Q: I am having bad luck growing peonies. I have purchased several in the past but they die within two years. I love peonies because my grandmother had them. I always think of her when I see them and I want some of my own.
A: Three things strike me as essential for success with peonies in Georgia: loose, well-draining soil, protection from afternoon sun in summer and chilly winters. To increase your success with the plant, choose a planting spot that gets six hours of morning sunshine but dappled shade in afternoon. Amend the soil with plenty of soil conditioner before planting.
Since peonies need to be cold in winter, plant your roots shallowly, barely an inch deep in the soil. You can fertilize in fall with an organic fertilizer like Flower-tone(tm) or in spring with bulb fertilizer.
These peony varieties seem to do best in the South:
‘America’ large fiery-red flowers with golden center tuft.
‘Blaze’ early single-petaled red with a sunny yellow center.
‘Bride’s Dream’ creamy white with soft yellow center
‘Coral Charm’ deep coral buds that soften to coral-peach when open
‘Festiva Maxima’ large, early, white double flowers with crimson flecks.
‘Kansas’ large, early double flowers of watermelon red
‘Miss America’ snow white petals that open to a full early semi-double flower
‘Paula Fay’ glowing pink, early semi-double with waxy, textured petals.
Marty DeHart, host of Tennessee’s “Volunteer Gardener” TV show, says:
“The Auburn Peony Project is trialing tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) in the deep South.
“Herbaceous peonies are a different complex of species and hybrids. But good news — you can grow those big old fashioned types you long for here in the South. The trick is to pick the right varieties. In general, go for early blooming types. The later the bloom period, the less successfully that cultivar does in our heat.
“Some of the oldest and most tried-and-true cultivars are quite happy in our climate. Here’s what’s done well for me:
‘Festiva Maxima’ (white)
‘Bowl of Beauty’ (Jap. with rose pink petals, creamy yellow staminodes)
‘Red Charm’ (a wonderful true red, but be prepared to pay through the nose)
‘Kansas’ (rosy red double, very reliable)
‘Shirley Temple’ (blush daughter of Festiva Maxima)
‘Paula Fay’ (bright pink semi double)
‘Mons. Jules Elie’ (light pink)
“All the above are more or less fragrant. ‘Festiva Maxima’ and ‘Shirley Temple’ are intensely fragrant.”
See Auburn’s Peony Project.