Swenson Gardens

Growing Peonies that don't flop

Summer fun on the peony farm part 2

Britta 2

Even our daughter gets into fun…away from the peony farm! This is her last year of competing in Western games with ‘Daisy’. She just finished with the Wright County Fair and received the overall games champion. She was awarded the 1st MN State Fair trip so will be competing at the State Fair in games and trail class. We are so proud of them as they’ve been working very hard since last spring and more importantly, over the last eight years. Yesterday she and some friends went on a trail ride and took the horses swimming. Daisy was so enamored by putting her head under water and blowing bubbles through her nose. She did it eight times and didn’t want to leave the water.


The future plans for both of them are up in the air for now. Dad was very teary eyes taking this and many of the photos as this could be it for now. I remember growing up with my horse, Trigger and the day I said goodbye to him is still etched in my mind. Daisy has been a part of our family for almost eight years and not knowing if she will stay or be sold to another up and coming gamer is still to be determined. Thanks girls for all the many memories on the peony farm!

Summer fun on the peony farm part one

Keith selfie with Panda

In between our busy times on the peony farm things do get somewhat concerning when I try to take selfies of ‘Toby’ aka ‘Panda Bear’ and me. We’ve been trying to get all the cats and kittens to stay in the barn but its so much fun sitting on the steps in back of our house. Just don’t tell the family that I sometimes eat supper on the steps and somehow meat falls off my plate.

New Kitties

Speaking of kittens, who needs to watch tv or surf the web! They are so much fun. Even Becky sits with me…of course without that stuff that falls off of my plate. We are now down to two ‘daddies’ kittens left. The others have found wonderful new homes. The new kittens names are ‘Gerty’ short for Gertrude and ‘Franny’. Since this was our first batch of kittens, the first step was to Google ‘how to tell a boy kitty from a girl kitty’. So back and forth we went from the computer to the actual kitten just to make sure. End result of the ones we kept…we think they are girls! 🙂

Deadheading spent peonies


By now all of the peonies have either gone way past bloom or have been done for our gardening friends in Zone 2 a few weeks ago. Many of you have inquired on where to cut off spent blooms. Here is a picture on where the average location is. Basically right above the first main foliage branch. With some varieties where the bloom is held high above the plant, you may even have to cut farther down to tidy up your plants. Our tip for cutting off either spent blooms or cut flower blooms, you always want to leave at least 1/3 of the original stem in place. Now the ‘what if I don’t remove my spent blooms?’ Well we can answer that as there is no way we can afford to remove all our spent blooms on 18,000+ plants. We see no reason to remove spent blooms other than to tidy up the plants in gardens. For future reference, do not cut off spent blooms until 2-3 weeks have passed from the last bloom in order for the stored energy within the plant to return to the roots. Oh and yes it is a great idea to sterilize your snipper when going on to another plant. 1 part bleach to 10 parts water will do that. Let it soak for about 30 seconds and that will help with possibly spreading any diseases from plant to plant. Happy snipping peony spent blooms…or not!

Peony field jottings…

Welcome back to SwensonGardens.com blog! Had to take a few weeks off from posting before the main events start happening with peony digging, dividing, shipping, plant backs and mulching. Where in the world has this summer gone? Yikes seems like yesterday we were anxiously awaiting our first peony blooms. All is looking great in the fields with rains coming at just the right time. Had another 1/2 inch of rain over the past few days.

Gardeners often ask us ‘should we water our peonies’? Well yes and no. I’ll try to keep this on task and verbally easy to follow. For our gardening friends in USDA Zones 6-8a the answer is a resounding yes IF you are located in dry and hot areas. Our friends in coastal Oregon and Washington who are Zones 7 & 8a that receive more rainfall and lower temps the answer is a resounding no. For the dry and hot 6 to 8a’s, the key to watering is slow and making sure the site dries out under ground level between watering. If your site remains constantly wet above and roughly 5″ below ground level, the crown and storage roots risk the chance of rotting out from too much watering. We suggest using 1x slow (maybe 1 to 1 1/2 gallons per root) per week. If you stick your index or middle finger into the ground around your site location and it comes up with muddy dirt, -DO NOT keep watering it until your finger comes up without any mud on them. IF your fingers come up dry and no rain is forecasted, you may want to water as described previously. WHERE TO SLOWLY ADD WATER? DO NOT WATER INSIDE OF THE PEONY STEMS!!! Peonies are similar to shrubs, conifers and deciduous trees where they receive moisture at their drip line. So on peonies water around the drip line of your plants. This affords the greatest relief from keeping your crown inside the stems dry. Now, STOP WATERING AFTER LABOR DAY SO YOUR PEONIES CAN PREPARE FOR DORMANCY! Give them one last drink of water just before the ground freezes or roughly speaking around mid-November when temps start to reach the mid-30 to lower-40 degrees at night. This will tide them through until next years growth cycle.

