Why clipping is healthy for peonies
How to select a great future as you cut flowers
was to enjoy a big vase of peonies on my table. I love how they smell, and seeing a peony bouquet reminds me of my grandmother's house. But every time I cut them and bring them in I can't admire the flowers for squashing the ants that crawl out of them. Funny, I don't remember Granny dealing with ants! I know the ants have to be there to make the peonies bloom but how can I evict them before I bring in the flowers? - C.C. -
In an open bloom the petals may hide a crowd of ants that creep out for days.
Ants are not essential to peony bloom. The insects are often there to gather the sweet sap that dots the seams of the flower bud covers (below). The flowers open, ants or no ants.
For this bouquet
(below) we cut three peony buds in three stages of
development. The largest opened two days later, the
others after four and five days in the vase. We
changed the water every day to enjoy the show and
the scent for over a week. (The 1st iris flower lasted
two days, its side bud opened to take its place on the
third day, and the whole stem was done before the
week was out.)
If you see peony buds that aren't going to open or when there are fading flowers, clip them and throw them on a hot compost. The less dead tissue there is on the plant, the fewer the places where botrytis can get a toehold. Fungus spores from dead buds and decaying petals infect weak spots on leaves throughout summer. The infections end up streaking down the stems to erode the crown.
More about this in What's Coming Up 51...
and What's Coming Up 151, page 15.
The cut peonies we've shown on this page came from this plant (below), which had been moved just weeks before. Although most of its stems continued growing normally after the move, those on one side of the plant must have become dry from root loss. Their flower buds died.
Developing flower buds can be killed by cold, drought or physical damage. Fungi such as peony botrytis that are too weak to infect live tissue can move into dead buds and dying flower petals. Once there, they produce spores that can drift into other damaged tissues, such as foliage scarred by hail or slug scraped stems.
Trapped moisture and dying petals make a perfect breeding place for fungi. The more petals in a peony, the more reason to deadhead it to keep it healthy. A "bomb" type flower full of petals may end its season as mush hanging from the stem, while a single flowered peony might simply drop its petals and offer little purchase for fungi.