CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Monday, May 30, 2016

Peonies: Oh how I love thee

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Peonies = love.
Last week we had a statewide horticulture agents meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado. Imagine over 20 "hort nerds" gathering to talk plants, Extension, volunteer management and a little bit of everything else. On Monday, we spent the day touring five wonderful places throughout the Grand Valley. Thanks to fellow CO-Hort Susan Carter for arranging the amazing tour!

My favorite stop, by far, was Arcieri's Peonies in Grand Junction. For those of you unfamiliar with Colorado's West Slope, their growing season is easily two or three weeks ahead of the Front Range. Their peaches were the size of walnuts and many of the roses were in full bloom. Just like the peonies.
Arcieri Peony Farm
Peonies. Is there a better flower? Is there a flower that brings up more nostalgia and memories of "Grandma's garden"? There isn't a flower I love more--peonies are my hands down favorite. They are a great cut flower, are a low maintenance perennial and can live for decades. And they do really well in Colorado's arid climate. But you do have to have patience with peonies. These beauties like to take their time after planting before they bloom. Don't count on reliable flowers until three to five years after planting. But it's worth the wait. It's soooo worth the wait.
Peonies are the best EVER! Look at those flowers!
When our bus pulled up to Arcieri's, there were audible gasps and oohs and aahs. The fields (a little under six total acres) were bursting with peonies in full bloom. And the smell was heavenly. I would put a peony head-to-head with a rose for best scent any time. It's intoxicating. All of us departed the bus and immediately went and stuck our noses into the blooms. 
Sniff deeply, enjoy and repeat often.
Jim Arcieri, his wife and his sister run the family owned-and-operated farm. Jim's parents started the farm in 1929 and most of the peonies are over 80 years old! Can you imagine? We get excited if a tree lasts for 50 years...and here are these humble perennials that faithfully bloom every year. Incredible. 
Mr. Jim Arcieri of Acieri Peonies.
The family was finished with shipping and cutting for the year. Their rule of thumb is to not remove more than 25% of the flowers from each plant to sell as cut flowers. That means that the rest of the flowers will be removed...by hand...to allow the plants to put energy into photosynthesis and food production. All those flowers! I'm so glad we were there to enjoy them.
Love. Love. Love.
If you grow peonies at home, the ideal time is to cut them when they are in the "soft marshmallow" stage. The flower bud should be large and plump and somewhat squishy. This will allow the buds to gently open and maximize the time in a vase. But you can cut flowers that are more open...just realize their time as a cut flower will be reduced. Ideally, stems should be cut to 12" long. After cutting, immediately put the stems in water. The buds will open over a few days and most peonies can last at least a week (usually longer). And yes, you too should remove the flowers that you don't enjoy indoors as cut flowers...as painful as it is. This really will allow for better blooms each year. Just snip the flower head off, but leave the stem.
Peony buds sometimes look like rose buds!
This is almost to "soft marshmallow" stage for harvest.
This peony is a little past soft marshmallow stage, but would still make a good cut flower.
Harvest peonies early in the morning or at dusk...avoid cutting during the heat of the day. During peak production the Arcieri's have two cutting shifts. Believe it or not, their harvest season is only two weeks long!

Arcieri's Peonies are shipped mostly to the Denver area and sold locally in the Grand Valley. They also do some sales from the farm. They welcome visitors and are always happy to give tours. If I lived in Grand Junction, I'd stop by all the time...to sniff the flowers, enjoy the blooms and take home a bouquet. For every room in my house!
Peonies cut, bundled and ready to ship!

3 comments:

  1. Thank you! Also my favorite flower and now a trip for me next spring!

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  2. I loved your blog! The peony is my favorite perennial too. The fragrance reminds me of my grandmum and her garden and being a child. All good memories. I will visist this farm next year.

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  3. Alison - I too love peonies! We have several planting beds around Broomfield that were planted when a several acre peony farm was developed. I have heard that they just gave them away to anyone who wanted them before the bulldozers came... so it is a good bet that many of the peonies around town are from this location. LOVE seeing them in bloom!

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