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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: P is for peonies

  • What do you call them — PEE-oh-knees or pee-OH-nees?
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  • What do you call them — PEE-oh-knees or pee-OH-nees?
    However you say peonies, I didn't fully appreciate the effect these lovely flowers can have on some people until a colleague started screaming. I had just given her a vase full of my favorite white peonies. The movement shook large black ants all over her desk, hitchhikers on the flowers I had cut just that morning.
    The connection between peonies and ants is still a bit of a mystery.
    An Ozark farmer's wife who gave me my first peony bush a couple of decades ago said the plants produce a honey to attract ants to help unfold their dense flowers. Another Ozark friend said peony buds produce a wax that ants eat to help peonies open their buds so they can bloom.
    Horticulturists say we're not quite sure why ants and peonies have a bond. One of my old gardening books suggests when plants first started blooming a few million years back, peonies developed nectar to attract bugs to move pollen and ensure their survival.
    I like peonies because of their beauty; their lovely scent; the interesting, bushy way they grow, and I especially like the way they add fun to a cut flower bouquet - small buds, big flowers!
    Around mid-Missouri, peonies and iris often bloom together. One of my Missouri gardening friends said if peonies bloom early, we'll have an early spring next year; if they bloom late, then the following spring will be late.
    There are many peony hybrids on the market; mine are all old-fashioned ones, gifts from gardener friends or, in the case of a burgundy peony, a discarded plant I literally found on the side of my road that no longer fit into a neighbor's landscape.
    Your peonies not blooming?
    You may have planted the peony root too deep.
    Wait until fall; dig up the plant and reset the root so that it's no more than two inches deep. The root may break as you dig it up; that's ok, just make sure you have a root piece with at least three eyes, or main plant branches, to give the plant a healthy new start.
    Once you have them in a good spot, they'll bloom for years.
    There are a number of products on the market claiming they'll keep ants off plants. No need.  A good shake after cutting blooms works wonders, just do it while you're still in the garden!
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.
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