Swenson Gardens

Growing Peonies that don't flop


For those of us who are blessed to garden in northern states and higher elevations, temperature swings can be massive during peonies emergence in the spring. Customers from those states have been very active via phone, emails and social media as of late. Perhaps I may indulge you on some facts that we have experienced here on our peony farm since 2002.

The number one question we have been receiving is, ‘should I cover my peonies during the colder temps at night?’ Knowing the fact that we cannot cover our peonies here on our farm, what happens to our peonies after a frost or hard freeze? I’ll drill this down into two areas of growth; 1) no buds showing and 2) blooms/buds showing.

  1. No buds – this stage is by far the least likelihood of any current year frost/freeze noticeable damage. Yes we have seen rows of peonies tip over only to perk up again when the temperatures warm up again. We do not fret when viewing this example knowing that the roots are relatively warm underground. Sometimes we see leaflets curl up and not tip over only to open up again when it warms up. Finally in conditions like multiple nights below freezing and temperatures down to 12 F to 14 F degrees, the leaflets may brown on their edges or become all brown. Again we do not fret as I will summarize later.
  2. Blooms and buds stage – hang on friends as yes you will see damage. Buds and blooms are the most sensitive to temperatures below freezing. What happens? If in bloom, blooms will wilt overnight and cease to exist. Buds are a little trickier as they may turn brown overnight or in a few days. Buds may or may not open or because of the lower temperatures, they may appear inferior and/or smaller than normal. We’ve had instances in our fields where the bloom quantity was reduced by 50% because of a hard freeze. Hard to view, yes, but, this is the peonies way of reserving their energy into root structure growth for next year.

The mentality of ‘oh no the sky is falling because of a frost or hard freeze on my peonies‘ is dear gardeners, ok. ‘Yes but will my peonies die?’ Emphatically, no. Here’s the deal, peonies are not like annuals and vegetables that only have a one and done root structure. Peonies have multiple root structures knowing the longevity of their lives and have certainly been there done that. Massive temperature changes, too much rain, drought, lawn mowers cutting them down unexpectedly, irrigation systems, trampled on, over spray from chemicals, fire and oh yes male dogs to name a few. When some of our peonies are hit by a frost or hard freeze, it is certainly less of a wow factor in our fields for that bloom season but guess what? In the fall our root development is massive and next year’s bloom is amass with more blooms than normal. Of course next year we continue to pray for ‘normal’ spring temperatures, just the right amount of rain and that our male dog ‘Redd’ would use a pine tree instead of a tree peony? Thank the good Lord we don’t have to fret about lawnmowers, irrigation systems and chemicals!

So dear peony gardeners, if you want to cover your peonies with a sheet or light blanket, please consider doing that or like us, it is what it is!


Yes dear peony gardening friends, its time to remove the mulch on your newly planted peonies! In a normal spring, we usually gauge the mulch removal time based on when the tulips are 8-10 inches tall. This year, we are foregoing that tip based on the amount of rain and warmer temperatures that many of us have had. Removing your mulch in its entirety is paramount to the success of your peonies. Make sure you have bare ground about 24 to 30 inches around your peony. This allows the ground to dry and warm up quicker. If you do not remove the mulch, this will inhibit the ground warming up and it retains the moisture in your soil that may then lead to the roots rotting out. Peonies are ready for spring so lets help them out now!


Life on the Swenson Gardens peony farm continues to surprise us…again! As I mentioned in my previous post regarding a calf that was born on 3/19, found her frozen to the ground the morning of 3/20 and from there whisked into our back entry way (in our home) to warm up. Well things went downhill after that. After she was warmed up and was able to stand on her own, we took her back to her mom to nurse. No go! She would not take her. We tried everything to get her to nurse but mom wanted no part of her daughter. Back in the house we came.

During that day and night, she would not bottle feed so we tried to force some colostrum into her mouth with a syringe. We’re talking cc’s of liquid versus a pint or two that they usually drink. The morning of 3/21, things were not looking good. Thankfully a neighbor had an esophagus tube feeder that was our first usage thereof to save this calf. We gave her four stomach feedings that day and night and prayed for her life to continue on.

