Thanks to our cooler than normal spring, we have been forced to wait longer than usual for the local peony buds to grow larger and finally burst open sharing their delicious fragrance and ethereal petticoat ruffles. After all of the anticipation of having fresh cut peonies to scent our homes and share with others, once the blossoms have arrived, their appearance is often short-lived. Because peonies are one of the few perennials that survive the herds of deer that roam our land, I have been gathering advice over the last several years about how to best enjoy my favorite flower for as long as possible. Some of these tips might be helpful to you, too.
Nip Secondary Buds for Bigger Main Blossoms
I usually forget about this recommendation until it is too late, so do as I say, not as I do. This year my timing was right for some of my slower growers that don’t get as much sun.
If you can clip most, if not all, of the secondary buds on each peony stalk by the time they reach green pea size, all of the sun’s energy will go into the main bud, and the result will be larger blossoms.
Cut Blooms When They Feel Like Marshmallows
I love this descriptive tip from aFh who learned about it at her garden club. I always used to just eyeball the buds and harvest them when the buds looked like they were starting to open. When you follow this tip, you will have the chance to watch the bud open more slowly and appreciate this flower in all of its stages.
You really shouldn’t wait until the flower is fully opened to harvest it. Its shelf life will be much longer when you fully condition it and change its water at least every other day. Because you wait all year for peony season, stay vigilant in your harvesting, and you will reap great rewards.
Ants Are Not Your Peonies’ Enemy
Some people actually avoid cutting peonies to enjoy in their homes because the buds are covered with ants and the opened blossoms often contain a few malingerers. Ants have been considered Mother Nature’s tool for coaxing the peony to open in this symbiotic relationship between plant and insect. Ants eat the sticky nectar that coats and protects each peony bud as the flower inside matures.
When you start squeezing buds in search of the marshmallow feel, you will become acquainted with this coating. Just shake the opening buds or flowers before you bring them into the house to get rid of most of the ants, then submerge and swish the whole flower in water. The ants should slide off, and you can simply send them down the drain.
Don’t Be Afraid to Force Tight Buds
As I mentioned last week in 10 Floral Design Tips from Latham Flower Camp 2013, peonies, especially when not fully flowered, are pretty tough. When your bud looks like the top left photo below,
- swish it in warm water to remove the sticky nectar
- pound the bottom of the bud against the counter or other hard edge
- peel off (or back) the outer green bracts
- give the bud another base pounding
- blow on the top of the bud
- massage the bud with your fingertips
- peel back the top petal layer
- continue to blow, massage and peel until you like how it looks
It won’t open anymore on its own but will look this way for quite a while if you continue to give it fresh water and trim the base of its stem.
Delay Gratification by Storing Just Budding Flowers in the Fridge
Right now my garage refrigerator is overflowing with peony stalks sharing space with gatorade bottles, beer and other extras that aren’t yet needed in the kitchen. I will be removing the large white blossoms later today to bring them back to life for church flowers being arranged tomorrow. I am hoping that the rest of my harvest will survive to use as a main centerpiece and other floral accents at the Royal Baby Shower Benefit on June 2nd. While some may not make it, I am confident that many will, as pictures from the shower should bear witness.
To me, the resurrecting ability of peonies is one of this flower’s most amazing qualities. As I described on Avad Fan,
Even though I have followed this advice for several years now, I am still always amazed at how great this tip from Andre Viette works.
All of these tips are easy, right? With just a bit of diligence, you can maximize your peonies’ potential. Your reward will be the multi-sensory pleasure of my favorite season of the year:
May 22, 2103