Need help

Nederland, CO

Hi. I have 4 peonies that are behaving rather erratically. One year ago in the Spring (their first Spring in my garden) 3 of the 4 bloomed. This year, only one of them bloomed. Of the three that did not bloom, one has remained quite small. The other two are falling over and sprawling now. If this were only a depth issue why did 3 of the plants bloom last year? It is possible that I left on too much mulch (tho it was probably the same amount the year they bloomed). I am wondering if they need to be fed.

(Zone 7a)

Yes, Peonies need to be fed. Give them a good feeding now with Peony food. In the Spring, when I start to see leaves emerging, I push all the mulch off the plant area so the tops of the plants are exposed. They seem to like it and have produced very well for me.

Nederland, CO

Is Superphosphate a good Peony food?

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

I am surprised that your poenies are acting so wimpy after one year. How big were the tubers at first. If they are not getting enough food, they live off the tuber until it is depleted, then they die. I use azomite, a mineral additive, around the base spring and fall. My bushes are 48"+. Course, I don't know what your soil is like, so hard to compare. Steer clear of too much nitrogeon.

Nederland, CO

it's possible they got nitrogen from what I was feeding the irises which are nearby. The one of the Peonies is not near the irises. I may have mistakenly given it some manure, though. Wow. I didn't know that they feed off their own tubers. Thank you for the info. I'm not sure how big the tubers were at first, but I was working with a landscape designer who bought those Peonies for me. He told me that Peonies don't need extra care. Okay, Peony food asap.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

I don't really do much with mine. Other than the Azomite which was recommended by Crickett Hills Nursery in Conneticutt, I might throw a little 10-10-10 at them once in a while, or something with a lower first number if I have it. Depending on soil (and I would think your landscaper would know your soil composition) they should do well. If all else fails, you could dig one up and see the condition of the tuber, but I think feeding them and waiting til next year would be the better deal. Oh, and they need lots of sun. I would think that in Colorado, you would have plenty of that. They don't do very well in shade.

Nederland, CO

they do get plenty of sun. I'm at a very high altitude so they get a little shade in the daytime, but that shouldn't be a problem. I think I'll do as you suggest and feed them with Azomite and make sure I pull the mulch off in the Spring. Does the sprawling mean anything in particular?

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Remember that azomite is a combination of minerals helpful to the peony. You still need food from fertilizer. Just keep the first number low. Although I wouldn't see a 10-10-10 hurting them. Sprawling? Some do but not usually til they are bigger or have heavy blooms on them. Some are developed specifically for strong stems. Do you know the names of your peonies?

Do they have enough water? They aren't really fussy about that. Mine just get water when the rest of the garden does.

Kansas City, MO

Good advice about fertilizing now. In addition since they are doing poorly an additional application of balanced fertilizer, any one with the numbers all the same, in late winter Jan through early March can help. When I do fertilize in the winter I pick one of those days that I must get out in the garden.

Remove the mulch from the foliage area. After the first couple of years the plants should be established enough that frost in the ground will not loosen the plant. I do leave mulch to prevent early ground thaw and hold moisture in the surrounding ground.

All things including peonies will consume themselves if other nutrients are not available. That is why people become thinner when they diet. Plants will do the same thing.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

I just went and looked up what Scott Reath recommended for fertilizer - 5-24-24; if you can find it. My head spins with all the different combo's that various places recommend for plants like peonies, dahlias, iris, lilies. etc. Nor can I always find the ones recommended. I use fish emulsion sometimes, Osmocote on dahlias, 10-10-10 on lilies and iris. Oh, and some like acid soil and some don't. Alana, I never can remember which it is for peonies - prefer acid or alkaline?

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Locally I have been advised to use 10-10-10 fertilizer fall and spring after the first year, but i purchased the Adelman's peony food, which is 10-8-8. Since i add so much potash to my soil normally, I am guessing it won't be a problem to occasionally give them a dose of nitrogen.

