Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library

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The Manual of the American Peony Society


Copyright 1928 by American Peony Society

214_the growing and care of seedling peonies


By A. M. Brand

THE SEED of the peony is dark brown when ripe and of much the shape and size of the average garden pea. If allowed to become thoroughly ripe before picking or to dry after picking, it takes a full year to germinate; but if picked from the seed-pods soon after they begin to open, when it has taken on a uniform light brown color and planted immediately, it will give fully a 40 per cent germination the spring after planting, the remainder coming the second spring. The seed can also be held until fall and then planted and still give satisfactory germination the next spring, if stratified in damp sand immediately upon picking and held cool and moist until planted. If dry seed is planted, germination need not be expected until the second spring.

The planting can be done either in beds or, if in quantity, in long 6-inch broad rows in the field. Either method is desirable, depending upon the amount of seed sown. In bed-planting, make the beds 3 feet wide and as long as desired. Elevate the beds about 6 inches so as to shed water. The seed should be planted in the beds either as soon as gathered or, if held dry or stratified, a couple of weeks before the freeze-up is expected. Scatter the seeds broadcast over the bed so that they lie about an inch apart, then cover with an inch of good surface soil which has been lightened by having mixed into it a good half of its bulk of either road or river sand. As soon as the ground freezes, mulch the bed with some coarse litter—marsh hay or cornstalks preferred—just enough to hold the frost steady. Remove this mulch after heavy freezing is over in the spring.

The little seedlings should be left in the seed-bed until two years old, when they should be lifted in September and transplanted into the location where they are to bloom. If handled in this way, a portion of the plants will bloom when four years old, and all may be expected to do so as five-year-olds. This is the ordinary and probably the easiest way to handle peony seedlings.

But there is another and probably better way if quick results are wanted. Plow a piece of ground, suitable for planting, in the





fall. In the spring plow it again and keep in good tilth until planting-time in that fall. Plant the seed, as soon as gathered, in rows 2 feet apart, with the seed an inch deep and 8 inches apart in the row. Mulch the same as in bed-planting. Remove the mulch in the spring, and if enough seed germinates the first spring to mark the rows, start cultivation and continue twice a week until August i. If the seed does not germinate the first spring, keep the rows hand-weeded the first season and start cultivation early the next spring as the little plants show up. Seedlings handled this way will throw an occasional bloom the second year, and all will bloom the third year. Richard Carvel bloomed as a two-year-old seedling plant. But to bring the bed into bloom as three-year-olds, steady and intensive cultivation must be given it.

Seed gathered from a promiscuous planting of ordinary, fairly good peonies, as a rule, will not produce worth-while seedlings. On the other hand, the chances are that from seed gathered from a collection of only choice varieties, such as rate 8.0 and above, some very good seedlings may be expected, the number depending on the amount of seed planted. And yet there are some varieties that do not rate so high that still are good mother plants—Alba Sulphurea, for instance, a good clear sulphur-white and a splendid seed-producer. Then there are singles in the clear whites, reds, and pinks, all good seed-producers, that are good to use.

Where space is limited it is probably best to hand-pollinate. Flowers with good, clean, sharp colors should be used in the work. Using a camel's-hair brush, take the pollen from a clear white like Frances Willard and place it on the stigma of a good clear red like Mary Brand, or vice versa, having taken care to remove the stamens from the blooms that are to receive the pollen before they have been self-fertilized. Such a cross should give good results. Place rather large paper sacks over the blooms being worked with, to be sure that no natural fertilization occurs.

Where the work is done on a larger scale, more satisfactory results can be obtained by segregating the breeding plants. That is, plant a dozen or more of Mary Brand and Frances Willard, or of whatever two varieties are to be used to produce the seed, by themselves where there will be no danger of bees or the wind bringing pollen in from other varieties. Here, if the stamens are removed from one variety and the pistils from the




other, the bees and the wind will do the fertilizing on a much larger scale than in the case of the hand-work. The principle is just the same but much more seed will be produced with much less effort*

When the seedlings bloom, the real work with them begins-To be successful, one must be thoroughly familiar with the really good peonies. He must carry them at all times in his mind's eye, for it is by comparison that we judge peonies. As the seedlings bloom they should be under constant observation. The grower should judge each seedling during the short time it is at perfection. A system of marking should be used that will designate plants considered of exceptional merit, and also those that seem good enough for a further trial. For the first class "5x" may be used and "4x" for the other.

In September these two classes of seedlings should be lifted from the seed-bed, divided, and planted with plenty of room in a bed where they are to remain for three years under trial. This three-year trial generally gives one a pretty fair idea of a seedling. During the last two years in this trial-bed these seedlings should be again carefully watched and rechecked as to whether they deserve a "jx" or a "4x" or, it may be, no rating at all.

A record should be kept of their behavior, and at the end of the third year, the desirable sorts should be lifted, divided, and put through a second three-year test. At the end of this second test the grower can say what seedlings are worth propagating.

In testing seedlings, every one that looks at all good should be tested not only for its behavior and desirability in the field, but also for its qualities as a cut-flower. For this last test the flowers should be cut in the bud, developed in the dark, and then opened indoors. Many a peony that is not striking in the field shows up wonderfully if handled in this way. Meanwhile, the seed-bed from which the seedlings have been taken, and the plants left in the first test-bed after removal from the seed-bed, should be well cared for for several years, for often a jewel appears where it is not expected. If a seedling does not indicate in the six-year trial that it is worthy, it should be discarded. Seedlings of exceptional merit only should be retained.