The white peony flowers blooming last spring.

When I finally unearthed the full root ball, the extent of the damage was readily apparent. More than a few of the large, carrot-like roots had snapped in two.

"I bet this is why peonies have a reputation for not liking to be moved," I think feeling discouraged. With their deep root system, it's certainly a bit of a struggle to transplant a mature peony without causing some damage.

One of my peonies. Sorry, don't know the specific cultivar.

Fall is the perfect season to be thinking about peonies. It's not only a great time to move them (if you dare), it's also a great time to plant them. 

Why is fall better than spring? 

Peonies bloom early in the gardening season, so planting them in spring may shock them out of flowering that year. The weather in fall is cooler and rain is generally more plentiful minimizing the stress of planting or transplanting them. 

Peonies at the front of our house.

Peonies in my own garden

Peonies in my own garden

A Few Peony Basics:

• Peonies can take a few years to develop and mature, but a gardener's patience is rewarded with a long-lived plant. Some peonies have been known to live for as much as a hundred years!

• Peonies like full sun (a minimum of 6 hrs of sun) and a bit of shelter from the wind. Though they are fairly adaptable, they prefer rich, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH.

• Unlike many other perennials, peonies don't need to be routinely divided.

• Peonies make wonderful cut flowers.

Peony 'Miss America' at the Oshawa Botanical Gardens.

Types of Peonies:

Herbaceous peonies appear in spring and die back to the ground in late fall. Lactiflora is the species parent found in most nurseries. Lactiflora peonies can be recognized by the presence of side buds. Hybrid peonies, which are a cross of two species parents, produce only one bloom per stem.

Itoh or Intersectional peonies are a cross between a herbaceous peony and a tree peony. These peonies have the leaf form of tree peonies on a rounded plant that dies back to the ground in winter.

Tree Peonies are actually a woody shrub that can reach 4-7 feet in height and 4-5 feet wide. They grow slowly and it may take 5-10 years for them to reach their mature size. 

An ideal spot for a tree peony would be a sheltered location. They like morning sun and a little bit of dappled shade during the hottest hours of the day. Find more information on Tree Peonies in this blog post.

A bouquet of my peonies.

How to plant a Bare-root Peony:

Peonies are easy to grow provided you get them off to a good start. Peonies planted in the fall should be in the ground and settled before the first frost (September or October depending on your garden's zone). Healthy peony roots have three to five reddish-green eyes, which are the starting points of next spring's growth. This crown of buds should be no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If you plant them too deeply, your peony may stubbornly refuse to bloom for several years.

As I've discovered, peonies aren't easy to move, so choose your location carefully. A mature herbaceous peony is like a small shrub ( 2.5' tall by 3' wide is the average), so keep that in mind and give it lots of room to grow.

To plant your peony, dig a hole that is generous enough to accommodate your bare-root plant. Before you backfill the hole enrich sandy or clay soils with some compost and/or a cup of bone meal.

Peony 'Burning Bright' from the Oshawa Botanical Gardens

Peony removed from its pot. 
This is Peony 'Claire de Lune' which is a single cream-colored peony.

How to plant a Potted Peony:

Potted peonies can usually be found at your local nursery for planting in spring and early summer. I have too many peonies as it is, but that didn't stop me from buying this Paeonia 'Claire de Lune' when I saw it last spring. It's a single, cream-colored peony.

Dig a planting hole that is a least twice the size of the pot in width and depth. Place some dirt back in the bottom of the hole. This will allow your peony's roots to grow out into loose soil. Take your peony out of its pot and place it in the planting hole. 

Generally, the top of the soil in the potted plant should be level with the top of the soil in the planting hole. In this case, my "Claire de Lune' peony was sitting high in its nursery pot with some of the root and a few new buds or "eyes" exposed. This crown of buds should actually be two inches below the surface of the soil, so I had to make adjustments when I planted my peony. It is recommended to amend your planting soil with some compost and a handful of bonemeal when you backfill.

Peony 'Firebelle' at the Oshawa Botanical Gardens.

Once established peonies are fairly drought tolerantbut during the first growing season, it is important not to let your peony get too dry. When you notice your newly planted peony could use some moisture, water it deeply. Try to avoid getting water on the foliage as it will encourage fungus.

Peonies don't need a lot of pampering, but they do benefit from regular applications of fertilizer and a top dressing of mulch.