I was wondering about hidden rocks or roots, which rob the plant of its nutrients. That, and hidden grubs or other pests is my big problem. My nursery expert said that grubs do indeed knaw at the roots if they're already in the grass roots. I know about problems when the leaves remain curled. I do mulch for the first year until early spring, with very light stuff, just to prevent frost heaves and because I like to plant herbacious ones high so the peony can choose its own level, and TP low for more growth. I understand some peony cultivars are easier to grow than others, too. I used to plant too low for the heavy soil, and it took a long time to get blooms.

Kansas City, MO

Most will take acid and alkaline. At the ends of the spectrum the they will not grow.

I believe that peonies and other plants adjust the area they grow in probably by break down of plant tissues. If anyone would do a scientfic long term study this could be proven or not. One of the reasons peonies with no care live so long.

Nederland, CO

I have fish emulsion. So, I can use that now. I will have to get the balanced fertilizer. I assume they like more alkaline if they don't want nitrogen. Or is that not the right way to think about this? I will have to look up the name of the Peony. It is sprawling now (except for the one that flowered). They have had plenty of water. The only thing I can think is that they need to be fed and that I planted too many other things around them (Irises, delphiniums, lilies - the lilies didn't do too well in that site either).

I think I need to feed them now because they look like they need it. Also, they will be covered in snow for about 5 months of the winter (depending on the winter). I am over 6,000' elevation.

Thank you everyone for your help. If I can find the name of the Peony I'll get back to you.

Kansas City, MO

Wait until the first freeze before feeding in your area. In other areas you can you can fertilize. Peonies all most always look ratty just before winter. Depending on where they are planted some will break dormancy and use up the nutrients they have gathered during the summer.

Even in elevated areas snow normally will not completely cover the snow all winter. Those are the days that I would apply fertilizer. The melting will send the nutrients directly to the roots.

Nederland, CO

Okay, let me make sure that I'm clear on this. Nothing at all now. Feed right after first freeze, which could be this month or next. And then wait until Spring, by which you mean what, exactly? True Spring, meaning no more frost starts in June for me. Shouldn't I pull back mulch and fertilize before then?

Kansas City, MO

If you have to pull the mulch back during the winter to apply fertilizer you have too much mulch too close to the crown. An established plant may only need mulch for water retention and not heaving.

The idea of application of fertilizer in winter is that the moisture as the ground freezes and thaws will dissolve the fertilizer slowly and provide a snack when the plant wakes up. The mulch will slow down the transfer. As usual never apply more than 1/4th cup in the area surrounding the crown.

You can apply the fertilizer now and next year apply at different times to see how your plants responds. There is no hard and fast rule other than pruning certain plants at certain times of the year to make them happy. If you were talking about tree peonies fertilizer now "could" force them to start their bloom cycle just in time to freeze next's season blooms. But that is a different topic.

Nederland, CO

So it makes no difference if I apply the fertilizer now or at first freeze?

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Gee I dont think I have ever fertilized my peonies other than a generous helping of compos in the bottom of the hole when I plant and occasional applications of compost but not every year. .
There is a lot of clay in my soil which I understand is a good thing.
Here's what my favorite peony guru ( Lindsay D'Aoust) says about fertilizers:

25. Should I apply fertilizer to my peonies?
Not necessarily.

Peonies are heavy feeders but whether or not additional fertilizer is necessary depends on the type of soil. Heavy soils tend to be more fertile than sandy soils and it is not always necessary to add fertilizer. Sandy soils however tend to be nutritionally poorer and the regular addition of nutrients will help ensure the peonies are well fed.

In my opinion these nutrients are best added in the form of compost rather than chemical fertilizers. Top dressing around your peonies each fall with well-aged compost will improve the structure as well as nutritional content of the soil. It is best not to add the compost directly on the crown of the peony, but rather in a circle around it.
If compost is not available, a granular fertilizer higher in phosphate and potassium than nitrogen can be scratched into the soil around the crown in early spring and fall.

The leaves are used to produce food that is stored in the tuberous roots over the winter. This stored food supports the plant growth the following spring. By cutting back the foliage prematurely, the plant makes and stores less food.