Sunday morning, March 22nd, we were awakened by a mooing sound coming from our back entry. She’s alive, standing and very hungry. We bottle fed her, stroked her gently as a mama cow does after feeding her calf and said a prayer of thanksgiving for her life. Needless to say having an active calf, both ways, in our home, is a very fragrant event. Thankfully we had some of Heidi’s potty training pads left to at least ease the cleaning up process.

Monday evening, March 23rd, we tried again to invite the mom to accept her daughter, no go again so we made the 8-week decision to continue bottle feeding her, of course now in one of our horse stalls…in the barn! Her name is Cocoa as she is a red Dexter heifer. What a joy to hear her moo’s when entering the barn and calling our her name. She is doing very well and is now starting to eat hay along with her raw milk that we purchase from a local organic dairy farmer at yes, $7.00 per gallon. We made the decision that our peonies are chemical free so why not the same for another member of our fertilizer production team starting their life too without chemicals!

Fast forward now to 7 am April 3rd. After feeding her I was thinking, ‘too bad Cocoa would not have any four legged friends to live with’. I didn’t know if this thought was from our Creator or just a passing thought? Cocoa is in our south barn so I went up to our north barn to check on the fertilizer production team during my morning routine. As I was looking in our north field, about 300 yards away, I saw an outline of what I thought was a wild turkey. However after watching it for a couple minutes, it didn’t move. What in the world is it then?

Venturing north and closing in on this object, finally registered…CALF!!!!! Oh my word, not another one! Oh dear she is still wet, standing and shivering. She was a heavy one, maybe 40 lbs and quite feisty. Found a dry towel, held her close and soon the shivering stopped. Ok so where is the mom? Opened the gate and went searching for her mom. There she was standing over the afterbirth with no clue what had happened. I understand Cocoa’s mom having no interest in her calf, as this was her first one, but this calf’s mom had her first calf last year.

Ok new mom, here is your daughter! She proceeded to lick her and mind you this calf is still standing, walked 300+ yards and is trying forcefully to nurse. My guess is this calf had been born a couple of hours earlier based on the signs. Oh dear, mom kicked her away while trying to nurse multiple times. The calf tumbled and finally gave up trying to stand and nurse. Ok Cocoa here we come! A quick trip to the local feed store to purchase another bag of colostrum and into the bottle it went along with some of the raw milk. She devoured a quart in a moments notice. Wow, what a difference versus Cocoa’s two full days of life and this young girl is maybe two hours old.

We kept the new calf in Cocoa’s stall for another, now quart and a half, feeding a couple hours later and then brought her up to the north barn where we had her mom penned inside that barn. Again she licked her daughter and moved away from her. A few hours later we went up to check on them and saw her mom kick her and yes stepped on her leg as she rolled across the bedding. I really don’t like to see any living thing suffer, so yup, into Cocoa’s stall for a permanent roommate.

Needless to say, Cocoa was a tad overwhelmed to now share her room with a larger four legged living animal. Cocoa was just getting use to our cats who like to be with her and also supervised visits with Heidi and Redd. That evening we had the joy of trying to feed two very hungry calves with only one bottle. (A video of this will be posted soon on our social media sites.) I wish GoDaddy would fix our blog so I could post some of the pictures, but oh my word what a crazy event. Cocoa and the new calf were running around us, trying to nurse in areas where the sun doesn’t shine, pushing each other away from the bottle and yes, mooing like all get out. What an exhausting event for us! Will be getting another bottle today for the rest of our feedings.

This morning, April 4th, we ventured into the barn early to see two red Dexter heifer calves, sleeping next to each other. Of course the chaos followed once they knew it was breakfast time, but the smiles on their two legged mom and dad were priceless! So I would like to officially welcome Cocoa and Mini to the Swenson Gardens fertilizer production team! They provide life giving nutrients to our peonies and we provided the same to them.

Life on the Swenson Gardens peony farm…lives on!


Greetings from the Swenson Gardens peony farm! We are still experiencing technical difficulties with our blog. Repeated phone calls to our web hosting service continues to be ‘we’re looking in to this’? For now the best place to view real time photos are on our Facebook and Instagram sites. If our web hosting service ever resolves the ability to add photos to our blog posts, will be posting more often. So for now, here are the text only updates on our peony farm.

We are certainly blessed to have a somewhat normal winter so far. Adequate snowfall stayed on our peony fields allowing a blanket of insulation and retention of moisture as the snow melts. There are still some drifts left but for the most part, fields are void of snow cover. Seeing the color brown in the fields is a great feat of patience this time of year as the ground starts to warm up.

Speaking of the ground warming up, we’ve been monitoring soil temperatures the past few years and can now say with confidence that peonies begin to show above ground growth when the soil temperature is 44 to 46 degrees six inches deep in the soil. I’m not concerned with the ground temperature on the surface knowing that peonies grow from underneath the surface first. With more daylight hours now, green and color coming soon!

The fertilizer production team continues to grow and increase in quantity. Last evening we had our first new addition to the team in 2020 as a red Dexter heifer was born. Mom and daughter are doing great and the team was so excited to meet their new team member. Elvis Lee, our herd bull, was especially proud as he guarded mom and daughter from the team and us. He gets a tad protective when a new calf is born so glad he takes on that demeanor. However, having his horns brush against my unbeknownst back and lower extremity while petting the calf results in a quick escape and yes a bellowing SCREAM!

Heidi, our German Shepard, is now 2 years and 4 months old. She no longer has her puppy frame and is now rather imposing to visitors, cats and of course Redd our red lab. Redd is 10 years and 7 months old. He’s slowing down a lot and dad lifts him into and out of the Gator and tractors. His slower pace though changes in an instance when he gets tired of Heidi picking on him so he has to show Heidi who is still the boss. They are such a joy to have around and hopefully Redd stays healthy for many years to come.

Yes our cat patrol is still employed on our peony farm. There is far less shrieking going on in our home from some people as they seem to have reduced the rodent appearances. We now have 4 members of our cat patrol. Toby, Tiger, Grey Beard and Hey Stash. Hey Stash is a lovely black and white female cat that took on that name as she has a mustache. Cold nights finds all four of them huddled together in our heated garage. I’m sure they too are anxious for spring so they can spring into their rodent patrol job.

We are so anxious for our next batch of peony seedlings to bloom this spring. As you’ve seen on our new website, the seedlings from Roger F. Anderson and our own seedlings are world renown and very spectacular. Perhaps you were able to purchase some before they sold out and even now may be a great time to order some before they sell out as well.

We wish all of you good health, peace and God’s blessings! Happy peony gardening from Swenson Gardens!


Greetings dear peony gardeners, we are open for ordering your favorite peonies now! Yes we opened earlier than usual so you could consider ‘peonies’ on your gift list this Christmas. Not sure if its better to give or receive after you browse though our new website and online store. This is a very special website for 2020. We are releasing 33 new seedlings and 65 new peonies. Within our 33 new seedlings, 15 of those are Roger Anderson’s last generation of yellow herbaceous peonies. Perhaps now we have the world’s largest collection of yellow herbaceous peonies?

Saunders’s peony collectors alert! Yes dear collectors we have a wide array of new Saunders available as well as the rare ‘Little Dorrit’ and the very rare ‘Red Lacquer’. Both of these varieties will be shipped individually as they are that rare. You will also see a number of Saunders that you may not have in your collections.

Enjoy your visit at Swenson Gardens and have fun picking out your new peonies for delivery or pick up in the fall of 2020!


Thank you again for all our returning and new peony gardeners who have ordered your Swenson Gardens peonies in 2019! Hard to believe that our season is quickly coming to an end. Orders for our 1st shipment and pick up are done, so any additional orders will be added to our last shipment only that is tentatively scheduled to ship out the end of September or early October, 2019. The last shipment includes all of our USDA Zones 6 to 8a as well as Zones 3 to 5 that missed the cut off for our 1st shipment and pick up. Enjoy your Swenson Gardens peonies for 2019!


Peony Field Days 2018

Although our Peony Field Days was not held this year, we are having our annual Swenson Gardens Peony Barn Sale on Friday, September 13th and Saturday, September 14th, 2019, from 9 am to 5 PM. Our address again is 10958 70th St SW, Howard Lake, MN and will be held rain or shine. Time to load up the family and friends and head to our peony farm. Speaking of farms (now that our blog is working again except it won’t allow us to upload new pictures), Swenson Gardens was awarded the Wright County, MN farm family of the year. What an honor to receive this award and spotlight our advanced soil amendments and chemical free growing techniques. This was the first time that a peony grower/farmer received this award in Minnesota.

So for those of you who are new to Swenson Gardens, what is our Peony Barn Sale? Perhaps some of you frequent garage sales? Lets just say that our Peony Barn Sale is a peony gardener’s earthly heaven! Some have even commented that this is a peony lovers dream come true! Our barn is laid out with numbers of tables laden with marked variety bare-root peonies for sale. This includes retail roots leftover from our shipping and pick up inventory as well as wholesale/line out sized roots at yes, discounted prices. Cash or check only as we do not accept credit/debit cards during this event. Staff will be on hand to ‘talk peonies‘ and at 10 am, noon and 2 PM demonstrations on how to divide and plant peonies will be available free of charge. Looking forward to seeing you at Swenson Gardens Peony Barn Sale!


New Millenium Intersectional/Itoh Hybrid Peony

Peony pick up days are scheduled for September 13th and 14th, 2019, from 9 am to 5 PM for those of you who have already ordered your Swenson Gardens peonies and noted ‘pick up’ on your orders. Ordering is now closed for pick up orders, however, you may still place your orders online, mail order or phone for shipping out in late September to early October, 2019. Our address is 10958 70th St SW, Howard Lake, MN. We started digging your peonies today and they look marvelous! Oh and don’t forget to purchase Swenson Gardens peony (organic) fertilizer! This tried and true mixture will provide all the nutrients your peony will need for its lifetime and at $3.00 a bag per plant, well worth the investment.


Our dear gardening friends, for 2019, we are canceling our Peony Field Days. Last fall we transitioned most of our fields into a new display garden that is in the process of blossoming into a beautiful array of varieties and colors. Thus we, like you, have to be patient as they continue to mature. Look for Swenson Gardens Peony Field Days to return in 2020.


As I posted earlier on life on the peony farm, we were expecting lots of snow during the day but with the warmer temperatures, sleet is now coming down. Hoping it turns back to snow when the temperatures cool down as the beginning of winter here was an ice skating rink. I went back to some earlier pictures of Redd and Heidi and came up with this photo. If only Redd could foretell the growth of Heidi as I found an earlier picture of those two last winter in this next photo.

Heidi at 2 months old.

Redd was an easy going guy at that time and very protective of her. Fast forward to 15 months old and oh how times have changed in this next photo.

Heidi at 15 months old

Heidi tries her best to take over the dominant role but in the next photo, she hasn’t got the hang of it yet?

Redd is still #1

Though it gets fierce during these battles, any soft whimper from playing too hard is met with stoppage of play to assess any injuries. Don’t worry (like I do when they are playing hard), they seem to know their limits. A stand off occurs in the next photo.

Redd and Heidi taking a breather

Redd is 9 years and 5 months old. I tell him that Heidi is keeping him young! He doesn’t seem to hear me and most of the time he is actually the instigator. It was funny last week when Heidi decided to venture off on her own and didn’t return for food time. When she finally came home after Redd had finished eating, he reprimanded her fiercely to the point of her pinning her ears and tail between her legs when she entered her kennel for breakfast. I will give Redd the credit on that as since then, she does not venture off on her own. If only we could understand dogs barks and growls. Speaking of food, ok ‘bingo’s’ (as I like to call them), time to come in for food in this next photo.

Food time!

As you can see in the photo, Heidi was already licking her chops for food time! My how their demeanor changes when its time for breakfast and supper. We like to feed them twice a day as we think it is better health wise for two very active dogs. I’m not sure if they like to eat or go for a ride best in this next photo.

Take a selfie dad!

Because it has been way too cold for our dogs most of this winter, yes ,they have taken over our Suburban (of course when its not stuck in our driveway from a previous post). We do not allow them to run free when it is below zero and when wind chills are dangerous. Redd takes over the passenger seat and Heidi loves to put her front paws on the console to look outside. As you can see she is a tad too tall for her ears to be held high. Since Heidi is our first German Shepard, I am amazed at her watchful eyes for all our family. Redd being a British Lab is more interested in the wildlife and birds around our peony farm instead of staying close to us. They make quite a pairing though when going into town for errands. Life on the peony farm doesn’t get better than this in the winter time!