Basic Guide to the Culture of Peonies

Peonies are easily grown and their requirements are few, but they respond beautifully to a little special care and attention by producing best quality flowers and many of them. With this thought in mind we offer the following suggestions gained from many years experience in growing and handling peonies.
HOW TO HANDLE IF YOU CANNOT PLANT UPON ARRIVAL -- Keep the packaging material damp (not wet) and store plants in a cool location. Storage in your refrigerator vegetable box is ideal. When to Plant. Peonies may be planted in September, October and November before the ground freezes. We prefer early October planting. Spring planting is not desirable because the plants begin their top-growth before the roots have become well established. Where to Plant. Select a sunny, well-drained location for your peonies. They will tolerate some shade, but should have at least a half-day of sunshine. The best blooms are usually found on plants growing in full sunlight. Do not plant near large trees or heavy shrubs where they would be robbed of necessary moisture and nutrients. Plants may be spaced from two to four feet apart depending on desired effect. If you wish to develop large specimen clumps space them four feet apart. Peonies prefer a soil that tests 6.5 ph.
Never Plant Peonies Back in the Same Location unless you have first removed the soil that was around the original plant, and have replaced with new soil. Peonies will grow in one location for many, many years and do well, but once the plant has been dug, do not reset another in the same spot unless you have first removed the old soil and replaced with new. Suggest removing about 1 1/2 cubic feet of dirt. A handful of sheep manure to a plant may be given in the spring to improve the bloom. Liquid manure also may be used with discretion, for the same purpose.
Disbudding. Most varieties of peonies develop several small lateral or sidebuds near the base of the terminal bud. If large flowers are wanted, the side buds should be removed so the strength will all go into the terminal bud. The side-buds should be removed as soon as they are about the size of a pea. This is easily done by pulling them downwards and sideways with the fingers. Some people prefer leaving their side-buds which develop and prolong the blooming season. The side-buds bloom later than the terminal buds. Insect Pests. In some sections of the country, where thrips are prevalent, some late varieties are damaged to the extent that the buds fail to open even after they are almost fully developed. Spraying or dusting, at weekly intervals should control the thrips very well. Apply first application when buds are about the size of a large marble. We like Orthene. Why Peonies Do Not Bloom. Planted too deeply...examine and if eyes are more than 2" under ground, raise to proper height. Buds killed by late frost; attacked by thrips water logged; killed by disease. Plants too young, undernourished; undermined by moles or gophers; receive too much shade and not enough sunshine; moved and divided too often; planted too near trees and shrubs, or crowded by other plants; receiving too much nitrogen...cut down on fertilizer rich in nitrogen. Ground too dry...water down to bottom of roots. High heat — late full doubles may fail as result of excessively hot weather.
What to Expect After First Spring After Planting. After planting a standard division will make one or more stems six or more inches high. Do not be discouraged if the growth is low and only one stem appears. It may bloom and it may not. Many of the most successful growers never allow a plant to bloom the first year. The first year blooms are often not typical of the variety. It may take three years before the plant blooms true to variety.