I’m waiting to inhale that intoxicating spring perfume called “Peony.”

The buds are plump, almost ready to burst. Any day now. We all know the “peonies for Memorial Day” tradition. Monday is Memorial Day. So, come on. Bloom!

These long-lived herbaceous perennials are overlooked in the landscape for most of the growing season, but in spring, they simply can’t be ignored. My peonies are interspersed in perennial borders, and I’ve remembered to put my peony rings around each plant. When the plants are loaded with blooms, the stems tend to fall over, especially if it rains, and you’re left with petal puddles on the ground. No rings? No problem. Just cut those blooming stems and bring them indoors to enjoy.

Beyond herbaceous peonies, there are tree peonies and ITOH peonies, a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies.

Peonies like a sunny, well-drained location. They are light feeders; a side dressing of aged manure or compost once a year is usually enough. Steer clear of high-nitrogen fertilizer, or you may reduce the peony’s flowering.

Plant bare-root peonies with the eyes facing up and lightly covered with 1 to 2 inches of soil or compost. The plant won’t bloom if eyes are planted too deeply. Dig a hole large enough for the root system. Plant container-grown peonies at the same depth as in the container. It may take a few years for young peonies to bloom.

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Mid-September to early October is the right time to transplant and dividing to propagate peonies. Cut off stems near ground level. Dig around and under each plant, trying to keep the root system together and move to the new location.

For division, shake off loose soil and cut the clump into sections with a sharp knife. Each division needs three to five eyes. Remember not to plant peony buds any deeper than 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface.

Wait until a hard freeze before cutting off peony foliage at ground level. The foliage feeds the plant, which then stores food in its root system. The peony then uses that food to flower – and the more food, the bigger and better the flowers will be next spring.

While I love the classics — “Sarah Bernhardt” (1906), “Festiva Maxima” (1851), “Bowl of Beauty” (1949”), for example, a few of the new peony introductions sound glorious. “Coral Sunset” is an early, fragrant coral peony with pink highlights. ITOH “Scrumdidleyumptious” offers large 6-inch creamy yellow blooms with pink edges. It is semi-double and a profuse bloomer at maturity.

Peonies do best planted in the fall. If you order plants now, they’ll likely be shipped in September.

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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