Testing the Viability Of Peony Production In Warm Climates (Zone 9b)
1) To test the viability of peonies as a cut flower crop in warm regions, and evaluating variety selection and different planting depths.
2) To finally have some research to point to, cutting down on anecdotes and emails that fly around questioning “Can I grow peonies, too?”
3) To use these findings to encourage small growers in warm climates to find and test crops that may give them a valuable product in a highly competitive, flooded (no pun intended) market.
4) To demonstrate the process of field trials to small, newer growers who are too intimidated to apply for research grants.
In 2018, we planted all 2,400 peonies, spanning 16 varieties, in a half-acre plot. These were our methods.
1) On May 31st, spread 40 yards of compost amended with 500 pounds oyster lime, 200 pounds gypsum, and 250 pounds potassium sulphate, and disked it all in.
2) Spread sorghum-sudangrass as a cover crop, and watered it overhead once a week all summer.
3) Participated in some light agri-tourism by inviting friends to run through the ten-foot tall grass with me. Considered making a horror movie, but got too busy. But it was terrifying in there.
4) On September 16th, mowed and disked it in. I let it grow a little too long, and it started to get a bit woody and set some seed. Next time I would mow it while still it’s still growing, about knee-high, then continue to let grow.
5) Watered the ground a few times to encourage it to break down. The soil had started to dry down rapidly.
6) On October 26th, I hired a farmer to build raised beds which will help with drainage.
7) On November 1st, we began planting the peonies.
8) We planted in 96’ long beds, two rows per bed, peonies spaced 3’ apart in row, in holes burned into landscape fabric.
9) Most were planted just under the soil surface. One bed was planted 4” deep to test whether this has an impact on flowering. We suspect that peonies planted at a traditional 3-4” deep will not flower as well for us here in this mild climate.
Then it rained, and rained, and rained, all winter. We began pumping water out from the lowest spot in the field once per week, and brought a drainage expert to the field to help assess the situation and make a plan for the future. When it dries down in spring, we will reassess and begin to dig some trenches.
The field is still completely saturated, and we’ve already had one of the worst, wettest years on the books. Most peonies have emerged and are about 6” tall. Most look healthy, though we’re acutely aware of some early signs of botrytis and are beginning a spray regimen. This water will definitely present problems, but the extent is still unclear, and whether botrytis or just lack of vigor will be my main problems. I’m expecting both. But I remain hopeful, in the starry-eyed optimism of first-generation farmers under 40 everywhere.