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Written by J.K. DePeal, Garden Writer   
Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:24

Shy, bashful peony adds “bold beauty” to a garden

After a very chilly, wet spring – May has come with a burst of fresh green and colorful blooms on trees, shrubs, and spring flowers. The bright colors of May are a treat to the senses after the gloomy gray of a long winter. It seems like the later heat of the season also tends to draw some of the brightness out of the colors of the grass, flowers and foliage during the summer months.

Mid-May is usually the safe planting period for Northwest Ohio but it is always a good idea to check weather and temperature forecasts before setting out tender plants. With the damp conditions we are having this year, be careful about too much walking on the soil in your beds and gardens as this will compact the soil which reduces its air content.

The roots of the plants you will be putting into your garden will need this oxygen to help them get off to a good start.

A gorgeous May-bloomer now in full leaf in many yards and gardens in our area is the peony. This huge and often fragrant flower is a native of China, Asia, and the U.K. Peonies prefer cool climates and they require a winter chill for dormancy. Needless to say, Northwest Ohio (zone 5) is ideal for growing peonies.

There are two types of peonies that are most common to our area the garden or bush type Paeonia hybrids and the tree peony Paeonia suffruticosa. The garden peony grows as a bush to about 18 to 36 inches. This peony produces blooms of single, semi-double, double, Japanese, and anemone types.

Garden peonies die back in the fall and grow back the following spring. Tree peonies grow as a woody shrub which loses its leaves in the fall but leave the woody stems through the winter. New foliage and flowers emerge from the stems in the spring.

Peony blooms can range in colors from white, black, coral, yellow, cream, crimson, pink, rose and purple. Peonies prefer to grow in a sunny location and the best time to plant them is in the fall. Plant the divisions in a hole about 12 to 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Add compost to the backfill and a hand full of fertilizer (10-10-10) in the bottom of the hole. Once a new peony is established, mulch the plant each spring with a 2” layer of organic matter and apply a low nitrogen fertilizer (5-10-10).

During the blooming season, remove the spent flowers just above the foliage as soon as they fade. In the fall, remove the mulch around the base of the plant and leave them un-mulched through the winter. Peonies need the winter chill for proper dormancy through the cold season.

The peony received its name from Paeon, as legend tells us, who was a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Paeon proved to be such a bright, accomplished student that Asclepius grew jealous of him and decided to do away with him. However, before Asclepius could carry out the deed, Zeus saved him by turning him into the peony flower.

For centuries, parts of the peony plant were used for a myriad of medicinal purposes in several Asian countries.

In the language of flowers, the peony means shyness or bashful, but this neatly compact bush with its huge blooms is more of a “bold beauty” in the flower world and a gorgeous attraction in many yards and gardens.

If you have garden questions or tips for other gardeners, send them in to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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