Peonies have been cultivated for thousands of years, and for good reasons. Their massive blooms are some of the most impressive of all the spring and early summer. It doesn’t take much know-how to make these perennials happy. In fact, they’re easy to maintain and they supply ample blossoms for cut-flowers as well!
When Do Peonies Bloom?
The massive, ruffled blooms bring any flower border or walkway to life.
Peonies are one of the final jewels of spring, blooming in mid-May and June. Unlike a rose, peonies do not bloom continuously all summer, even with deadheading. Their window is usually about six weeks of blooming, but that can be extended by growing varieties with different bloom times.
The Perfect Place for Peonies
The massive, ruffled blooms bring any flower border or walkway to life. They’re a perfect compliment to roses, irises, or other perennials. After their exuberant spring blooming, the stately green leaves make a handsome shrub all summer. Since peonies don’t like to be transplanted, it’s best to plant them in a spot where they can flourish from the get-go.
- Full-sun is a peony’s best friend. They can tolerate half a day of light, but will produce the best blooms in 6 to 8 hours of afternoon sunshine.
- Shelter from the wind keeps peonies in best form. The top-heavy blooms stay upright more easily in calm conditions.
- Fertile, well-draining soil with a neutral pH provides the best food for your peonies.
How to Make Peonies Thrive
For such impressive blossoms, you’d think they require special care, but peonies don’t ask for much fuss. If you know how to make them happy, they’ll thrive in your garden for over 100 years!
- Save the fertilizer. If you have healthy soil, peonies don’t need many soil add-ons. As long as you work some compost into the soil when you plant, they’ll be happy for a few years.
- Support the stems. The heavy blooms and comparatively thin stems make them prone to toppling over. Use a cage or tie them to stakes to keep those blooms standing in the spring.
- Deadhead the spent flowers. Clip the stems back to the leaves, so you don’t have empty stems sticking up into the air.
- Cut them back in the fall after the first frost to protect them from any diseases that might form on the dead leaves over winter. They’re hardy to our climate and winters here in Illinois.
My Peonies Have Ants On Them
It’s common to see ants crawling up peony flowers, but these industrious little fellows cause no harm. Folklore says that peonies need ants in order to bloom, in fact, the peonies benefit from their presence but don’t require them for blooms to open. The ants feed on the sweet nectar in the blossoms and protect the flowers from other insects in the process. There’s no need to spray them. They won’t stay all summer, and will disappear after the flowers finish blooming.
How to Make Peony Bouquets
The soft, silky petals of peonies make gorgeous cut flowers. They’re ideal for wedding displays, bouquets with other flowers, or just to enjoy on the dinner table. But if you want them free of ants, and to last as long as possible, here are a few tricks to observe:
- Cut them once they begin to open, and don’t cut them too early! Completely closed peony blooms will not open once cut. Wait until the blossoms show color and are as soft as a marshmallow. This will extend their life and you’ll get them before any ants get lost inside the blossoms.
- Cut them in the morning when moisture is still in their stems.
- Recut the stems every 2-3 days, once you’ve placed them in warm water. Remember to replace the water every 2-3 days as well to keep them as fresh as possible.
Peonies are not the kind of flowers that bloom all summer. Their vivid blooms are gifts we have to enjoy in the spring. But if you know how to make them as healthy as possible, those blossoms give more than enough delight, and easily become a highlight of the year—both for the ants—and for you!
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.