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Planting Instructions

BASIC INFORMATION AND BACKGROUND

In the United States, these deciduous shrubs thrive from zone 4 (southern Minnesota) to zone 9 (Los Angeles or Orlando). Misinformation about treepeonies suggests they must undergo freezing conditions in order to bloom. We know of many gardens in Texas, California and Alabama that have excellent blooms even though the ground does not freeze. (See our section - Peonies in the South and California- Zone 9)

Species plants of the present garden cultivars come from the mountainous regions of northwestern and southwestern China. These areas are not lush with growth, but are dry and windswept. As a consequence, tree peony plants must have a well drained planting area. Any standing water will kill them.

The Chinese gardeners are well aware of this characteristic. In many Chinese paintings showing tree peonies, we see plantings in raised beds, very large pots, or a raised garden area. At Cricket Hill Garden, we use all the above as well as planting on gentle slopes.

Many varieties produce fertile seed. These are not used in propagation since they do not produce plants or flowers in the same shape as the parent plant.

Propagation of name varieties may be accomplished by: grafting scions of one year old wood on to the roots of either tree peony seedlings or herbaceous peony roots, branch layering, and in many varieties that we sell, root division. New varieties are produced by sowing a large number of seeds either from open pollination or purposeful crosses and selection of worthwhile cultivars. The Chinese have used this method since the 7th century and now claim over 600 distinct cultivars.

This commentary was written a thousand years ago and it is still true today.

"The mudan have a nature preferring cold to warmth, and dryness to moisture. When transplanted, the roots flourish. They are happy facing the sun, but putting them half in sun and half in shade is called "nourishing the flowers." Planting them at the best time, and (knowing the methods of ) grafting and pruning is called the "handicraft of the flower". If they get shade and watering just right, with transplanting and grafting according to the art, flowers can be produced with several hundred petals and measuring
a foot across. When expert gardeners select the best sorts for planting, and every detail is correctly managed with care, then the flowers will flourish abundantly, and among them there will arise marvelous new grades (of forms and colors) by spontaneous transformation".

Ou yang Hsiu 1007-1072 A.D.

Tree peonies, or "mudan" in China, like a pH from about 6.5 to 7.0. They can grow well in clay soils but should have added sand for drainage. Since the plants produce a large quantity of flowers and leaf material, they do best in a sandy loam with some added compost.

Plants need at least a 4 to 5 foot center when planted. They are difficult to move when older because of their deep root systems. Consideration must be made for their future size at planting time. Tree peonies will grow into a large shrub, about 4 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide by the time they are 10-12 years old. Mature tree peonies can have 50 to 75 flowers. Our 12 - year old specimen, "Green Dragon in a Pink Pool" had over 70 flowers this spring. Very old plants, 75 years and older, can have more than 100 flowers!

They should not be planted closer than 10 feet from large trees, as many tree roots offer major competition for water and nutrients.
The Chinese tree peony blooms over a two to three week period. Here in the northeast this is from early to late May. In northern California, blooms are from early March to late March. Texas has tree peony blloms in late February or early March. In order to have flowers last as long as possible, we strongly suggest they be planted in dappled sun-shade or 5 hours of sunlight. If they are planted in full sun, as some nurseries suggest, the plants will grow well but the flowers will be gone in a day or two.

PLANTING TECHNIQUES

The best way to plant is to dig a 2 x 2 foot hole, removing all subsoil, If it is poor. Refill hole about half full of good, sandy loam with some added compost. Mound up the soil in the center, spread roots out in a typical cone shape as it is done with many bare root plants. Fill hole with water to insure that there are no air pockets. Alternate soil and water and fill remaining area with very soil. Water again to settle all soil. No other fall watering is necessary in most areas.

In zones 4-8, we have found it a good practice to mulch new plantings with about 6-12 inches of material (leaves, straw, etc). This is done after the ground freezes, only necessary the first year, in zones 5-7 to protect new roots from heaving during the freeze and thaw cycles of winter. After settling in the first year, our peonies here in zone 5 do not get much winter mulch. They get through the winter without any problems. Zone 4 plantings should always be well mulched to protect the plants during winter.

In early April, we remove the heavy mulch, a little at a time, about six weeks before blooming. Buds will be killed or set back if hit with a late spring freeze. We do maintain a light mulch layer on the Plants to conserve moisture in the summer. We do not irrigate the display garden here in Connecticut; the dryer summer condtions do not affect settled plants. However, we do recommend some watering the first summer in the ground if conditions are very dry, as the roots are not yet established.

We recommend feeding in spring and summer with a weak solution of fish-seaweed solution about every 14 to 21 days. Do not fertilize until after the leaves turn green, and end in late summer. Buds are formed by late summer for next springs bloom.

Another way to improve soil and thus the blooms of the plant , would be to use compost. After blooming , we dig a trench one foot wide and 6 inches deep at the drip line , going away from the plant. We fill this circle with the compost. Do not use fresh manure. Composting encourages the plant to grow outward toward its food. The mudan will grow and bloom under various garden conditions, however if you wish to maximize growth and flowers you must provide plants with maximum conditions. After planting, tree peonies require little perpetual care, in addition to periodic feeding. They are susceptible to few diseases, the most notable of which is botrytis. To control this common garden fungus, which turns leaves and buds black , we remove all leaf material as close to the first frost as possible. This measure does not allow the over wintering and consequential reinfection of this disease in the spring. If fungus is present in a cold, wet spring, we spray with a copper /soap solution from Garden's Alive tel. 812-537-8650. Or you may use an elemental copper dust to counter the fungal problem. We have found no large scale insect damage. The only problem we have ever had is a small infestation of carpenter bees that bore into the pith of older stems. Check for them in early spring or fall when branches are bare. Get rid of them by them by poking a long thin wire (a bent paper clip) in the hole, then sealing the hole with clear glue or clay.Any pruning of dead wood should be done in spring, after the plant has leafed out, to be sure the stem is dead. Thinning of interior growth may be done after 6 years of age to select out 6-8 stems which will become the main branches as the plant matures.

OUR GUARANTEE

Transplanted tree peonies set new hair roots when they go into dormancy in the fall. This is the time they establish their foundation and connection to the soil. In the spring, the plant concentrates on leaf and flower production. Without a solid root system, spring planted tree peonies are often set back or die. Spring planting is responsible for the reputation tree peonies have as being difficult to grow. Fall planting avoids these problems and works in harmony with the cycles of the plant for successful growth.

Our success rate on plants we ship is almost 99%. Cricket Hill Garden will replace plants if they do not grow and die back completely during the first year. We ship only the best quality, 4 yr. old stock, with 3 to 5 woody stems, with root systems 12-18" long. Many of the single and lotus forms will bloom the first spring after planting. Complex double forms will not bloom true for another year or two. Complex double flowers may first bloom as single, so do not be fooled into thinking you have a mis-labeled plant. This is just the nature of the tree peony.

Our herbaceous peonies are 4-5 eyes, and will produce 4-5 stems, usually the first year with flowers. However, all peonies need a year or two to really show what they can do. If you have any growing problems with our plants, please contact us and we try to diagnose the difficulty. Tree peonies are a wonderful plant to try in your garden, with lush spring flowers and delicately cut foliage all season. The Chinese have admired them for centuries, and now they are available to American gardeners.

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