The drooping of peony flower heads is a common phenomenon regarded by commentators as either romantic or a curse. It is generally attributed to: 1) rain gathering in the flower petals—a particular problem with cultivars bred for large double flowers; 2) wind; 3) over-feeding, especially with fertilizers high in nitrogen.
Typical solutions to the problem feature some sort of support or staking. Methods abound, but none are considered totally effective.
It is perhaps telling that the website of the American Peony Society contains not a single word on the subject of supporting or staking paeonia despite having pages on peony care and problems.
Peony producers in the Netherlands grow hectares of plants in open fields without support.
Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery, a major US peony grower, does not support its peonies, which are field grown in the open. They don’t recommend supporting the plants, but will sell peony supports if pressed by a customer.
Only one of the two major peony nurseries to address the drooping problem (most nursery websites, like the peony association, don’t mention supporting or staking in their peony care pages) suggests a remedy—and it strikes me as one that would be difficult to keep from looking unsitely. David Furman of Cricket Hill Nursery (a peony specialist) suggests the following:
“SUPPORTING PEONIES: To support large clumps of peonies, lay a flat piece of 2”chicken wire, cut to a size of about 2 ft. x 2 ft., carefully over the new red shoots in spring. This has to be done early in the season, as soon as the shoots emerge from the ground. Adjust chicken wire to allow one shoot to go into one cell of the wire. As the shoots grow taller, the chicken wire will lift up and be a part of the growing plant, settling under the foliage. Fold down the edges of the wire under foliage so it is not visible. This will support the stems, and keep the plant more upright.”
does not support his plants and suggests that doing so does not prevent drooping:
“One additional comment—the heavier, full double flowers will collect and hold a substantial weight of water, overloading the stems. Even sturdy stems may fall or break from the weight. For the more viewed portions of the landscape, growing rain resistant sorts will reduce the grooming work. Mechanical support can be useful, but not entirely so. Net wire circles or metal frames hidden in the foliage work well when flower weight is close to the bush. Longer stems will often bend and may break. In such kinds, staking each stem may be the only way to keep the opened flower pleasingly presented above the bush. Many of us are unable or unwilling to devote that level of care.”
All agree that supporting plants is an aesthetic choice, and may, or may not, prove effective. That said there are several alternatives at widely varying price points (see attached information on each of the methods discussed below).
At the low end of the cost scale are two options from big-box retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot, which offer plant supports (18” rings) and “grow through” supports for less than $4.00 each.
Growers tend to offer sturdier, and more pricy options. Klehm’s Song Sparrow, for instance, sells groups of six supports for $49.95 (bottom ring 14”, top ring 25”).
At the top end of the scale, and self-described as “the best peony support made”, is the offering from Lee Valley Tools. It is far sturdier and of better construction, adjustable, and is built to be applied “only when needed.” It is also $37.50 each.
On the other hand, you could just enjoy the natural presentation of the flowers, the romance of the arched canes with their fulsome heads of papery petals--an attractive scene not lost on the legion of artists and photographers who have depicted peonies through the years.
Either way, stop back at BotanicalGardening.com when you're done and let us know how you've managed with yours.
We do not staek or support our peonies either. Since we are mostly a fresh cut peony flower grower we usually harvest the flowers before they open and have a chance to get heavy with rain causing the plants to lean over.