Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Planting Peonies

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A foggy morning here at the flower farm. Traffic on Route 2 is picking up as people head more west than east to work for the day. An Army convoy is heading east and it looks like the one I saw last week with chalk-marked numbers on the doors that commenced with ME---for Maine I surmise.

Last night's rain was enough to dampen the ground but the 1/10th inch did little more. I'm heading back  into the lower daylily garden today to dig more plants for Gail to pot up for next year's sales. She has a few more peonies to plant this morning and that will be it on them. Peonies are a great flower and one which often seems to be misunderstood.

Peonies have been around for thousands of years and they come with a list of misinformation. People seem to have been taught that they can only be planted in the fall, that they have to be planted deep, that they must have ants on them to ever flower---the list goes on and on. Peonies are easy to grow if you just remember a few things.

Peppermint--See thin red stripes?

Peonies grow from a thick root such as the ones pictured here. These are three year old roots from a wonderfully fragrant, pink peony named Dr. Alexander Fleming. (Dr Fleming discovered penicillin). Look closely and you will see the pink and white eyes. These will become the stems from which the flowers grow. In the commercial production of peony roots for sale, the plants are dug and divided every three years so that the roots at that time can easily be divided to this size with each root containing 3-5 eyes per root.

Peonies should be planted in full sun in well-amended soil in a dry location where springtime water is not a problem. The most important planting fact is that peony roots should never be planted deeper than 2". When I explain this to customers I use the "two digit rule" The top of the peony root should be no more than 2 finger digits below the surface.   With roots such as those pictured, find the eyes and adjust the root so the eyes are growing upward. When planting potted peonies, check the depth inside the pot with your finger. Press a finger down alongside a stem, checking for a root depth of 2 finger digits.
In garden settings, peonies sometimes become covered by grass clippings or leaves and other debris blown into the garden. Every few years check to see that the roots have not been covered deeply as long term that will have an impact on root bud production and the number of flowers you can enjoy.

In New England, peonies set buds for next year's flowers in mid August--a time known for hot, dry temperatures. If it's dry in your area then, water you peonies well. You'll notice increased production the following year.

We wish peonies would bloom all season long but they do not. By mid-July, the flowers have bloomed and all we have left until next year are leafy green plants, pictures and memories. You can extend your enjoyment by about 30 days if you cut peony stems when the buds are tight and just showing some color. If you simply lay cut peonies in the bottom of your refrigerator, they will keep surprisingly well. Take them out, trim the bottom off the stems a couple inches and put them in a vase with water. In a couple days, you'll be asking "Why didn't anyone ever tell me that before?"

In recent years, peonies have become a very important floral crop in Alaska. That's because the season there begins later than it does in the east. Having peonies available for the cut flower trade in August and September meets a growing demand. We wish ours would last that long in our gardens!

Have other peony questions? Want to know which peonies we have potted for sale? Give us a call at 802-426-3506 though Columbus Day or at 802-426-3505 year round. Peonies are special to us and we are sure they will be to you too!

Writing from the flower farm this morning where the fog has risen above the road but still holds tight along the river. A beautiful day is in the making!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Last Day of Summer 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

38.2° this morning on the mountain above Peacham Pond. Windless and quiet, save for Karl the Wonder Dog stretched out on the floor next to me....... snoring loudly and apparently dreaming too as he occasionally twitches a leg and lets out an indiscernible line of dog-talk. Good dog, Karl, good dog!

As we approach the end of summer a week from today, things have changed a great deal since I took this picture from the daylily display garden. The summer has been dry with many +80° days and too many 90° days for Gail and Alex to tolerate. The adjacent Winooski River is at late October level, and many folks are already lugging water after their water sources have dried up.

The tall hollyhocks in the picture have long since faded and round seed pods have formed but with rather limited seeds because of the extended heat. The daylilies are down to a dozen or so that are late bloomers. Autumn Gold, Autumn Minaret, Autumn Prince, Surprisingly Late, Olallie Mack, Olallie Keith, Ocean Swells, Ovation, Challenger, Butterscotch Harvest, Shocker, Yellow Sights, Sandra Elizabeth, plus another dozen that rebloom depending on weather conditions and sunlight.

I estimate that the flower production this summer was off by 25% because of the drought. Right now we are digging and dividing daylilies for next season and the soil is like powder and falls from the root clumps as I pull them from the ground. We need water badly but don't ever want to see a repeat of five years ago when two spring storms brought ten feet of water flowing over the gardens and then in late August did the same thing again as Tropical Storm Irene came to visit.

Despite the end of summer, it's a great time to get into the gardens with your camera and take a bunch of pictures to help you plan new gardens and give thought to redesigning older ones. Pictures make the task easier, especially when the snow is deep before you begin to think that new or upgraded gardens are a good idea. Save the photos on a smart card or put them in a separate folder on your computer so you can find them easily. All summer long not a day goes by without a gardener wanting to find pictures on their phone to show me and ask questions. I hate to think how long I stand there waiting for them to find the pictures. Use a smart card or computer folder with a name you can remember--it makes sense.

Along with the images, make some notes that will help with the design. Take critical measurements, note the current size of trees and shrubs and distances from your home or out-buildings. I make simple black and white copies on my printer and take them with me back to the gardens when I am taking measurements. Simple notes will be helpful a couple months from now. "Lemony Lace Sambucus--42 inches tall", "remove the Tiger Eye Sumac", "add more Helenium Salsa", "divide Strutters Ball and Bama Music", "68 inches from dwarf spruce to garage rain gutter". The planning process will be a great deal easier when you have reminders & real dimensions versus your best guesses.

So as temperatures decline, give some time to what you learned from your gardens this summer and want to change for next year. It's fun, it's easy. And if you run into a snag, always remember--"We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I hear a loon calling...but without receiving an answer.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm