Home33 forum General discussion forum Tolerance to late freezes

last updated by Bob 5 years, 3 months ago
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    • #20405

      Recent correspondence between Henry Chotkowski and Don Hollingsworth

      Don, great to hear from you. I talked to a couple of plant people from the U of Arkansas at our open house this Mother’s Day, one whose main focus was stem berries, especially blackberries and raspberries. Her thoughts were to bred for resistance to late freezes that kill plants ovaries when they are most vulnerable. She rattled off how some plant families, species (more so edibles for commercial reasons, than anything else) that have been hybridized and selected for lower temperature thresholds for successful fruit/seed bearing. Lowering that threshold by one or two degrees could make a big difference for peonies; I know from a serious observation the past 20 years of the spring peony seasons here in the lower Midwest (northwest Arkansas) that a couple degrees up or down, in concert possible with their duration, can be the difference between what use to be a normal blooming year and another year of disappointment. So, prettier flowers, earlier doubles, stronger more rigid stems, all fine and good, but secondary to battling the coming more intemperate springs due to global warming.


      Don’s response: Early on I grew a range of the Saunders hybrids, descendants of his crosses between natural peony species and Lactifloras, eventually selecting with emphasis on advanced generation hybrids for fertility.  And this approach much benefitted by my long association with Chris Laning, who planted quantities of advanced generation hybrids seeds and had the results taking up acres.  He claimed to have emphasized the Saunders Quads and Silver Dawn descendants.  Pretty soon I noticed Roselette of the Saunders Triples definitely showed tolerance to late freezes – you may remember seeing its flowers when we were the 2007 APS convention tour on May 17.  Many Happy Returns had just come into flower, first of the peonies which looked normal after those six nights of +/- 20 degrees in early April.  Roselette flowers which had been covered from direct sun while frozen, protected under its frozen leaves, were not injured.  That kind of observations inspired me to begin thinking about genetic resistance probability in some of its species ancestry.  It was an  easy step to realize those southern European species which survived in the Mediterranean mountains after the Ice Age might need that to have still be here in the 20th century. That climate has the reputation of running out of water when the snow has finished melting and would need to mature viable seeds at least some years.  I note in some of those species the shoots come out of the ground with flower buds big as my finger nail, consistent with the need to get seeds matured early in the summer season.  In those species genomes is where one might expect to find genetic resistant to bud damage from early spring cold events.  In contrast, Lactiflora cvs., I am thinking,demonstrate a different genetic strategy, the avoidance of late freeze risk by the flower buds developing much later in the advancement of shoot growth.  Following from this thinking has guided my choices of which seedlings to save pending future crosses in the search for Lactiflora elements of doubling, which also include the earlier flowering season and flower colors from the Southern European native species.  Progress here has been slow compared to what one could achieve if there was nothing else to be done, but what I am seeing now is personally rewarding.

    • #20409

      An interesting topic and most people that grow peonies will have experienced some frost damage at one time or another.  I’ve been looking for some more information about it and especially on what cultivars might fare best.

      In a post dated April 5th 2013 by Henry Chotkowski (who posted the original topic here) on the Yahoo Peonybreeders forum, some cultivars are mentioned:

      “The horrendous freeze throughout the midwest in ’07 killed all the tree peonies buds that hadn’t opened and most all of the buds from the late Early-season to the early Late-season herbaceous hybrids and lactifloras. The notable exceptions were Rozella, Many Happy Returns, and Prairie Afire, with Rozella the only plant blooming in a field of hundreds of cultivars and Many Happy Returns seemingly none the worse for the circumstances.”


      And in the same forum Don Hollingsworth wrote on April 29th, 2016:

      “Maybe some will see me as hammering on an unbelievable hypothesis, but I repeat: look to late spring sub-freezing cold events as the cause when short bud covers, distorted petals, dead center structures and / or dead petals of the flowers are seen on plants of a clone which has been observed to make normal flowers in previous seasons. Yes, the extra heat push flower development earlier leading to a vulnerable stage of advancement earlier in the season, thus more likely to be exposed to late cold events. My hypothesis includes that the threshold temperature of cold damage gets higher as flower bud development advances. Further, the very early species, the ones hybridized with Lactiflora cultivars leading to presently valued breeding stock, are thought to have evolved heritable resistance to this cold damage, in order to mature seeds before early summer shutdown (when the snow melt runs out). We see that the spring shoots of early species come out of the ground with flower bud notably advanced, while the Lactifloras tend to avoid cold damage by delaying the advancement of their flower buds until later in the growth of the spring shoots.

