My Steps To Planting A Peony Field Of Dreams In The North Bay

Last fall, I decided to grow my little farm and go big with a field of peonies. Some say they don’t grow well in our area, but I had already grown a few hundred with great success. So, I dove right in.

I had some pretty clear objectives.

  1. To test the viability of peonies as a cut flower crop in warm regions, and further to test the effectiveness of planting depth as an effective production aid.
  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 crop in a highly competitive, flooded market.
  4. To demonstrate the process of field trials to small, newer growers who are intimidated to apply for research grants.

The process:

In November of 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 lbs oyster lime, 200 lbs gypsum, and 250 lbs potassium sulphate, and disced it all in.
  2. Spread sorghum sudan as a cover crop, watered it overhead once a week all summer.
  3. Participated in some light agritourism by inviting friends up to run through the 10’ 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 disced 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 growing when 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 in a farmer to build raised beds for me to 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 landscape fabric with holes we burned.
  9. Most were planted just under the soil surface, while one bed was planted 4” deep to test whether or not this has an impact on flowering (we suspect that the peonies planted at a traditional 3-4” deep will not flower as well for us here in this mild climate).

And how did they do? Stay tuned to see!