Now for our gardening friends in Zones 2-5. Watering gets a little trickier and should only be done in drought years (which for us is thankfully not occurring). Not to be too negative, but every year we receive calls from gardeners who inform us that their peonies did not come up or came up and died. The first question we ask them is ‘have you been watering your peonies?’ Answer is yes in the majority of cases. Now in the case of wet springs like the springs of 2013 and 2014, we have no control over how much our Creator decides to give us. So here’s the deal; watering, drip lines and irrigation spray heads are a ‘no go’ with peonies in these zones. Watering peonies will not help them grow any faster than letting them do their own thing. Footnote though for gardeners on ‘sand’ and ‘sandy loam’ soil, you may need to follow as described in preceding paragraph for Zones 6-8a. Peonies are very drought resistant. What happens in a drought year is they may seek dormancy earlier and their next years growth may not be as great as a normal moisture/temperature year. It is wiser to error on the side of dry vs watering too much.

The normal rule of thumb for peonies is roughly the same as grass in your yards – one inch per week of water. In all zones as mentioned above stop any and all watering after Labor Day to start their dormancy cycle. Then before the ground freezes in zones 2-5 give them their last drink for the winter. If planting new peonies as described by our planting tips, it is best to water in at time of planting and then again one time right before freeze up and/or temps start to average mid-30’s to low-40’s at night.

If you have any additional questions regarding watering peonies, do give us a call or email!

Happy peony gardening!


Peony field jottings…

Ruth Cobb Seed Pod-1The last color in our peony fields ended on July 10th. Almost 9-weeks of color this year since the first bloom appeared on May 9th. With the cooler temps and cloudy days at the start of bloom, that added another 10-14 days of color towards the end of the bloom. We normally average 7-8 weeks of color in the fields so this was an exceptional bloom season of color! For us home peony gardeners, that is why we stress early, mid and late bloomers to enjoy color over a longer period of time. Things have quietened down here on the peony farm, except the weeds and field maintenance. The weed crew continues to do an excellent job in their weekly jaunts through the fields. Now with the higher temps and the cooler temp weeds ending, things should slow down for them in the next few weeks. Hope all is well in your gardens!

Peony field jottings…

Candy Stripe-1With most of the peonies color gone in the field, now what do I photograph? Yes I can spend time in the pollinator field awaiting more wild flowers to bloom, however, I think there is still beauty in a peony spent bloom. Would you have guessed ‘Candy Stripe’ in this picture? From the naked eye he looked rather dull but looking through the macro lens, I got excited. Left click on this pic and see what you think? The remnants of Candy Stripe’s bi-colored petals are still noticeable.

Candy Strip Seed Pods-1Now lets go closer in with the Tamron 90mm macro lens. Very cool! His seed pods are starting to enlarge with her little babies starting to grow. His/her pregnancy lasts for about two months before giving birth (seed pods open up and walla…new peony babies). For this post it is all about the spent blooms beauty and in the future will post more on our hybridizing efforts and how you too can do this next year. Happy gardening and please enjoy your spent peony blooms!

Photography jottings 4…

Milkweed1For those of you who spotted a few Monarch butterflies in the peony fields, here is what they were looking for. Yes the often despised Milkweed. Here on our farm, we try to avoid removing Milkweed! If you’ve been following the collapse of the Monarch’s, anything we can do to help them is our mission! Normally we have dozens of Monarchs using our pollinator field, but since the drought in Texas/Mexico in 2013 and 2014, there was no food for them to carry out their migration over that great distance. I looked through many Milkweeds and no signs yet! I remember as a kid collecting Monarch caterpillars and wish today I could find a Monarch caterpillar. I’ll keep looking though and inform if I find some. They are just too beautiful to not try and help them!

Butterfly Weed1I just envision in my mind photographing a Monarch atop the Butterfly Weed. Maybe someday! This was one of the toughest wild flowers to grow but finally after a controlled burn in year 3 of establishing our pollinator field, they showed up in year 4. These are another Monarch attractor for its food source. Now that we have a few spots established, they should self seed and expand more. Since I don’t use PhotoShop or Lightroom, at least in our mind we can see a Monarch taking advantage of the Butterfly Weed!

Photography jottings 3…

Smooth Oxeye Bud1The Smooth Oxeye towers over the pollinator field as its bud begins to open. They can reach upwards of 6 feet in height and provides a splash of yellow.

Smooth Oxeye1You will see the Smooth Oxeye along roadside ditches with clusters of in amongst their tall stems.