A peony will likely survive an accidental chopping once or twice because they are so tough. However, foliage cut back very early in the season year after year will reduce the flowering performance of your plant.

The bottom line is that the leaves have a job to do and the longer they have to do it, the healthier the plant.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

I've been trying areas with the different methods mentioned above because my soil is not of uniform quality. Problem with manure is the fungus it can bring, so I consider it a risk that I sometimes take anyway because the sandy soil needs to be built up a lot.

I am thinking about what Annette wrote about too much or too little PH. Since my soil is very acid, I add a lot of lime, so maybe Bowl of Beauty curled up because I didn't mix it properly in its hole. Worth replanting I guess.

Kansas City, MO

Rosemary, depending on what your underlying rocks are you may not need to be adding lime but sulfur. In my area the rocks are mostly limestone with a sandstone river to the east. I had always wondered at why with the rocks being limestone should I apply more lime. A speaker, sorry can't remember who, stated that the lime is bound chemically to other things and to release the lime to plants add a sulfur compound. I have wondered if those that use copper sulfate for fungus see a difference in the growth of their plants?

This year as last with the spring moisture with coolness into late June the foliage grew really large and nice. When the 100+ days came the ends of the leaves became a disaster area as the plants withdrew the sap to survive. Many of the plants not just peonies are now showing up with a dry curled edge with the rest normal fall colors. Makes for an ugly display but better than killing the plants.

Your Bowl of Beauty may have suffered the same fate. If you have not cut the folliage back check the edges of the leaves to see if they are a different texture than the rest of the leaf.

Sometimes if you take a moment and look around you rather than focusing on a particular plant you may see that other things are effected similarly. Then you can contemplate how strange and wonderful Mother Nature is and how she can effect all things. Some the same. Some differently. A cup of your favorite beverage and a stroll can open your mind to all kinds of new things.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Interesting, Annette. Where I live the rocks and ledge are granite, but there is also a lot of sand, not all of it builder's sand either. In Maine, there's even a place called the Dessert of Maine where all the topsoil blew off a farm and left sand dunes inland. Most of the peonies I planted last year where I also used copper sulfate for fungus DID do very well, but it was also soil that was carefully ammended with good soil, manure and compost, plus lime, so nothing's scientific here. Bowl of Beauty behaved differently than the other strong roots I had planted, because the leaves came up small and curled, and eventually they fell off or were trampled. My next step might be to check the root, or at least look for bedrock under the bed.There is a lot of sand within 10' of this particular peony because I hadn't corrected that area yet, so lack of minerals or drainage are probably issues. With this new information, might there be any harm in adding sulfur to this as one does for hydrangeas?

Kansas City, MO

You can only experiment with the sulfur as I know nothing about hydrangeas and what works in one part of the country may not in another.

I would check to see if your Bowl of Beauty's root is still there. If the small hair roots appear to have pearls on them amend the soil but before you replant cut off all of the fine roots and put them in trash. This is caused by a bug that is a problem with sandy soils. Then check with your local extension service about solutions. Do not worry about infecting your soil the problem is already in the soil. Some will tell you to pitch the whole plant but removing all of the fine roots will take care of the problem for now.

If anyone does dig a plant with the string of pearls for gifting cut the strings off and ask the person receiving if they will accept them. According to some growers all soils have them just sandy soils allow for easier entry into roots.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Thanks! I will examine the root next chance I get. Connecticut Vermont and Mass all have good extension services so I'll keep that in mind too now that you mention it. I hadn't seen anything on their sites before about peonies on their regular publications. Is this what they mean by nemotodes? I wonder if the seven bug killing insecticides touch the bug, and if it could affect the buds too. My nursery guy had said to try a wide ranging insecticide in the peony roots when I found grubs nearby last spring, but it was already too late. M. Jules Elie came up nicely, no problems with the leaves, but there were bites out of the buds that didn't manage to make it. These are the two peonies that were a little higher up on the hill where they were closer to deep sand and only about 5 hours of sun at the time (now all day sun). The soil near them will also be better this year.

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