Though we had a cold, wet inch of snow today, its safe to say that spring has finally arrived at Cricket Hill. Several male mallard ducks are jousting for the attention of a single female in the pond, and the tender emerald shoots of garlic are pushing up through the mulch.
This male mallard chased away three competing suitors
Garlic! I can taste the scapes already!
The tree peony buds are swelled and some of the early varieties of herbaceous peonies have their red eyes peeking out from the soil.
The buds of the later varieties of tree peonies have yet to break their calyx.
The early herbaceous variety ‘Coral Charm’ shows itself, the first herbaceous peony up this year!
With the blooming of the crocuses this past weekend it was time to uncover our tree peony graft beds. We uncovered several small beds containing a few hundred grafts. Because this week promises more wet and cold weather we have decided to wait on our main beds until things dry out this weekend. Last fall we grafted over 1000 tree peonies. I’m hoping for an overall success rate of around 80%. For our 2009 tree peony grafts our overall success rate was only 54%, but low number was the result of the total failure of a few varieties.
In 2010, we mostly used scions with nice fat primary buds. My preferred understock is 2 year-old herbaceous peony seedlings. After planting the grafts in August-September, I covered the beds with straw. Then in December I mulched with clear plastic and wood chips. No rodent damage was evident when I uncovered them.
Here is a graft a few days ago. Beginning to grow already!
And today, little peony babies in the snow.
It’s also time to uncover our seed bags. So much life!
Northwest Cultivar Group (P. rockii) planted last September.
Experiment in Spring Grafting
When the snow began to melt two weeks ago, we found that many of our most prized specimen tree peonies had suffered extensive winter damage. Many of our customers have reported the same. If you had a branch break on your tree peony, you should snip it off and allow the plant to heal. If there are other undamaged flower buds, these will received more energy and produce larger flowers this year. As long as the plant has a solid root system it will send up new growth this season to compensate for any that was lost this winter.
In addition to snow damage, for the first time in our two decades of growing tree peonies, some of our older specimen plants planted near stone walls were girdled by rodents. They totally gnawed off the cambium layer of the trunks, going up over 2′ in some cases. Aside for giving our cat an unlimited mandate to “disappear” as many mice and chipmonks as he can get his claws around, there was little we could do. With a heavy heart we cut down some of our most prized tree peonies.
This ‘Color of Eternity’ was over 15 years old and loaded every year with dozens of flowers.
This is was the little monsters did to it over the winter. I guess to be fair to them, they had no idea of knowing it was going to be such a harsh winter and only resorted to the peony bark as a famine food.
The branch is dead with the cambium layer so thoroughly stripped off.
I had to cut this plant almost totally to the ground, luckily I know it has a good strong root system and that it will be more beautiful than ever in a few years.
I spent a few days in merciless pruning of damaged branches, however I just could not bring myself to throw out all of that nice grafting material.
I collected these scions from damaged tree peonies as soon as the snow melted, hopefully preventing them from desiccating.
Tree peonies are traditionally grafted in the late summer and early fall, when the new growth has yet to turn woody and there is an ample supply of herbaceous roots available for use as understock. But, since I have good looking scion wood which would otherwise go into the compost why not try it in the spring?
The main issue seems to be that the cambium layer is very thin on last year’s growth as it is almost totally woody. However, some varieties seem more promising in this regard than others.
Cambium layer still looks pretty thick here.
Another issue is that I do not have a quantity of good herbaceous roots around now. What I was able to scrounge are small, so even if these grafts take, they will not be as vigorous as one done on herbaceous seedling roots.
I used hemp twine to tie them up, I have used jute in the past and it worked well. The advanatge of twine is that it will break down over the course of a year, unlike a rubber band.
I set the grafts in slightly damp sand at 90 degrees to heal. I will check them in five to seven days.
Transforming broken stems into new peony babies?????
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