Photo: Michèle M. Waite

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Few flowers can contend with the ultimate queen of spring, the peony. Their large flower heads and billowy, ruffled booms come in a dizzying array of pinks, corals, cranberries, whites, yellows, and reds. Many carry a sweet fragrance, and most are long lasting in the vase. It's no wonder they're our most request flowers for weddings and special events.

In addition to being hugely popular and excelling in the vase, peonies are very easy to grow.

How to Grow Peonies
Once established, peonies will flower abundantly for many years. Potted specimens can be purchased and planted in the spring, but the best results will come from bare-root stock that is dug and shipped dormant in the fall. These roots should be planted immediately so that they can start to establish before the cold of winter sets in.

Peonies prefer full sun, and you should give them at least 6 hours of uninterrupted bright daylight. Most soil types are fine, but standing water can be problematic, so be sure to find a spot that has good drainage.

Dig a hole two to three times as wide as the root, and amend the soil with a generous dose of well-rotted manure or compost and a phosphate-rich fertilizer such as bonemeal. Pay special attention to planting depth—if roots are planted too deeply they won't flower properly, so nestle the roots just below the soil surface. These plants will grow large over time, so space them at least 3 feet apart.

In the spring, before the foliage has emerged, top-dress the soil with a sprinkle of bonemeal and a light mulch of compost, 2 inches deep. This will feed the new growth during the coming season.

Double-flowered types need extra staking to keep their flower heads supported under the weight of the massive blooms. Heavy spring rains can flatten a patch in a matter of minutes, so be sure to provide support early on.

It's best to wait 2 to 3 years before harvesting from a newly planted peony; otherwise you may affect its future growth. It's difficult to resist the urge to pick flowers during this time, but the payoff will be a fully mature plant that will reward you with years of blooms.