Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Premonition of Peonies

Paeonia tenuifolia budding
In the past few days I noticed that my brave peonies had decided it was time to stick their noses up above the ground.  Every year, I find myself anxiously awaiting the appearance of these delicate stalks and happy to see them pop up and slowly unfurl.  I still sometimes find it amazing that these few buds will cover the area of a bushel basket in a mere month or so, and I find it still more miraculous as the enormous fat buds swell larger than these stems ever dreamed of being.

Herbaceous peony sprouts
No plant that I grow can beat the peony for low maintenance care here on the prairie.  They ask only to be mowed off in the Fall and tossed a little fertilizer each Spring.  A little fertilizer goes a long way in fact, and this year I'm going to try a little organic compost on each peony instead of my usual handful of high-calorie lawn fertilizer in an effort to try and keep them a bit more compact. Watering, deadheading, pruning, insecticides, and fungicides are not ever on the menu for herbaceous peonies in Kansas.  The largest varieties might ask for a little stem support during their bloom periods, but I just plant them close and make them shoulder up against each other for support during the Kansas winds and storms. 

05/25/2010 in my peony bed
Despite the recent cold and the rain and possible snow predicted this weekend, peonies are the one early plant that I never, ever worry will sustain frost damage or freeze back.  I used to cover these early buds with blankets and milk jugs, but after a few years, I decided that this "lower" life form has a far better grasp of when their time has come than I do.  Principally, the disastrous snow and freezes of mid-April in 2007 provided the evidence to me.  In that rare year, when the lilac blooms froze on the stems, the daylilies were frost-bitten, and the fruit trees dropped their buds, the peonies simply smiled at the freak cold and perked right back up when the weather warmed.   Not for nothing do peonies dot the oldest gravestones in comfortable ancient graveyards and are often the sole survivors at old abandoned homesites. They are, it seems, the wisest of the wise.


  1. Looks like some kind of space creatures. Must be a rock chalk choker of some kind.

  2. Here – 150 miles southeast – my peonies are 3 inches above ground. I haven’t yet added fertilizer or compost. The admonition to do nothing or to add lawn fertilizer led me to search the web for other methods for fertilizer. I found, in addition to no fertilizer, suggestions for fertilizer once a year or fertilizer twice a year, together with warnings against twice a year. Scratch the fertilizer into the earth; don’t scratch it into the earth. Put it close to buds; don’t put close to buds. Use 10-10-10, 5-10-10, bone meal (warning from Wikipedia that bone meal is not absorbed from above). And so on in an endless series of semi-plagiarized suggestions.

    University sources and experts disagree. No Cochrane collaboration here. No meta-analysis is possible, as there seems to be no reliable data. The recommendation for soil analysis is problematic, as there are many, many different enriched and non-enriched areas in the garden – and it takes too long. ProfessorRoush is right: do what works or doesn’t work. Smell the flowers.

    Fred Wolfe fwolfe@arthritis-research.org


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