Taking care of Peonies - fertilizers, watering, division and flowering
The application of fertilizer should be proportionate to the crop needs. They should be well fed in early spring and again soon after flowering requiring up to 100gm/m2 of artificial fertilizer. About half handful of low nitrogen fertilizer per plant is adequate, exceeding it may cause weak stems and reduced blooms. Application of fertilizer mix with a NPK ratio 12:32:16 is beneficial for plant growth. Fertilizer should be mixed well with the soil but kept away from direct contact with the roots.
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Although peonies can survive in dry weather, moisture is essential for good growth of the plant. Watering is essential especially during bloom season to obtain high grade cut flowers. Regular watering during dry summer season will ensure a good yield of flowers the next year. Good drainage must be allowed in order to prevent water logging around the plants. Saturated roots cause failure of the plants. Spring application of 2-4 in. of leafy organic mulch helps to keep the soil moist, cool and also controls weeds.
In home gardens the double flowered types often support to prevent bending of the stem to the soil. Circular fences or 2” chicken wire (about 2ft* 2ft) can be placed as soon as the shoots emerge from the ground. It is adjusted so that one shoot goes into one cell of the wire. However support is not required for commercially grown plants because the flowering stems are already removed at tight bud stage.
One may not be satisfied with the size and form of flowers during the first two years of planting. Normal size blooms appear from the third year onwards. For cut flower harvesting, 5-6 years old plants will be the best.
Larger flower size is obtained when axillary or side buds are removed as soon as they appear. They are removed in the early morning. Terminal buds on the tip of stems are left intact. Similarly old flowers should be removed in order to prevent seed formation, which will take the food reserve and affect next year’s bloom. In the autumn, after the foliage dies back stem should be cut 2-3in. from the crown.
Peonies should only be divided when it becomes very essential i.e. when they become too old to yield good quality flower. Plants selected for division should be healthy and vigorous. Lifting and division of the roots should be done after the plants become dormant. Before lifting, cut off the old foliage and stems to the ground. Soil is carefully dug around and under the plants, without damaging the roots. Using a clean, sharp knife, divide the clump into sections, each with at least three to four eyes and 2-3 fleshy roots. Treat the cut surfaces with a fungicide (Bavistin) to prevent fungal infection. Always plant them at fresh site of the garden.