      So, one of our challenges in selecting for doubled flowers in early hybrids is to retain the heritable cold resistance of their early species ancestry. We see it in the very early flowering Saunders hybrid, ‘Roselette’, one that is notably resistant to late freeze damage, down to +/- 20 degrees F., provided the sun is shaded from striking the buds while the tissues are frozen. We saw this after six successive nights of those temps in 2007, when the flower buds that were shaded by wilted foliage made normal flowers, while those exposed to the sun while frozen were ruined. I have long heard the gardening advice to plant tree peonies where they are shaded from morning sun. In my observation, this can make a difference in the proportion of budded stems which mature into flowers. Among my Suffruticosa cvs., most of the several Chines traditional kinds have damaged flowers year after year. Among my Japanese tps the flowering dependability is much better under my conditions, but certain cvs. typically fail to reach their potential of flowering almost every year. Particularly a problem is ‘Kamada Nishiki”, some years which may make a flower only on a shoot that terminates low in the foliage. Also ‘Tamasudari’, a gorgeous white, when I see a flower – both those named seem to lose their flowers very early in the development, leading to blanks, rather than opening damage blossoms. An early herbaceous example is ‘Sunny Boy’ of which there is some proportion of damaged flowers almost every year, this season I see only two buds developing of 15-20 stems. The two buds that will flower are on shorter stems located on the north side of the bush – had I paid attention to this fact before, I would have been more sensitized to getting out there with a cover for the bush every time a freeze was threatened.”


      In other posts from Don Hollingsworth which I cannot locate easily I’ve read that Pink Vanguard does show some frost resistance and is therefore preferred over Blushing Princess as a breeder plant, whilst I seem to remember him also mentioning Many Happy Returns.

      That’s not a lot of cultivars of course, but even a few can be good starting points. Many Happy Returns are a no-go here when it comes to using them in hybridizing, I’ve tried a few times without any success. Pink Vanguard has twice shown frost damage the last years here whilst many (though not all) other varieties didn’t show any damage, thus it is surely not completely frost tolerant, perhaps just the prone stage when it was freezing. I’ve grown Roselette, and I don’t recall any frost damage indeed. Never used it in hybridizing (I was primarily using Pink Vanguard). Prairie Afire is a cultivar I’ve not grown yet, but Rozella does seem interesting, although from the plants growing here I’ve not seen any seed. I’ll look closer to that one the following years, I think from all the cultivars mentioned here, it has the best qualities (healthy, fast growing, double, strong stemmed, large flowers).

      I’m a bit uncertain as to what species might have some frost tolerance. Mediterranean ones? Roselette comes from three species: lactiflora, tenuifolia and mlokosewitschii. Mlokosewitschii I would not call Mediterranean, it growing in a very small area at the crossroads of three countries: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Tenuifolia grows in a much wider area, some of which (Serbia, European part of Turkey) might be called Mediterranean indeed. Unfortunately tenuifolia is not one that grows very well here, perhaps Hans Maschke has some experience with frost tolerance of this species and its descendants? When I think of Mediterranean species, these spring to mind: mascula, corsica, broteri, coriacea, clusii, rhodia, parnassica, cambessedesii, kesrouanensis (turcica), arietina, peregrina, officinalis. There are quite a few cultivars that have peregrina and officinalis in them, but are there frost tolerant examples? Also corsica gave us Tranquil Dove, Picotee, Halcyon, I’m not sure they show any signs of being more resistant. If you need large buds from the moment the plants break through the ground, Vanilla Schnapps is a good example, but I don’t think it is frost tolerant. I’m working with some of those species, but it’s still early days. I’d be happy to hear of other cultivars that show some frost resistance indeed.

      All the best,


    • #20435

      I live in the land of late freezes.  We live at 3,600′ at the base of the Cascade mountains in what is basically the desert.  Once it clears off at night, it’s normal for temperatures to drop into the high 20’s.  We’ll normally get some level of frost for many nights before bloom time.  It’s been my experience that buds remain more resistant to damage if it gets cold every night.  In contrast, if we have a few warm nights, then we are headed for trouble.   We’ve gotten temperatures in the teens before, and still not lost flowers.  But again, our flowers are “conditioned” it seems, by constant exposure to low temperatures in the evenings.  One other result is that our plants are much shorter than the same varieties grown elsewhere.

      The main damage I worry about as a hybridizer is carpal damage.  In my experience, carpals are much more susceptible to damage than the flowers themselves.  Flowers will bloom, by outward appearances the carpals will look good, only to shrivel up into nothing a week or so after the flowers have bloomed.  Or the carpals will stay good, but have no seeds in them.

      Of the tetraploids I have here, Salmon Dream seems to be the most resistant to frost damage.  Lemon Chiffon is somewhat more susceptible, but often it’s sidebuds will be undamaged.  Blushing Princess is much more susceptible to frost damage, while Vanilla Schnaps is pretty much useless.  The same can be said for Mackinac Grand : it’s probably the most susceptible to carpal damage of any peony I grow.  All of these will make generally make flowers, but seed production is always questionable.    I have a few that I cover now, with sheets and big jugs of hot water in the evenings, and as a result, I’m able to get some seeds on Sugar n’ Spice, as well as Laddie.  But covering things, and filling water jugs gets tiresome after a while.  The folks at the nursery where my seedlings are grown on are getting tired of seeing so many Salmon Dream hybrids, but the reason is because SD is so frost resistant.

      I’m bringing home some of my own hybrids too now, and it’s hard to say what their frost resistance is like.  Once Blushing Princess is crossed with some other things, it’s seedlings may be more frost tolerant.  I’m hoping that will be the case, as it’s a producer of particularly vigorous seedlings, and seedlings that are often quite upright as well.

      Don mentioned seedlings which emerge with their buds quite developed, and I can agree that this may be an early seed maturing strategy, but once such species get crossed, they may bring this emergence habit with them, but leave the frost resistance behind.

      Vanilla Schnaps, I’m talking about you !

      Bob Johnson

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