This fall powdery mildew is a problem on my peonies, which have become 
stressed by the really dry summer.

Pests and Diseases:
If any peony stems collapse or spots appear on the foliage, remove the affected leaves to help stop the spread of the infection. 

Fungal spores can overwinter on old foliage, so a fall cleanup of old peony foliage is a good practice to adopt.

Peonies and Ants:

Ants are attracted to the nectar on peony buds, but they don't harm the flowers. If you are worried about bringing ants into the house along with your cut flowers, you can always pick the flowers just before the buds open (optimum timing: the buds should be showing some color and should be soft when given a gentle squeeze).

When I bring flowers into the house I usually submerge my peonies in a bucket of cold water first and rinse any ants off.

Peonies in a private garden in Caledon, ON (see more of this garden here)

Care in Spring:

Many traditional peonies have big heavy flowers with stems that are too weak to support them. Before the foliage fully emerges in the spring, place a three-legged metal ring into position to help support the flowers that will come later. The foliage will grow up through the ring and should conceal the support.

If you mulch your garden in the spring, do not put mulch over the crown. Mulching around the plant, however, will control weeds and will help the soil retain moisture.

Care in Fall:

In September, cut the foliage to the ground and remove it to prevent the spread of any disease or fungus. Compost the leaves if they are disease-free.

Blossom Hill Nursery

Peony Cultivars: There are so many to choose from!

A couple of years ago I visited Blossom Hill Nursery, which specializes in growing peonies. To get an idea of the range of cultivars available, visit these posts: Blossom Hill Nursery, Part 1, Blossom Hill Nursery, Part 2.

Peonies at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Peony 'Bright Knight' at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Peonies at the Oshawa Botanical Garden.

Companion Plants:

Peonies are often grown together in the same way that hybrid tea roses are grouped into traditional flowerbeds. Peonies certainly look nice clustered together and after they finish flowering, the foliage continues to hold up fairly well through the rest of the growing season. There is only one drawback to this type of planting scheme: peonies bloom for such a brief period of time and then you are left with a rather nondescript expanse of green for the rest of the summer.

I much prefer it when peonies are mixed in with other perennials. Here are just a few ideas to get you inspired:

Peonies + Catmint, Nepeta at the Toronto Botanical Garden

Peonies + Catmint, Nepeta at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Blue star, Amsonia 'Blue Ice' looks terrific sitting in front of white or pink peonies.

Peonies + perennial Salvia at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt' + purple Alliums at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Peonies and roses from my garden.

Unfortunately, it takes at least a growing season for the white peony I transplanted to recover, but I feel confident that it will eventually flower again. Peonies may have soft, pretty flowers, but they are very tough resilient perennials.

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Garlic chives blooming in fall.

Right now there isn't a whole lot blooming in my small herb garden, but the garlic chives are making up for any lack of blooms and are flowering handsomely.

Bees seem to love the little white stars. There always seems to be at least one on the flowers in the company of a few little black ants. The long tapered leaves of garlic chives are broader than regular chives and the blooms are much larger. Their taste is oniony with a hint of garlic.

This year I switched from common chives to 'Profusion' chives (which I got from Richters, a Canadian nursery and mail-order company that specializes in herbs). The mauve flowers are sterile and do not set seed. In the past, I've had to cut my chives back hard after they flower to rejuvenate the foliage and to prevent them from seeding everywhere. Profusion Chives seem to stay small and compact throughout the growing season. Simply remove the faded flowers and you're good to go.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens. 
They weren't marked, but I think these are Allium 'Giganteum'.

As well as these edible members of the onion family, there are ornamental alliums as well. This June I was lucky enough to visit the Toronto Botanical Gardens when the alliums were in flower.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

Allium christophii 

Allium christophii up close and personal.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

I was particularly struck by the fact that the alliums had been grouped into small clusters. The effect was soft and cloud-like. 

Private garden Mississauga, Ontario

Of course, you don't need a large garden to group your allium bulbs. I thought they looked wonderful in this much smaller garden that I visited last May (visit this garden here).

Myself, I've always had a tendency to dot them around the garden with other flowering bulbs just as you see here:

Private garden, Toronto Ontario

Old unknown variety

I've primarily shown the tall round balls, that one usually associates with ornamental onions, but there are many colors, shapes and sizes available. For instance, there are shorter, bushier alliums as well (see above).

