Ask the master gardeners
Q: All this wet weather seems to have hurt my peonies. Is there anything i can do?
A: One of the most popular, showy and downright gorgeous of all spring blooms is the herbaceous peony. Because it is a perennial it can be guaranteed to produce large flowers in a variety of colors every year. the season can even be extended by planting early, mid and late flowering varieties. And very large blooms can be produced by removing all the side buds and leaving the terminal bud on each stem. But even if that is not done, when they bloom, they are spectacular.
Peonies require winter cold to flower so the best time to plant them is early fall. Try to plant peonies where they will stay because they are deep rooted and do not like to be moved. They like full sun and well-drained soil, with sufficient room to breathe.
One uncontrolled condition that can hurt peonies is wet weather. It leaves them subject to disease, especially a fungus called botrytis blight. Botrytis is a fungus that attacks stems, buds and leaves. It can appear at any time but is common in cold, wet, weather. It usually begins in the spring, causing the young stalks to wither and die. At other times in the growing season it can appear as gray, fuzzy spores or irregularly shaped spots on leaves. If black, soft buds are present, botrytis probably is also.
The best control of botrytis is prevention. providing a good planting site with proper drainage and air circulation is a proper start. If the disease does appear, promptly remove all parts of the plant that are symptomatic and dispose of them carefully so as not to spread the disease. Also, cut plants to the ground after a killing frost and distroy the foliage.
Always remember to disinfect any tool used to remove diseased plant material so as to prevent spread. After employing these methods, improve the soil. Fungicides are relatively ineffective in the control of this disease.
Judie Phillips, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester