What Makes a Great Peonie?

What Makes a Great Peony

Peony blooms are lovely even before they open.

Peony blooms are lovely even before they open.

The prairies of southern Minnesota area among the best places in the world to grow peonies, according to Laverne Dunsmore, owner of Countryside Gardens in Delano and one of the state’s foremost peony experts. Dunsmore, a grower and hybridizer, spoke at the Northern Green Expo, the annual educational convention of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association.

In his presentation, Dunsmore talked about what makes a great peony and highlighted some older, but wonderful varieties. Minnesota has a long history of peony growing, particularly in the area around Faribault, MN., home to the Brand Peony Farm and the annual Peony Festival held in the 1920s.

Here are some of the things Dunsmore recommends gardeners look for in a peony:

1) Hardiness. With the exception of Japanese peonies (Paeonia japonica), nearly all peonies are hardy to USDA Zone 4 (south of St. Cloud, MN). For those farther North, “this is the winter to find out what is not quite as hardy” as expected, Dunsmore says.

Peonies flop after rain

Peonies flop after rain

2) Strong stems. It never fails that a big rain hits the day after your peonies bloom. Choose varieties with strong stems that can hold up those big, beautiful blooms. If you can find it, Dunsmore likes‘Moonstone’, a pink-white peony with a nice fragrance. Extra bonus: Deer don’t like it.

3) Fragrance. Whether an odor is pleasant or awful is in the nose of the beholder, but Dunsmore thinks fragrance is an important factor in peony selection. Once he likes for smell are ‘Festiva Maxima’,‘Angel Cheeks’ and ‘Myrtle Gentry’. If you like your peonies odorless, try ‘Candy Stripe’.

4) Long bloom season. While some peonies bloom longer than others, many will bloom only a few days. To enjoy peonies for a longer time, plant several with early, mid and late bloom periods. Peonies, which used to be synonymous with mid-June, are now showing bloom around Memorial Day in some years, Dunsmore says.

5) Disease resistance. In the right location — with plenty of sun, enough spacing to let the breeze through and a well-drained soil — peonies are an easy-care plant. Plants with greater disease resistance tend to be those with thicker leaves, Dunsmore says.

If you are looking for older, beautiful varieties you won’t find in big box stores, Dunsmore recommend ‘Moonstone’, ‘Duluth’ and ‘Do Tell’. Which are your favorite peonies?

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About Tom McKusick 30 Articles
It is the mission of MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide. MSHS was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the Minnesota Legislature approved an act providing for the publication and distribution of 2000 copies of all the transactions of the society. 1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.