A week ago, along with all other gardeners in the Northeast we had a hard freeze in Thomaston. The weather for the two weeks prior to this had been so warm that it was more than just unseasonable, it was weird and frankly a little disturbing to have consecutive days reach 80 in mid-March. Needless to say the peonies really took off under these conditions. On the afternoon of 3.26.12, we fielded many calls from northern peony growers concerned about the potential harm which the predicted cold could bring to their fecund tree peony buds. We recommend placing a plastic garbage barrel over peonies for quick frost protection. For larger plants, it is necessary to use tarps or row cover supported by stakes to cover the plants. Since we have several hundred plants, it would be unfair to baby some and neglect others, so we opted to let them face elements without any protection. Herbaceous peonies are later blooming and though the shoots had emerged, were still quite close to the ground and were of less concern.
The mercury dipped to 22 degrees at Cricket Hill on the night of 3.26. The next morning, the early season tree peonies, which were the most far advanced, were all bent over in very precarious looking positions. The later blooming Japanese and Chinese Rockii hybrids still had quite tight buds and looked none the worse for wear. As the day wore on, the tree peonies showed us yet again why they are such incredible plants. Slowly but surely, the stems, leaves and buds thawed out and righted themselves. A week later we can see no lingering negative effects.
We have heard from many customers along the East Coast and in the mid-west about unusually early peony blooms this year. This past weekend fellow peony growers in Maryland and Nebraska informed us that their collections are in peak bloom. Since our weather has been mercifully cool and seasonable for the past week, new growth has essentially been on pause. As of now, the peonies still look to be two weeks ahead of schedule. We have adjusted our Peony Festival calendar to reflect this. These dates are of course dependent on the weather in the coming weeks. If it stays cool for a few more weeks, the bloom could even be pushed back to a more ‘normal’ peak in mid-May.
In preparation for welcoming visitors to Peony Heaven, we have been busy cleaning up the garden. Have a look at our blog post on spring peony care, for a good primer on getting your plants off to a great start for this growing season. In the course of our work in the garden, we found two ‘volunteer’ seed grown peonies that should forever disprove the myth that peonies are finicky growers.
With less glee, I must report that this week’s garden clean-up has also yielded our first botrytis sightings of the season. The cool damp weather we have had the last week is ideal for the spread of this harmful fungus. Infection so far seems very minor, limited to some buds which look to have been weakened by winter damage. As a precaution against further infection, we will be spraying our peonies with Actinovate this week. For the last several seasons we have used this OMRI certified organic fungicide with great success to control fungal infection in the garden. If you see signs of botrytis on your peonies, make sure to remove all diseased material from the garden. Thoroughly clean any shears or cutters used in the removal of infected material to prevent any inadvertent further spreading.