Peony Planting with Greg Jones

Mixed PeoniesWhen the peonies were in fill bloom one spring, I had an opportunity to visit with Greg Jones, Owner and Operator of Gilbert H. Wild & Son in Sarcoxie, Missouri. Greg can boast that Gilbert H. Wild & Son is the nation's largest peony farm which means they must be doing something right when it comes to planting. I asked Greg to share some of his tricks of the trade.

Greg Jones: The biggest problem we see with homeowners is that they will plant the root too deep. If they plant it more than an inch beneath the soil line it won't flower, and that's the biggest complaint we get.

Allen: Now, the depth of placement of the tuber depends on where you live in the country?

Greg: That's correct. The further north you go the deeper you should plant it, going to two inches. But if you're south, like in Missouri or Arkansas, in this area, you want to be about an inch and the further south you go, go to about a half inch under the soil.

Allen: Bring it a little closer to the top.

Greg: That's right, that's right. That allows it to cool quicker, so you'll get a better flowering in the spring, but of course if you plant it too deep you won't get a flower at all.

Allen: What's your favorite peony?

Greg: Ooh, that's hard, that's really hard! 'Raspberry Sunday' is one of my favorites, 'Red Charm', I really like 'Velma Atkinson', 'Hit Parade'. There are so many, it's hard to say what's your favorite baby, it's kind of like saying, 'What's your favorite kid?'

Allen: Greg, are you ever asked, "Why do you grow over 600 different varieties of peonies?" I mean, that just seems like a mind-boggling number.

Greg: Well, 600 is a mind-boggling number, but as you can see, every peony variety is different. We start off with the double, which is a true double flower.

Allen: Like 'Peppermint' here.

Greg: Like 'Peppermint'. And then there's another classification that's called a semi-double. A good example of that would be 'Red Charm.' Then we have what's called "anemone type," which is real fluffy in the center and a single row of petals on the outside. And then there's the true single, which just have one or two rows of petals on the outside and small stamens in the middle. So, we have all four types. They come in every different size and color and shape and texture. And everybody's landscape is their own personality, so that's why we offer so many.

Allen: So, what's going on in the world of peonies for the future?

Greg: Well, the peony has been evolving for years. Those that were in the 1850s were great plants, but every year there's more introduced. This is a newer introduction --introduced in the mid-1980s -- called 'Mandarin's Coat'. We really like this plant. It's short. It's compact. The flowers stand up well above the foliage, and even on a windy day like today, it just radiates in the garden. Now, this is one that would not fall over in your garden. It would never need staking. It's real light, and for that reason, it's good for the homeowner. We?re working on a new variety.

Allen: This pink one just here?

Greg: Yeah, that's a new one we hope to bring to the marketplace in the next three years.

Allen: What's the name of it?

Greg: You know, it's so new we haven't even named it yet.

Allen: Really?

Greg: They've been in production for about 18 years. And it's rare. I've never seen this centering that has come through on these before.

Allen: It's so uniform and tight.

Greg: And it maintains throughout the life of the flower. as the flower gets older, it's still tight, and that's what we like. We like that it's compact. It stands up well in the wind. It blooms over a long period of time. It's an excellent color. We?re really hot on this one.

Peonies need 3 to 4 weeks of freezing weather to bloom, and so if you have less than that, they won't grow in your area. But if you use a single variety, a very early double variety, they will bloom in the south because their chilling requirements are less. So we recommend that many of the singles would work in the Deep South. And the doubles will work anywhere in the nation except where it doesn't freeze.

Allen: So there is indeed a peony for everyone?

Greg: There is a peony for everyone.

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