Breeding Peonies the Easy Way

single red peony - from seedling

One of the peonies I bred myself (sorta)

Breeding peonies the way the pros do isn’t hugely difficult, but it takes a lot more care and attention than what might be called the

Go With The Flow Method of Breeding Peonies

Step one: Don’t get around to deadheading everything.

Step two: Don’t get so enthusiastic about weeding you inadvertently pull up the self-sown babies.

Step three: Transplant the babies to a nursery row or to large pots filled with a mixture of 1/3 promix and 2/3 freely draining, fertile garden soil.

Step four: Cultivate patience; the foundling won’t flower until it’s three to five years old. If it’s in a pot, bury the pot for the winter after the plant goes dormant. Dig it up in early spring before the shoots get going.


peony seedling in mulch

This could be the start of something great. (Note size in comparison to strawberry leaves.)

There’s only one reason I can pretend this is breeding instead of propagating: garden peonies don’t come true from seed, so you never know what you’re going to get. But honesty compels me to admit that while this method does yield surprises, it’s unlikely to lead to anything truly astonishing.

The red/magenta single above probably came from one of the red/magenta doubles, but it might be some sort of throwback delivered by a pink bomb, or a white double, or some combination thereof. The one thing I know for sure is that it came from something(s) fluffy, because that’s all I had when the seedling appeared.

Then, a couple of years before it flowered,  I bought a bunch of new peonies, including a fancy single red.

single red garden peony

If I could remember its name, I would tell you (it’s in my records somewhere; I just don’t know quite where).

It wasn’t hugely expensive, but it sure cost a lot more than the volunteer. And it looks like it’s going to be much less vigorous plant.

row of  large peony bushes

At bottom of picture, beside the grass in the peony row: Mr. Fancy Pants. In the middle, on the other side of the fence, transplanted there from a bed I needed for something else: Ms. Freebie. (The probable parent variety is right in front, but that particular plant is not the probable parent.)

pair of pink bomb peonies

Seedlings aren’t always single; the one on the left is a volunteer. It looks almost the same as the old timer on the right, but take it from me they are not the same. The new one has a more distinct center ball of petals, and there are more red streaks on them.

This is peony purchasing season. I usually buy from  Klehm or Adelman, but this year I’m thinking of trying Hidden Springs Flower Farm, discovered when I was cruising around seeking wisdom on breeding peonies. They came up because they’ve put varieties known to be good parents into a special group, but the site is – as peony sellers’ sites tend, alas, to be – mighty enticing just in general.

Not kidding about purchasing season. Many rarities, like Hollingsworth’s brand new, peachy-pink Nelda’s Joy, are already sold out.

It’s also peonies fall down in rain season. For advice, see Floppy Peonies, What is to be Done

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