Peonies (Paeonia spp.) brighten the late spring and early summer garden with their colorful, luxuriant blooms. This old-fashioned perennial favorite can live for many decades. You'll be happy to know that after they are properly planted, peonies make little demands on your busy schedule. Still, to keep them looking their best, you need to give them support.
Peonies grow in United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8. Native to China, the tradition of peony culture in China and Japan is ancient and highly developed. The peony often appears as a motif in Chinese art. This showy perennial is widely available in two forms. Herbaceous perennials die to the ground each winter and come back each spring. Tree peonies, developed in Japan, grow like deciduous, woody shrubs.
A peony's big attraction is its large flowers, which are borne on thin stems. The flowers, particularly the fluffy, double cultivars, are heavy when laden with rain and often flop to the ground. This not only mars their beauty but also increases the plant's exposure to soil-borne diseases. Staking is necessary to keep these beauties looking their best.
Several herbaceous peony support products are available. Most of these products are wire hoop supports with legs that you stick into the ground -- similar to wire tomato cages. The peony stems grow inside the hoop, which supports them as they grow tall and heavy. The best peony hoops have a wire grid that the plant stems lean against. This results in a natural, bushy form, as it keeps the entire plant from falling outward toward the hoop.
Place the hoop's legs into the ground in spring when the peony's fresh, red stems begin to emerge. The hoop should be about 12 inches tall. When the stems are a little higher than the hoop, gently push stray, outer stems inside the hoop. Let the stems grow through; they'll naturally distribute themselves among the grid openings. If you wait until the stems are tall, you won't be able to safely work them through a grid; in this case, use a single, open hoop. Remove the supports at the end of the season and store them inside to prolong their usable life.
Tree peonies are usually supported with common plant supports -- rods or sticks -- inserted into the ground. The woody stems are gently tied to the rod with jute twine or flexible vinyl garden lashes. Alternately, use thin strips of nylon stocking or jersey knit T-shirts as lashes. These supports are a permanent feature of tree peony care. Green, vinyl-coated plant supports are discreet and long lasting.