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

The colors range from white, pink, yellow, mauve, purple and burgundy. As well as the rounded flowers typically associated with the tall ornamentals, there are more oval-shaped blooms and floral fireworks of the kind you see here.

Joe's Garden, Brampton, Ontario

When flowers are finished, Alliums turn into magic wands. The decorative seed heads add a nice architectural element to any flower bed.

Millenium seedheads

You do have to keep a watchful eye on the magic hidden in those wands. Alliums can be prolific self-seeders!

Alliums beginning to open in a Toronto, Ontario garden

If you haven't done so already, fall is the time of year to order and plant allium bulbs. With all the inspiration I found this summer, I'd like to take better advantage of the wide range of colors, shapes and sizes these members of the onion family offer. So I called in the advice of an expert.

Pam Dangelmaier is co-owner and manager of Botanus, a mail-order bulb and plant company located in Langley, British Columbia. It's hard to choose from the nice variety of allium bulbs Botanus has on offer in this fall's catalogue. I had to begin my questions by asking Pam if she has a personal favourite.

"I love Allium sphaerocephalon," Pam says, "Not only is the deep burgundy color enticing, but it is also a literal 'bee-magnet'. As a beekeeper, I am always looking for easy to grow plants that the bees love and this one ticks all the boxes."

Allium 'Millenium' blooms in mid to late summer. Look for this allium at your favourite nursery.

Alliums that flower in late spring pick up where tulips leave off and bridge the gap nicely between spring bulbs and early summer perennials, but there are some alliums that bloom in the summer as well. 

I asked Pam for some advice as to how best to use alliums throughout the full gardening season. Here's her suggestion:

"Allium 'Ivory Queen' is a nice dwarf variety that blooms in early summer. Follow these up with a gorgeous display of Allium bulgaricum and Allium giganteum. Allium 'Millenium' produces large chive-like blooms in mid to late summer that make great additions to cut flower bouquets. All are easy to grow and maintain and look fantastic in any garden (or container)."

Allium 'Ivory Queen' (left) has creamy white globes on stems that are about 4" tall making it a great option for underplanting taller varieties. Bloom time: Mid-spring. Full sun/partshade. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 10 cm (4 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Allium 'Giganteum' (right) has mauve-purple flowers is one of the tallest alliums available. It requires full sun and well-drained soil. Bloom time: Late spring.  Planting depth: 20 cm (8 inches), Height: 100 cm (40 inches), Spacing: 30 cm (12 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 6-9.

Allium bulgaricum

Allium bulgaricum has fragrant pink bell-shaped flowers that hang in a downward curving umbel. Bloom time: Late spring. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 90 cm (36 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, good cut flower, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones:6-9.

Allium 'Millenium' has compact, upright foliage and mauve flowers. Bloom time: Mid to late summer. Full sun. Look for this allium next spring at your favourite nursery. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spacing: 25 cm (10 inches). Other attributes: Attractive to bees and butterflies, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Alliums planted in among some hostas.

As well as being great self-seeders, tall ornamental Alliums do have one other drawback: their foliage can be somewhat untidy looking especially as they begin to go dormant. I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for hiding this less than appealing attribute:

"It's true, the foliage is usually not very attractive and actually begins to yellow and fade before the flower heads bloom. A great 'trick' is to plant them in amongst low growing perennials and ground covers such as hostas, grasses and hardy geraniums."

A white allium in my garden.

Once you've got your alliums selected, there is only one more issue: where to plant them and with what?

The where is easy: alliums like full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' and Euphorbia polychroma in my garden.

The other partners are Euphorbia 'First Blush' (variegated in the middle foreground) with Euphorbia 'Bonfire' which is to the middle left.

One plant combination I have in my own garden is to mix Allium 'Purple Sensation' with a trio of Euphorbias. The three Euphorbias are nestled together at a corner I pass frequently.

Purple alliums mixed with pink Columbine is another pretty combination.

Eryngium (Sea Holly)

I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for plant combinations as well:

"One combination I love is Allium sphaerocephalon with Eryngium (Sea Holly). The burgundy and the blue look awesome together! I also think taller growing alliums such as 'Purple Sensation' and 'Mount Everest' pair nicely with hostas and perennial grasses."

Many thanks to Pam for taking a moment to answer all my questions at a very busy time of year. I hope you have found some inspiration to start your fall bulb planting!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. 
I benefit in no way from any purchase you might make from Botanus.

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