Great Peonies For Fall Planting

Great Peonies For Fall Planting

Part of Ep. 903 Fall is for Planting and Picking

Join Shelley Ryan and Roy Klehm at Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery near Janesville. Roy explains that peonies are long-lived and well-suited to our region. He shares proper planting methods for both herbaceous and woody peonies.  Herbaceous peonies in this program include Coral Charm, Chiffon Clouds, Little Song, Scarlet O'Hara and Sweet Shelley. Shelley also looks at Nike, a woody peony.

Premiere date: Oct 03, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Peonies are best planted in the Fall, but they're at their height of glory in May and June. We wanted to let you look at them in full bloom to help you decide which ones to plant. We're at Klehms Song Sparrow Perennial Farm near Janesville, and I'm with the co-owner, Roy Klehm. Roy, how many peonies are we looking at here? This is fabulous!

Roy:
We're looking at about 600 varieties, all two years old, from the crop we're going to harvest this fall.

Shelley:
What a row of color. Now, you actually come from a long line of peony growers and breeders, is that right?

Roy:
That's right. My great grandfather started our company in 1852. My grandfather was one of the founding members of the American Peony Society in 1903.

Shelley:
So, it's in your blood?

Roy:
Yes, I guess it is.

Shelley:
Then, you're a good person to ask, why should I grow them? Talk me into it.

Roy:
They're a wonderful perennial, probably one of the best perennials for the upper midwest. They love the cold weather. They love our rich deep soil. They bloom at a time of the year when the spring flowers are done, they're sort of filling a gap between the spring flowers and the summer flowers.

Shelley:
So, they're really going to fill up some of the dead spaces in the garden.

Roy:
Oh, absolutely.

Shelley:
And they're also very long lived, I know that.

Roy:
Very long lived, they tend to set a very deep root system down, and that helps them just live and thrive, I would say 30, 40, 50 years. Probably outlive you and I.

Shelley:
Wow, beautiful. What about insects?

Roy:
Not too many insect or disease problems, they're almost a fool proof perennial to grow.

Shelley:
Wow, fool proof, no bugs, and they like the cold. Perfect for Wisconsin, then.

Roy:
Exactly, perfect for the upper midwest.

Shelley:
Now you grow and sell two different kinds here, the herbaceous peonies and the tree peonies. What's the difference?

Roy:
Well, the herbaceous peony are the peony that most people think of when they think of peonies. And they make their buds below the ground like an asparagus or rhubarb, so they come up with a surge of energy in the spring, bloom, and have a beautiful foliage until October, and then you can cut the foliage down and they go to sleep for the winter.
Now, a woody peony makes buds for next year above the ground like a shrub, like a hydrangea, a Potentilla, you know, a shrub rose kind of thing.

Shelley:
More permanent, then.

Roy:
They're more permanent, and they just have a different style and texture to them.

Shelley:
Well lets talk about the varieties and how we would use each one. Let's start, obviously, with the herbaceous ones.

Roy:
Well, there's just some wonderful new varieties, like I'm holding Coral Charm, a semi double, and a beautiful color break. There's real nice single peonies. This is one I hybridized, called Chiffon Clouds. It's has a real pretty light pink on it, and the red-tipped stigmas here, which sort of add to the beauty of the flower.

Shelley:
Look at that, and they're so soft looking. So, we've come a long way from the big floppy ones that fell over all the time.

Roy:
Oh yes. We even have little rock garden ones that are like 12 inches high, that we just made this year. It's called Little Song.

Shelley:
Oh, so we can get them really short, too.

Roy:
From probably 12 inches high up to Scarlet O'Hara here. I would say this is three, three and a half feet high. But we've always tried to breed in really strong, healthy stems so they stand up to the weather.

Shelley:
So, these aren't going to flop over like the old fashioned varieties do.

Roy:
That's true, yes.

Shelley:
Now, you've got some also that aren't even available for sale yet, is that right?

Roy:
Right, we have some new hybrids right over here. And I'm going to show you a real nice, sort of a cerise red with a white center. It's unnamed. You know, I thought I'd call it Sweet Shelley, if you don't mind.

Shelley:
That would be wonderful, that would be quite an honor. So these are all works in progress.

Roy:
Oh, yes. And we probably have 20 years into that variety there already, you know, of testing and evaluation.

Shelley:
All sorts of choices. Now, with all these blooms, one of the most common questions I hear is my peonies don't bloom. There is kind of a trick to doing it correctly, right?

Roy:
Well, two things you have to remember is-- Could you hold these, please? The two things you have to remember, these are the eyes on the peonies, which are next to your stems. They should be planted just two inches below the ground, like right about here, and in full sun. Those are the two main reasons peonies don't bloom well. Full sun, away from trees and shrubs, and about two inches.

Shelley:
And then these will bush out.

Roy:
Oh, yeah. A herbaceous peony will get maybe three feet high with time. In the first year, it takes them a while to reestablish themselves, but with time, they'll get about three feet high, and the various height. And the woody tree peony will get about five feet high in our climate, maybe five or six feet wide. But I'm talking in 20 or 30 years, they could have 100 or 200 blossoms on a bush.

Shelley:
But what variety of tree peony is this?

Roy:
This is actually Nike, our goddess of victory, Greek mythological figure. And see the nice blends of colors we have now just sort of a peach with a little pearled ivory in it and the red flares. And I think these new colors really add a lot to the available peony color spectrum.

Shelley:
Planting is the same, or is it different?

Roy:
Well, it's a little different, because these can be planted anytime of the year, when they're containerized. See the wonderful full root system we have here? So, you know, good soil, well-drained soil, again, a little bit deeper than it is in the container here, and water it well and take care of it the first year, maybe a little bit of mulch. And try to establish these roots further into, so they can interface into your garden soil.

Shelley:
Okay, I have some planting to do, thank you very much Roy. And now comes the really hard part, choosing which variety to plant.

Shelley:
People are always talking about the relationship between ants and peonies. Is there a relationship?

Roy:
Well, it's sort of a good old fashioned wives' tale. The ants are attracted to the sticky substance on the peony bud. But once they eat that off, or the rain washes it off, they're generally not on the peonies. They have no-- They don't help the peony bud open at all.

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