Paeonies (Peonia spp)

How well established is this crop?

This crop has been grown commercially in the region for at least 10 years. Commercial returns, current growers and some level of regional based research is available to help those new to this industry.

Background

Paeonies grown in New Zealand are spelt with an 'a' as a way of distinguishing them from those grown overseas. The usual spelling in plant textbooks is Peony.

They are a perennial, grown commercially for the sale of their cut flowers in both the domestic and export markets. A further side of the business is the supply of roots to new growers.

Paeonies usually take 3 years to produce the first commercial crop, with maturity occurring from about year 5 onwards.

Winter Chilling and Frosts

Paeonies require a period of winter chilling before they will send up flowering shoots. No work has been done on the exact amount of chilling but it appears all areas of Otago have suitable chilling to allow flowering of this crop.

The hard frosts of a Central Otago winter do not affect paeonies as they are dormant beneath the soil at that time. However late frosts can affect flowering buds and distort stems.

Rainfall and Irrigation

Paeonies are not directly affected by rainfall at any stage of growth. However, it can lead to problems with fungal and bacterial diseases if these are not managed properly.

If rainfall is not sufficient over the growing period supplementary water should be added, especially as the stems begin to lengthen. T-tape or mini sprinkler systems should be used to prevent wetting of the foliage and possible disease problems.

Wind

Like most high value flower crops, shelter from the wind is essential. This can take the form of natural tree shelter or artificial shelter using wind cloth. A good rule of thumb when designing shelter is to multiply the final height of the shelter by 5. Use that measurement as the distance you position your shelters apart. For example, when using 2m high windbreak cloth, you will need shelters every 10m.

If using natural tree shelter, make sure the shelters running east-west are deciduous. This will allow sunlight into the blocks in the winter. Position all shelters at right angles to the prevailing winds. Talk to your local nursery when deciding on the right tree type for your property. They may also be able to help with design.

Soil

The key physical requirement of the soil for paeony growing is a relatively free draining root zone. Many Otago soils have this. If your soil does not, drainage is easily done with the use of field-tiles and/or Novaflo type products. Contact a drainage specialist for more information.

Raising the plant beds is another relatively easy way to increase water drainage from around your crop.

Fertility

Paeonies prefer a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Most Otago soils fall within this range. Specific information is hard to give but a simple soil test followed by an expert analysis of the results will allow the owner to easily fix any nutrient imbalances.

Weed Control

Weed control in paeony blocks is important for two reasons. Firstly it allows easier access to the plants for activities such as spraying and harvesting. Secondly, by reducing the about of vegetation around the paeony plants you reduce the potential for weeds to host pests and diseases.

Extreme care must be taken when using herbicides around paeony blocks. The plants seem extremely susceptible to some common products so take professional advice before spraying. This is especially important with pre-emergent herbicides.

Varieties

Flowers can be considered a fashion item and like fashion preferred varieties change over time. Those that are considered ‘hot’ at the moment include
Corals: Coral Sunset, Coral Charm.
Reds: Red Charm, Chippewa, Maestro.
Pinks: Pillow Talk, Petticoat Flounce, Dinner Plate, Chiffon Parfait.
Whites: Bowl of Cream, Elsa Sass, Ann Cousins.

Be very careful when choosing plants for your property. Consult with local growers and do your homework.

Pests and Diseases

To grow Paeony flowers successfully for export, agrichemicals must be used. The plants suffer from several fungal diseases, most notably botrytis (Botrytis paeonia) and some crown rot diseases. Silver leaf is another problem that requires careful management. Only a few insects are a problem on the crop including leafrollers, thrips and sometimes scale. There is a zero tolerance to these insects when exporting flowers.

Layout

Paeony plants grow to fill in a space approximately 1m x 1m. They can be planted in single or double rows depending on block layout. There does not seem to be a preference and in many cases several planting systems are used on the one property. The key thing is to make sure you have access all around the plant for spraying and harvest.

General Management

Paeonies over-winter beneath the ground. In the early part of spring they send up shoots that are somewhat frost tolerant. These shoots form a bush approximately 1m high and a similar distance across when mature. Spraying during this part of the season with agrichemicals is essential as many of the markets for the flowers have very strict quarantine rules on insect pests, however fungal diseases are most likely to catch out the unwary grower. Weed control and water are also important during this part of the season.

The stems are topped with flower buds that are ready for harvesting in early November for the hybrid varieties. Flowering continues for the other varieties right through until the middle or end of December, depending on the season.

After harvest the bushes continue to grow until the end of March when they start to die back. They require less water over this period. They are then cut down and the excess foliage removed from the block so pests and diseases cannot over-winter on it.

Harvest

Harvesting Paeonies is a relatively straightforward process as the stems are simply cut with a knife or secateurs. The difficulty is deciding when a bud is ready for cutting. Each variety has its own requirement and it can take a few seasons of experience to determine the correct picking stage.

Equipment

Paeony growing can be as high or low tech as you want it to be. The size of the block is the best determinant of this. Small blocks can be managed with a back-pack spray unit and general gardening equipment. Larger blocks will usually mean some form of mechanisation in the way of spray equipment, however harvesting etc will still need to be done by hand.

Returns

Because most of the Paeony crop is exported returns vary widely depending on the season, exchange rate, world events etc. Production costs per stem to grow, pick, pack and ship vary from 60-80c. Returns vary from $1.00 for varieties such as Karl Rosenfeldt up to $4.00 for Red Charm (2003-04 season prices).

Plant material varies in price from $15 for less preferred varieties right up to $40 for more premium varieties.

Contacts

If you are thinking of growing Paeonies it is best to contact the NZ Paeony Society to get the names and addresses of some local growers in your area.

www.nzpaeonies.co.nz/

or by post:
The Secretary
New Zealand Paeony Society
PO Box 29312
Christchurch