Drooping peonies

Credit: Carolyn Jones


Q: I have two peony bushes quite apart from each other. Every year there are beautiful red and white blooms. But every year, if it rains during the blooming season (which it does) the blooms absorb so much water that the stems bend. After clearing the water from the blooms and even if we have sunny days afterwards, the blooms never fully right themselves. The stems that bend from the weight of the water-logged blooms do not straighten up again. What do I do to preserve these flowers, they are so beautiful, but I always have the heartaches after the rain.

To be frank, fully double herbaceous peonies and our notoriously rainy coastal springs don’t combine well. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy solution, but you can consider the following.

For best results, professional peony nurseries recommend the one-stake-per-flower-stem approach for perfection.

Alternatively, you might try siting the peonies under an overhang on the south side of the house, where they will get full sun and protection from the rain. Or, as the folks who grown competition chrysanthemums do, you might want to erect a shelter over the blooms so they don’t fill up with rain.

Less-Double Cultivars
Herbaceous peonies with semi-double flowers (such as Paeonia lactiflora ‘Monsier Jules Elie’, attached) or group referred to as Japanese peonies (such as Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’ with its boss of petaloid stamens at the center) are less likely to fill up with rain.

Intersectional Hybrids
You might also try some of the peonies developed originally by Japanese nurseryman Toichi Itoh. He was the first (in 1948) to successfully cross herbaceous and tree peonies. Now many other hybridizers have followed in his footsteps. These hybrids should have sturdier stems, but with a specialty plant like a peony (with so many new ones each year) it’s best to ask a good breeder for specific recommendations. ‘Garden Treasure’ as an intersectional hybrid introduced by Don Hollingsworth in 1984. Its parents are cultivars of P. lactiflora x P. lutea. Even though the stems of these peonies are woody, they rarely resprout and should be cut back in late fall. Most are hardy to zone 3. The only downside is that they are relatively expensive to buy.