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Rita Jo Shoultz of Fritz Creek Gardens near Homer and Jan Hanscom of Polar Peonies in Fairbanks gave a presentation on management and cultural practices to follow for good peony plant health and flower production.
Starting with good soil is number one - have it tested and add amendments. Funny thing about peonies, they like to be fertilized in the fall like bulbs. Peonies also do not like to have wet feet, so drainage is important. Most of all, if their eyes are planted more than 2 inches below soil level, they won't flower.
Colleen James of Aurora Blooms in Homer grows her peonies organically. Last summer, with around 3,000 three-year-old plants in the ground, she was able to sell blooms to Texas and California.
Rita Jo shipped blooms to New York. She has orders from Singapore for next summer. Hanscom of Polar Peonies also sold blooms Outside.
Cory Carroll, owner of Works of Art Flowers in Anchorage, introduced himself to the group and said he had had a query last summer for 10,000 peony stems and proposed to sell the flowers for the growers. He is planning on building a cooler to handle a wholesale flower business to be ready by the summer of 2010.
The potential for Alaska peonies to become commercially successful is there. There is demand. Peony rootstock is not prohibitively expensive, they love our cool weather and Alaska has a geographic position with a busy international airport.
Of concern to some of the attendees was being careful when ordering and bringing in the rootstock to be vigilant about potentially importing pests, disease and invasives that may hitch a ride on the plants. That's something that everyone and anyone who brings plants to Alaska should be watching out for.