Margaret Lauterbach: Supporting peonies and saving seeds

Special to the Idaho StatesmanAugust 15, 2013 

Fashion Favorite Flowers

Peonies are perhaps the longest lasting beauties of the flower garden.

LEE REICH — AP

Some of the most voluptuous and richly scented blossoms in ornamental gardens belong to the peonies. Many bloom in time for Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day), when some folks cut blossoms to use for grave decorations.

Peony blossoms are heavy, and unless the plant is supported, blooms will topple to the ground. Commercial supports are available at garden centers, but some claim that a square of chicken wire fencing can offer sufficient support. That loose square must be laid in place early, as soon as you see the red points of the peony jutting through the soil, so the plant can grow to and through it. Apparently, the combined strength of stalks will hold the entire plant upright.

Another solution is a variation of the regular peony, the Itoh peony. That plant has strong stems and abundant blossoms, up to 50 on a mature plant. The Itoh technically is an “intersectional” peony, a hybrid between a herbaceous peony and a tree peony.

It was hybridized and introduced by Toichi Itoh in the late 1940s.

Its blossoms are large, similar to those of tree peonies, but far more numerous. The foliage resembles that of tree peonies, especially attractive in autumn, but then should be cut back after they die the way you cut back herbaceous peonies. Do not cut tree peonies back like that.

TRANSPLANTING IN HOT WEATHER

This summer’s high temperatures have been very tough on transplants. You can transplant during dry, hot weather though, as long as you shade the transplant when it begins to wilt. I put a box over a transplant for the hottest part of the day, then remove it for evening, night and the morning sun.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS CARE

About the first of September, cut off the tops of your Brussels sprouts plants. That will send auxins (plant growth hormones) down the stalk to encourage vigorous Brussels sprouts development. These plants are frost hardy, so you should have plump sprouts for November harvest.

SAVING CHILE AND PEPPER SEEDS

Chiles and mild peppers are ripening now, so if you want to save seeds, you should save from a ripe pod. Most are red when ripe, and a few are dark brown (Mulatos and pasillas).

If you’re trying to save seeds from a hot pepper or chile, wear rubber gloves and slit open the pod. Most of the seeds will be on the ovary, just below the stem but inside the pod. With your fingers, wiggle the seeds back and forward until they fall off. Label the seeds and set them aside to dry where mice can’t get at them.

Whether seeds will produce true-to-parent type depends on what other pepper varieties you’re growing within 500 feet. Since Seed Savers Exchange grows peppers in isolation cages, we built some screened cages years ago and set them up over selected chile plants.

Chile flowers have both male and female parts and are self-fertile, so insects are not needed for pollination. I was surprised to see a bee inside one of my screened cages, then watched another burrow under the edge and come up inside another cage to visit a flower. SSE must have a better cage-to-soil contact than I had, since I’ve not heard complaints about their pepper seeds.

Obviously, a better way to preserve purity of the strain is to bag individual blossoms with little spun polyester bags before they open, but you won’t know if you accidentally knocked the bud off the plant before it opened or whether it opened.

Cross pollination is quite common in peppers and chiles. You can also just hope it didn’t happen.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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