It is springtime. The sun warms the earth, warmer temperatures become more consistent, trees bud up, and the lawn begins to green. If you’re like me, one of the things you look forward to the most is brushing aside winter mulch and garden debris to see what little plants are poking up through the soil. In many locations, the red-pink shoots of peony plants are one of the earlier signs of spring. Continue reading to learn about the spring care of peonies.
Peony Care in Spring
In cooler climates, peonies are often protected from the cold winter by a thick heap of mulch. The first step of spring maintenance requirements for peony plants is clearing away any mulch or debris around peony shoots to allow them to soak up much needed sunlight. This is also a great time to weed around peony plants.
Oftentimes, in spring weeds will come in before ornamental plants and peonies do not compete well with weeds. Hand weed the area first and never spray herbicides near peony plant crowns or root zones. If you need extra help controlling weeds, you can apply a pre-emergent herbicide, like Preen, around peony plants after hand weeding, but do this only when peony shoots are at least 6 inches (15 cm.) high.
Melting snow and spring rains can sometimes leach valuable nutrients from the soil. However, fertilizer should never be sprayed on or too close to the crown of peony plants, as this can cause fertilizer burn and crown rot. For best results, mix a low nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer into the soil 6 to 18 inches (15-46 cm.) out from the plant crown. A 5-10-10 or 10-20-20 low nitrogen fertilizer is recommended to encourage strong roots and exquisite blooms. If soil has eroded from around your peony plants, you can add organic material, but don’t use manure as it is high in nitrogen.
For extra-large, show quality blooms, peony growers sometimes cut off the side buds and leave only terminal buds. Caring for peonies in spring also includes prepping them for growth. Since peony plants are known to flop over, plant supports are often used to keep them up. In early spring, while the plants are still small, you should place the peony rings or supports.
It’s also a good idea to keep pets or young children away from the delicate young shoots of peony plants in spring. Young shoots are easily broken which can lead to pests, diseases, and even the death of the plant.
Peonies can also be susceptible to a fungal disease known as botrytis. Fungal spores can overwinter at the base of plants or amongst garden debris. When temperatures and humidity rise in spring, fungus spreads and grows. Spring care of peonies should include treating the plant with copper fungicide or lime sulphur.