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Re: peony people

Andrea, I know you will get more professional advice from others, but
I will add my experience.  I can't predict how well peonies will do in your
climate - I never saw them until after I was married and moved North, but
I would hate to live where they don't grow.
'Festiva Maxima' is a very old cultivar, and one of my favorites.  It is 
extremely tough and hardy.  I would guess that if any would do well for
you, that would be the one.  I visited a nursery last spring that grows 
them for cut flowers - literally by the truckload.  The blooms are so
large that I have a cage around the plant to prevent their flopping 
even though the stems are usually quite strong. Most of my 20 or so
peonies are grown in a row or in the back of various beds, and so
help support themselves.  I don't have to stake or prop them.  But
this one is right by itself and could flop in rainy weather.
First of all, don't plant them any deeper than the two inches - or even
that deep - or they won't bloom.  I always feel in the ground for the tubers.
If they are more than knuckle depth, I pull the dirt away from them.  
Mulch might help to keep the soil cooler, but you don't want to let it
build up over the tubers.  
As for fertilizer, I usually add composted cow manure after they bloom
each spring - but still carefully, so as not to cover the tubers.
In this area at least, it is important to cut the foliage to the ground in
the fall and dispose of it in the garbage - never the compost.  That is
because of the danger of botrytis blight or another fungus.  If I do 
that faithfully, I rarely have a problem, but if I fail to do it in the fall, 
buds will blast in the spring.
As for sun or shade, you are probably better off in part shade.  Most
of mine are in part shade - I don't really have any full sun any more -
but it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference to their success.  
My one tree peony did poorly when it's location became full shade,
but when I moved it into a spot with about half-day sun, it recovered
I hope you have success with peonies.  They're just about my 
favorite plant.  I love the foliage even after they bloom - always a
nice-looking background for other flowers, and are good in 
arrangements, too.

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