Well-known for their splendid flowers, the peonies also produce beautiful foliage and vigorous and broad shrubs, very suitable as single specimens, even in a small garden. The peony genus brings together some dozens of species of herbaceous plants and shrubs, widespread throughout the northern hemisphere; peony is also present in the Italian flora with some species of large purple and pink flowers, widespread in wooded and hilly areas.
The species that we can find in the nursery are not botanical species, but hybrids and cultivars, obtained from the crossing between species of particular flowering; generally the peonies they are divided into two main main groups: le peonies shrubs and herbaceous peonies. From these large groups of yours, through successive intersections and hybridizations, varieties known as intersections have been obtained thanks to the hybrids of Mr. Toichi Itoh, these peonies combine the characteristics of the shrubby peonies and of the herbaceous. Also the naturally occurring species in Italy belong to this group; these flowers have been grown in European gardens for centuries, and so there are countless hybrids and cultivars. These are herbaceous plants, with tuberous root, of large dimensions; during the spring months from the roots develop long stems that carry large jagged leaves of bright green color, to form large roundish tufts, which can reach 90-100 cm in height and width. In late spring and summer among the foliage, thin erect stems carry large buds, which will produce huge colorful flowers, usually in shades of pink. There are herbaceous peonies with a single flower, double, stradoppio, red, pink, white, burgundy.
Cultivation is very simple, and even the less well-groomed plants lead to incredible flowering; the large tubers should be planted in a good, soft and fertile soil, well worked and mixed with little sand and well-ripened manure. Once the tuber is positioned it is good to water the soil thoroughly, and check that it remains fresh and free of weeds.
The ideal position is very sunny, avoid placing the plants in an excessively dark or shady place, because they would tend not to bring flowers.
From April to September we water regularly, the plants can withstand long periods of drought, and they prefer watering to be provided when the soil is dry; we therefore avoid leaving the damp or wet soil for a long time, and we water occasionally, intensifying the supply of water in periods without precipitation. When the foliage tends to develop, in the spring, we spread around the plant some well-grown manure, or a slow-release granular fertilizer, specific for flowering plants.
Periodically we remove the withered flowers; it may happen that the flowers are so large as to bend the stems that carry them, this problem can be remedied by placing braces in the center of the head of leaves, to which the stems with the biggest and heaviest flowers are secured.
Towards the end of the summer we can stop watering, and later we can cut the foliage of the peony at 15-20 cm from the ground; the following year the plant will begin to sprout again when the first spring warmth arrives. Contrary to the herbaceous cousins, the shrubby peonies produce well branched woody stems, which can reach 150-200 cm in height; these peonies lose their foliage in winter, leaving their stems bare.
In the nursery we find many hybrids, of Asian and European origin; the flowers are large, red, pink, yellow or white. Generally the yellow or white flower varieties are among the most sought after.
The leaves are large, serrated, dark green; the branches are gnarled and twisted, of dark brown color, with thin bark, which often breaks into flakes.
Also these peonies do not fear the cold, and can find place in the garden, in a good rich soil, slightly acid, light and well drained. They prefer a sunny or semi-shaded position: the cooler the climate, the more it will be possible to position ours peony in full sun.
They are vigorous and rustic shrubs, which do not fear frost, nor drought and summer heat. In the event of prolonged periods of drought, we water the soil well, always waiting for it to dry perfectly between one watering and another.
Even the shrubby peonies do not need special care: we periodically remove the withered flowers; at the end of flowering we can shorten old and ruined branches, but we avoid drastic pruning, which often leads to the lack of flowers the following season. They are varieties of peonies that have characteristics belonging to the other two groups: they dry completely during the winter, but they produce woody and well branched stems during the summer. The flowers are large and fragrant, with a color ranging from yellow to pink to red.
Also these peonies need a good light and rich soil, and a sunny or semi-shaded position. They do not fear the cold. In general, all the peonies find their place in the sun, or in partial shade in areas with very hot summers; if placed in an excessively shaded place they tend not to produce flowers. They can be used as single specimens, but they are also very suitable for creating borders, given the beauty of their foliage.
They do not need great care, and it often happens that specimens completely left to themselves, in old gardens of abandoned houses, continue to produce their beautiful flowers over time. Certainly watering in periods of greater drought and fertilization with fertilizer for slow-release flowering plants, to be practiced in spring, lead to more abundant blooms.
We can multiply our peonies by dividing the tuberous roots or the tufts of roots; in this way, in autumn, we can get more plants from a single specimen. However, remember that the plants produced in this way will tend to take a few years to settle well in the soil, and therefore it is normal for a plant obtained from division to use at least a couple of years before blooming abundantly. The same applies to newly planted plants: infected peonies do not like transfers and every time we move a peony, plant it or divide it, expect it to take at least a couple of years to adapt to the new growing conditions .
We can get new plants of peonies also from seed, but since on the market it is possible to find almost exclusively hybrids, it is probable that few seeds are fertile and that the plants obtained from seed are not identical to the mother plant. In the arboreal peonies, the hybrids of Paeonia lutea are of later vegetation than the Paeonia suffruticosa varieties.
In herbaceous peonies, hybrids are instead earlier than the current horticultural varieties of Paeonia lactiflora.
Generally it takes 2 or 3 years before the plants develop in a normal way, meanwhile they carry out an underground job and therefore they can give the impression of vegetating producing few flowers or not flowering at all.
Being among the most precocious flowers, peonies also stop vegetating early, for this reason they may have an autumnal appearance already from early September.
To ensure a long life of cut flowers, it is advisable to cut the branches when the buds begin to soften and allow the color of the flower to be seen. If they cut off branches with the flowers already completely open their duration will be more limited. The multiplication of the shrubby peonies can be done by splitting on Paeonia lactiflora root (herbaceous) from late August to late September, using lignified branches produced by the plant during the year. Another multiplication system is constituted by the division of the clumps, also in this case in September, using large plants that are divided into 3-4 parts and making sure that each part contains an adequate number of roots and stems.
Also the sowing is a valid system to reproduce the peonies, both herbaceous and shrubby, but it must be borne in mind that the new plant will almost certainly have different characteristics from those of the plant from which the seeds were collected.
The reproduction of seed peonies is a very long process, only seed germination takes 2 years, but it is the only one that can be used to create new varieties. Generally it takes 7-8 years from the time of sowing to see a seedling-born seedling bloom. The peony blossoms once a year and is quite fast, offering an explosion of fantastic color that unfortunately only lasts a few days. The flowers are in fact as beautiful as they are delicate and a heavy shower or a few days of wind are enough to take away the beauty of peony bloom.
After flowering, not everything is lost because the peonies still have extremely decorative leaves that enrich the garden even simply with their presence.
Peonies have beautiful flowers but when can we witness their flowering?
The period in which peonies bloom ranges from the beginning of April to the beginning of June depending on the species. The first peonies to flourish are those of the Moutan group or the suffruticosa, the rockii ... basically all the shrub peonies labeled as Japanese, French and Chinese. At the same time, most of the herbaceous peonies and herbaceous hybrids also bloom. The flowering of both types of peony ends in mid-May.
In the month of May and especially in early May, the flowering of the Peony Lactiflora begins, herbaceous peonies with a simple or double flower.
These peonies are the last to bloom and can bloom even in early June but beyond this date it will be difficult to see peony flowers again.
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