Notes on the Importance of early Spring Growth.

As I am never tired of mentioning, here on the high desert, spring frosts are a regular issue. We get numbers of them every year without fail, and while they don’t always kill flower buds, they can effect the carpals in ways so they won’t produce seeds. Last spring I tried an experiment : I did not water my plants at all during the time prior to flower bloom., and allowed them to develop with the soil moisture left over from our winter snows. My thought was that if the plants and buds were less hydrated, they might be more resistant to frost. The outcome of which was…I did not have a lot of flowers, and although the plants had the expected number of stems, the plants were shorter than normal. Once the danger of frost was past, I gave these plants very good care, lots of water, and fertilized them several times during the summer.

This spring the outcome is that many of my plants have gone backwards in their stem count, even though I had pampered them during the previous summer. Some newer plants had only half the number of stems that they’d had during the previous year, and some stems look like they may not have any flowers.

What conclusions should I draw from this ?

One thing that came to mind was the method that one sometimes hears about that hybridizers use to get seeds on flowers that would normally be too double to make seeds at all. At some point in early spring, the developing stems are cut back, and the plant responds by sending up a new set of stems on which the flowers are often single, and thus usable for hybridization.

My sense is that this second set of stems comes from immature buds which normally would go on to make next spring’s stems, but which are unnaturally forced into action this spring instead. At a time when the embryonic flower buds inside them are only just beginning their development.

This indicates to me that next year’s stems are already beginning to develop right at the very beginning of the previous spring. The fact that I had not watered my plants in the early spring ( we have very sandy soil here) inhibited the initiation of these buds, and was the reason that I got fewer stems this year, despite taking very good care of my plants last summer. And in contrast to last year, watering them copiously this spring as well.

I also tend not to fertilize in early spring, for fear of the sort of soft growth which will be susceptible to frosts. This may also lead to fewer embryonic buds and thus slower stem increase, even though I do fertilize several times during the summer.

It seems reasonable to fertilize in spring to produce good blooms this season, but it may have a secondary effect as well – The encouragement of flowers and good stem increase which will not show up until a full year in the future. From eyes which need to begin developing quite early in spring if they are going to develop at all.

Bob Johnson

last updated by Bob 4 years, 5 months ago
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    • #18993

      Notes on the Importance of early Spring Growth. As I am never tired of mentioning, here on the high desert, spring frosts are a regular issue. We get
      [See the full post at: The importance of early Spring growth]

    • #20535

      Thanks Bob
      For this reminder.. we learned this by Don Hollingworth`s course in Denmark some years ago
      Also dividing the plant and the replanted divisions.. will often flower as single / semi double their first flowering year ( My Salmon Dream did so )

    • #24359

      Thank you for this post Bob! It seems quite logical that peonies (that are rather “slow growers”, but keep on going for decades), would go through this procedure of starting the development of new stems already on the year previous to their actual growth above ground. Thank you for calling our attention to that; I know I will certainly keep this in mind from now on… The next question comes to mind though: is not spring possibly the MOST “profitable” time to fertilize? Why keep on fertilizing throughout the whole summer? Do the pionies still get a little extra boost from it?

      • #24367


        Well, there has to be a reason for all the foliage that persists after bloom time, or else why would it stick around ?  Granted, the plant needs to stay healthy until it ripens it’s seeds in the fall, so perhaps that’s the main reason it hangs on.  But it’s also reasonable to think that it’s building up it’s food supplies for the next spring, and I suspect that’s why most places recommend a second fertilizing after the blooms have faded.  None the less, if I had to place my money, I’m thinking that the spring fertilization may be the most important one.  At least that has seemed to be the outcome at my place, where up until recently I avoided spring fertilization, as a means to protect against soft growth and late frost damage.   Last year I said “What the heck” and finally did some spring fertilizing, and the improvement in results was pretty noteworthy.  But notably, the difference in growth the next season seemed to be effected as well.  An increase in stem numbers seemed to be the outcome.  Which was not always the case when I was restricting my fertilization until after bloom time.  “Your results may vary” of course, but particularly for those living with naturally poor soils, doing some experimentation with fertilizing and it’s timing, is a thing worth doing I’ve found.

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