Gardener's Grapevine 2012.04.18

Written by David Green.

Rain rain, go away, come again on a weekday. Preferably when I’m stuck inside at work so I can play in the dirt on the weekends.

Last Saturday I got the impression I was being told to do my housework and let the outside be. But it’s so terribly hard when those darn dandelions will not stop their ever-loving invasion of my flower bed and garden. I am so amazed at the advanced rate of growth of the perennials this year.

My daughter Jacquie brought me a start of her miniature hosta “Dragon Tails.” It is so cute with long yellow green leaves that twist and curl looking like a dragon’s tail. When she delivered it, it was about a half-inch tall. Three days later it is one and a half inches tall. It’s crazy. 

The house Art and I bought 26 years ago was originally built by a man named Stanager. Apparently the Stanagers liked peonies, because when we bought the house there were peonies coming up everywhere in the side yard. Every spring I dug them up and every spring more popped up.

They never bloomed because of how deep they were planted. I had to dig and dig to get to the roots, and as the old saying goes, I thought I’d be handed chopsticks by the time I got to the root base. Somehow I thought I might be on the other side of the world before the things were out of the ground.

Well, twenty plus years later, these plants which were little more than roots, are beautiful plants that every year grow more beautiful. Peonies do not like anything to mess with them when they set their blooms. The only thing they tolerate is the ants which crawl over the buds collecting the nectar and slowly unfurling the leaves of the flower.

Once open, a friend taught me an easy manner for dislodging the ants from the flowers so they can be brought inside without their little friends. Just simply turn the blooms upside down in a large pail of water and gently swirl them. Pull them out of the water and leave them upside down long enough to shed the water, then bring them inside. 

Here’s a little information on peonies. They prefer a cooler climate and do well in zones 3-8. Their roots do better if they are planted in the fall and are allowed a month or two to grow prior to the first heavy frost. The root stock bought in the spring is usually held over in cold chambers and has undergone great stress. They are hardy plants and will usually rebound, but it may take a while. 

Peonies prefer soil slightly acidic, but not extremely acidic like rhododendrons and azaleas do. To plant the rootstock, dig a hole deep enough to bury the entire root with the highest crown, but no deeper than two inches from ground level. If they are planted too deep they won’t bloom. It would be my guess that 100 years of being ignored will let the roots get deep enough for this to occur too. Case in point, our house.

Mulch around the planted root, but do not cover the top of it. Peonies do not like to stay wet and the soil must be well drained or their roots will rot and they will die. 

There are many new varieties of peonies and some are so very vibrant in color and size of bloom. They are an excellent choice for any garden. Just use the water trick before enjoying them inside.

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