Flower of the yellow Tree Peony - can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Flower of the yellow Tree Peony – can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Nick (from Cheshire), and an old friend of mine, contacted me recently with a sad tale:

‘Found my lovely tree peony snapped off at the base. It had taken about 3 or 4 years to flower and this year produced a massive single bloom, so I was hoping for more next year. We think the window cleaner might be to blame. I’ve planted up a few cuttings and it had produced 4 massive seed pods. Do you think there’s any chance of rearing the cuttings or germinating the seeds?’

Oh dear, I know how long it can take to get a flowering tree peony, having had one (Paeonia delavayi f. lutea), for at least 10 years, and only now getting some blooms. I think you’ve got three approaches to try and resurrect this wonderful deciduous shrub, Nick, but all will probably take a further few years to result in any notable blooms, I’m afraid:

1. You might be lucky and get some re-growth from the base of the plant, so don’t dig it up. Check if the break occurred above or below any graft point(most commercially grown Tree Peonies are grown on the roots of their more vibrant herbaceous cousins). If it’s above, you’ll possibly get another tree peony growing, if below it might turn into an herbaceous variety! You might give it a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone or another ‘balanced’ fertiliser to give it a kick-start (or rather re start) in the current growing season.

2. Your taking of cuttings is a good policy, but again these will be slow to produce much growth, let alone flowers. Hopefully you’ve taken ‘semi ripe’ cuttings of fresh growth, and planted these in the usual way, but I’m afraid the ‘strike rate’ may be low. Another form of vegetative propagation for Tree Peonies is layering but this requires a healthy shoot attached to the plant, an option you probably don’t have, and one which has mixed success too!

3. Yes, it’s worth having a go with seed. Make sure it’s ripe before you sow it (put the seed heads in a paper bag and wait for the seeds to dry a bit and fall out of the head naturally). Then sow these around now (late summer, early autumn) about 1″ deep in a soil-based seed compost, cover lightly with grit and put the pots outside. Make sure that the compost does not dry out and protect the pots from rodents. Tree peony seeds require two periods of cold – known as  ‘double dormancy’- with a warm period in between. After the first cold period the roots will develop, but you’ll see little if any top growth. The second season you should see some top growth and you can pot up the seedlings as they outgrow their pots- unfortunately it will probably be 5 years before they are of flowering size!

The RHS say about flowering problems with established Tree Peonies:

‘Tree peonies can take up to four years to settle in and flower, even though the plant may have been bought in bloom.

However, the lack of flowers can be also caused by shallow planting. If the plant did not produce flowers for several years after planting, try lifting it in the autumn and replanting it deeper.

Though established plants are drought tolerant, prolonged periods of drought may affect the flowering the following season. Mulch around the base and water during prolonged periods of dry weather.

Tree peonies planted in shady position tend to flower less profusely. Cut overhanging branches to allow more light to reach the plant. If this is not possible consider moving it.’

I wonder if you can get some free window cleaning on the back of this accident, Nick?!

Further information:

RHS- Tree Peonies

Plantax 9: Paeonia – physician of the gods

Old School Gardener

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