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Last updated: Fri. Jan. 17, 2014 - 08:23 am EDT


Gardening column: Why those persnickety peonies won't bloom

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Some gardeners have been waiting season after season for certain plants to bloom and have almost given up hope, so let's talk a bit about peonies and spring bulbs and some reasons why this happens, or why it doesn't happen.

•Peonies won't bloom if they are planted too deep in the soil. The eyes of the plant should be no deeper than 2 inches below the soil surface.

•Moving or transplanting peonies, which are rather finicky about this process, should be done in the fall. It will be at least a full season before you see bloom again after moving them.

•If you wish to fertilize, add a small amount when transplanting and again in the spring. Usually little or no fertilizer is required with established peonies. At the same time, all plants benefit from compost being worked into the soil around the root system each spring.

•Peonies are cool-climate plants and need a long cold dormant period to produce blooms. If you move to a warmer climate and want to take them with you, you may see very few or no blooms — and the plants may not survive at all. It is best to check with the extension in the area you are moving to before taking the plants with you.

•Peonies need full sun. If they are planted in shade, even part shade, they won't bloom — plus it will stunt the growth of the plant and you will see little change from season to season and no blooms or very few.

•Some people think peonies need ants to aid in the blooming — some argue that it isn't true — and as you can imagine, there is quite a bit of discussion on the subject. Those gardeners who believe ants help the process go as far as to say you need to attract the ants by providing sugar somewhere under the plant when it begins to bud up. Those who disagree usually head for the insect spray to kill the ants. More than likely what is really going on is that during their opening process the buds make a type of nectar that is particularly attractive to ants. When the blossoms are full the ants find another source to satisfy their sweet tooth and move on.

•If your bulb plants come up year after year but never bloom the main reason is probably lack of sunlight. If you purchased mature bulbs (examples: daffodils, tulips, hyacinths) and planted them in a full-sun location, in late fall, at the correct depth — they should bloom without a problem.

•If they were planted too near the house, as perhaps a border along the foundation, or in a rather shaded area anywhere in the landscape, you will probably get lots of foliage, but no bloom.

•Even if there isn't enough sun these plants will always reach for the sunlight and in the process become long, leggy and floppy, and of course there will be no bloom. After many years of patiently waiting for her daffodils to bloom, a friend moved them away from the foundation area of her home to a full-sun location and was delighted with the results.

•If you apply fertilizer to the bulb bed, use a high-phosphorous formula (5-10-10). Too much nitrogen and all you'll have is foliage.

•After the bloom, the plant relies on the foliage for photosynthesis so it is important not to prune off the leaves until they ripen and die to the ground.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@fron This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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