We are so excited about our new Itoh peonies for 2017. These peonies are named for Toichi Itoh, the first hybridizer to successfully cross a tree peony with a herbaceous one. These intersectional hybrids have huge, beautiful blooms and lush green foliage. The plants grow to three feet tall and another three feet wide. The bush tends to resemble a tree peony with a domed, virorous growth habit, but it never produces a woody stem. The Itoh peony with it’s large double flowers is surprisingly disease resistant. After the flowering cycle, you can enjoy the handsome bush for the remainder of the season with it’s beautiful lacy foliage lasting well into autumn. Itoh peonies usually bloom for a longer period than most peonies. After they are established they may have as many as 50 blossoms in a single season because of their ability to produce primary and secondary buds.
Itohs blossoms are relatively long lasting. They make excellent cut flowers and are perfect for spectacular flower arrangements. One of our favorite Itohs, Yumi, is a gorgeous yellow with exceptionally large blooms measuring seven to eight inches across. Each flower is held on a strong stem above trouble-free, lacy, deep green foliage. The clear yellow flower petals have a nearly translucent quality and form a double flower with a light and pleasant fragrance.
Keiko is another one of our favorite Itohs. It has large, semi-double to double flowers that start out dark pinkish lavender and slowly fade to a soft pink. Each flower has a beautiful cluster of yellow stamens in it’s center and the flower has a light fragrance. It does well in full sun to dappled shade, and also makes an excellent cut flower.
Peonies are the perfect perennial for Boulder County. They love our full summer sun, but they need Boulder’s cold winters for bud formation. Peonies have been known to live for more than 100 years, and it’s not unusual for someone to still have one of their grandmother’s peonies thriving in their garden. Since they live so long and also don’t like to be disturbed after they are established, it’s best to take the time to choose the perfect location for your peony bed. They make a beautiful statement lining a pathway, but care should be taken to keep them in a fairly sheltered location out of the wind.
Peonies love a deep, fertile, humus-rich soil that drains well. In Boulder that usually means that you’ll have to add plenty of organic material to your soil. We’ve had great luck with Maxfield’s Potting Soil. Maxfield’s is a local company that collects and composts leftover vegetable matter, ages it, and combines it with worm castings, biochar, rice hulls, microbes, coconut coir and mycorrhizae to form a wonderful organic soil mixture that’s perfect for peonies.
In addition to the Itohs, peony cultivars include early, mid-season and late flowering varieties in a multitude of colors from coral, cream, crimson and pink to white and even yellow.
Garden peonies (Paeonia officinalis) usually grow 20 to 36 inches high and are grouped according to flower shape: single, semidouble, double, Japanese and anemone. Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) grow on shrub like plants. Fern leaf peonies (Paeonia tenuifolia) are very unique and hard to find. We have a beautiful one planted on the east side of the garden center. In the spring it comes up as a light and airy mound of green foliage about 18 inches tall and is covered with bright red, three inch flowers in late spring. We always mark it well so that it doesn’t get disturbed during spring clean up as all the foliage dies back into the ground in the fall and it doesn’t come up in the spring until the other peonies have already emerged.
For years every gardening book that you read claimed that your peonies wouldn’t bloom without ants. It is true that ants may be attracted to the sugary liquid that is secreted by the flower buds, but it is now believed that the ants are neither beneficial nor harmful to the plants. In any case we don’t recommend trying to get rid of the ants as they seem to disappear just as soon as the blossoms have opened and there is no more sugary liquid to attract them.
Deadhead peony blossoms as soon as they start to fade. Cut them off with scissors down to a strong leaf so that the stem doesn’t stick out of the foliage.
We always like to use a wire peony or tomato cage around our peonies. The cage keeps the whole plant upright and keeps the heavy flowers from falling over when they get wet.
Peonies take some time to get established so don’t expect too many blossoms the first year. Give them good soil and plenty of sun and they will get bigger and better rewarding you with fragrant blossoms for years to come.