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Choosing peonies

To find the right peony for your garden, consider color and length of season before you make a decision

Radio interview source: Laverne Dunsmore, Co-Owner, Countryside Gardens

Listen here to the radio story (mp3) or read below

Peonies are a lazy gardener's dream. They're one of the few plants that doesn't require pampering. Laverne Dunsmore is a specialty peony grower in Minnesota with over 400 varieties. He says what most people look for in peonies are fragrant plants that are long bloomers and don't fall over. He recommends that you first choose a color you like, and make your season last longer by adding hybrids.  
 
"You have about a three-week bloom season," he says. "I would recommend that you get a hybrid. That'll bloom early. The true coral-colored peonies, the true yellow peonies – those typically are going to bloom a week earlier than regular garden peonies. So if you like a long blooming peony season, you hear about an early blooming one, a midseason, and a late blooming peony, like a Sarah Bernhardt peony, which is a nice, soft pink color."
 
Peonies need eight hours of full sun. They stretch to reach light, and that may make them fall over. You may need to support them from falling over in the rain. It depends on the variety. 
 
"If you have full, big, double peony with lots of petals, the rain sits in side of it, is not repelled, or doesn't run off," says Dunsmore. "What'll happen is that it will get really heavy and just fall over. If you get a single peony, where you see the yellow center on it, and you just have a single row of petals, there's no place for the rain to sit inside the peony, so therefore they usually don’t fall over."
 
The plants grow up to 36-inches tall and as wide. Dunsmore says to space them four-feet apart in rich soil. Don't crowd them with other perennials and annuals, because they need a lot of air circulation. 
 
Dunsmore says you don't need to fuss over peonies or supply extra irrigation. Maybe add a slow-release granular fertilizer in the spring. It takes about three years for a plant to reach maturity, but then you'll have flowers for decades. 
 
 

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