It may seem that the peony should be termed King of the Garden, as it has regal bearing and traditionally reigns over May Day festivities. It is most appropriate that both standards in the garden, rose (Queen of the Garden) and peony (King of the Garden), share their festivities on May Day.

May Day festivities once were major celebrations each spring with May Poles, Queen of the May Day pageant and flower petals strewn along the Queen’s path and decorating any and everything.

For over 400 years, the peony has been an integral part of Asian gardens. Today, it is found in gardens, décor and wedding bouquets, as it symbolizes a happy life.

It was not until the 1910s and 1920s that white, pink and red tree (10 feet tall with 10-inch blooms) and herbaceous (2-4 foot mounds) types became prominent additions to our gardens. The mid-1940s brought us the Itoh or Intersectional-type hybrid that produces 8-inch blooms of rippling petals surrounding yellow stamens. The original Itoh was yellow. It now includes coral plus white, pink and red.

When all three peony types are planted, they give a seven-week succession of bloom beginning in late April into early June. Tree-types bloom for May Day and around Mother’s Day, herbaceous for Memorial Day, and Itoh later into June.

Peonies not only provide magnificent single and double blooms of white, pink, red and combinations, they are easy to grow and prefer not to be pampered. Provide full sun. Fertilize every few years if spindly or yellowed. Given no special care, they will thrive for up to 100 years. Mine planted pre-1950 and bloom profusely, though they were never given any care.

Plant in the fall no more than 1-2 inches below ground, otherwise they will produce more foliage than flower. If they need to be moved, include the entire root ball and allow two to three years to establish and rebloom. Deadhead to the next strong leaf on the stem to produce more flowers. Winter prep by cutting foliage to the ground after August.

Next week: Varieties and care of cut flowers.


Sharpen the pruner blade before heading out to the garden. Wear a mask to protect yourself from pollen and organic and non-organic sprays.

• Garden — Tender annuals and perennials will recover from the frost if they were covered. Dig tap root tree seedlings from ornamental beds. Shallow roots seedling may be gently pulled if the soil is moist. Remove spent daffodil flowers by holding by their stems at the base and snapping them. Allow hellebore’s colored-bracts to remain until the flowers begin to produce seed.

Poison ivy has returned. Whether digging or spraying to eliminate it, wear long sleeves and place a plastic bag over your hand and forearm when handling it. Carefully pull the bag off over the plant and dispose it. The rash-causing oil, urushiol, still is active whether the plant is alive or dead.

• Trees and Shrubs — Cut flowering shrubs after all blooming has ceased to a leaf bud. Reduce overgrown shrubs by cutting branches close to the ground one-third each year. Less attractive is to cut back the entire shrub now 6 inches from the ground. Remove vegetation and mulch 3 inches from tree trunks. Vegetation and mulch hold moisture which softens bark making it susceptible to insects and small animal damage.

• Vegetables — According to Phrenology (plant relationships science), dogwoods are at their peak indicating plant tomatoes; dandelions advise plant spinach, beets and carrots, and plant peas and lettuce now that lilac leaves are mouse-ear size and in full bloom. Seed another crop of corn and interplant with pole beans that will be supported by corn stalks. As they grow beets, carrots, parsnips, squash and watermelon can be damaged by the nitrogen from a second fertilization.

Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun’s gardening columnist, at

Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun’s gardening columnist, at

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