Peonies: The Ups and Downs of Disbudding


There is something so promising about flower buds, here in a holding pattern of various stages.
'The Fawn' has delicate spots.
One of the best things about peonies is their diversity. The peonies most commonly available are cultivated from just one species: Paeonia lactiflora. It's incredibly variable, producing half a dozen flower forms and colors in more shades of pink than you can imagine. The majority of lactiflora cultivars are some shade of pink, while some are white or red and some contain more than one color within their blossoms. 

Another common trait of the lactifloras is their penchant for growing more than one flower per stem.  This is where disbudding comes in. While it's a personal preference that depends on aesthetic requirements and time, some peonies offer a bouquet on a stem. Others should be disbudded in order to perform to their highest potential, while others don't seem to care one way or another. Other factors that could make a difference include age of the plant (how long it's been growing in one place), soil fertility and amount of sun.

'White Cap' forms a bouquet at the end of its stems if not disbudded.
If you don't remove the buds, the bloom season can be extended by a couple of days. The downside to that is that the size of subsequent flowers will always be smaller than the central bloom. But there are exceptions.

'Pink Parasol Surprise' offers a unique display.
If I could only have a handful of peonies in my garden, 'White Cap' would certainly be among them. This lactiflora cultivar has so much to recommend it, including the fact that it's fantastically fragrant. This award-winning peony features deep rose outer petals that cradle a fresh tuft of creamy slender petals called stamenodes.

One caveat about 'White Cap' and its bouquet on a stem--staking is strongly recommended to enjoy the show.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are peonies like 'Pink Parasol Surprise', which beg to be disbudded. This is one bodacious peony, with an extra pouf of petals extending from a central tuft of stamenodes. I've found that the flowers don't put on a show to their full potential if their side buds aren't removed early on.
A bouquet on a plant is what 'The Fawn' produces without disbudding.

One of the best sources for peony information is Carsten Burkhardt's Peony Project. I've found it to be accurate and comprehensive, especially regarding peonies introduced in the 20th century and earlier. There is no other online resource that lists or gives information about all peonies ever registered with the American Peony Society. The American Peony Society also offers some resources in the form of print publications. For detailed yet digestible information about all things peonies, visit Quebec's La Pivoinerie D'Aoust Peony Nursery's FAQ page. 



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