Old peonies for new gardens

Plus garden to do’s for August & September
By L.A. Jackson

Peonies have long been a beautiful tradition in Carolina country landscapes, but folks who have never grown them might be hesitant to give these pretties a try because they can be finicky bloomers, right? Well, yes and no. Many cultivars bred in more northern climates need longer, colder winters than the sunny South can provide to stimulate spring flower production, but there are old-time, tried-and-true selections that have proven to be steady performers in our warmer region. Need examples?

Some of the better time-tested varieties for southern gardens include 'Monsieur Jules Elie' (introduced in 1888) that sports light pink, double blooms; 'Festiva Maxima' (1851), a perfumed, double-white charmer; 'Nymphe' (1913), with its fragrant, blushing pink blossoms (pictured); 'Sarah Bernhardt' (1906), a popular selection with pleasing, double-pink flowers; 'Felix Crousse' (1881), a raspberry red showoff; and 'Flame' (1939), which is well lit with eye-catching red single flowers.

In this region, peony divisions are best planted in September. Locate them in an area that receives at least six hours of sun with a bit of shade in the afternoon. The soil should be well-draining and amended with compost. In acidic soil, mixing in a hand full of lime is also a good idea.

The planting hole should be worked to at least 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide, but the top of each division should be placed no deeper than an inch below the soil. Setting peony divisions too deep is one of the main reasons these beauties fail to flower.

Garden To Do's

August

  • There is still time to squeeze more produce out of the veggie patch by adding fast-maturing plants such as eggplants, peppers, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes early this month.
  • Cool-season vegetables such as collards, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach can also be started now from seed in flats in a shady location.
  • Free plants! August is a good time to dig and divide cannas, irises, primroses, spider lilies and daylilies.
  • It's time to plant bulbs. No, not spring-flowering bulbs but rather fast-maturing, fall-blooming beauties such as colchicum, sternbergia and autumn-flowering crocus that will put on a surprise show before winter grips the garden.
  • Neighborhood dogs and cats enjoying your garden a little too much? Sprinkle fine-ground black pepper around their favorite play spots. A snoot full and a few sneezes later, and they will think twice about sneaking into your garden again.

September

  • Add some colorful snap to the fall flower garden by including such plants as asters, calendulas, dusty millers, ornamental kales, flowering cabbages and pansies.
  • Keep leaves and fallen fruit raked up from under crabapple trees to help control a fungal disease known as scab. Wear long pants for this chore because hornets, wasps and yellow jackets like to imbibe on the juice of overripe fruit, and an insect with a buzz on and a stinger readily on hand is a big "Ouch!" waiting to happen.
  • Before leaf fall, examine your woody ornamentals for dead, diseased or damaged limbs and prune them off.
  • Begin bringing in house plants before nighttime temperatures start to cool into the 50s. Repot if necessary, prune unsightly foliage and check carefully for unwanted insects looking for winter havens.
  • Keep the bird feeder well stocked because activity will increase with the coming of fall. Also, continue cleaning out the bird bath and adding fresh water weekly.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at: lajackson1@gmail.com

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