By: Julie Barnes

Peonies have been stalwarts of spring and summer gardens for decades with their outstanding large flowers. But, a gardener's love affair for them can be short lived when a rain storm brings them crashing down. Under the weight of the huge double flowers, weak stems easily give way. Single flower varieties are becoming more available that withstand rain better than the older double hybrids. For many, there has been the common myth that ants are responsible for peony buds opening.

There is no evidence to support that. A sugary substance produced by developing peony buds is most likely what the ants find to be irresistible. While reveling in the sweet nectar, they may drive away some insect pests. So, if you want to bring peony blooms indoors without ant hitch hikers; gently shake the flowers, maybe submerge the buds completely in water for a short time, or else set the cut flowers in a shady outdoor area for a few hours until the ants disperse. Peonies blossom all at once early in the season, but, their bloom time can be extended through cold, dry storage: When the first crack of color appears on the hard green bud, cut the stem (about 16 in. long), remove most of the leaves. Wrap as many as 10 stems in three layers of tissue paper marking the date on the outside and refrigerate. For up to three weeks, stems can be taken out and given fresh cuts before placing in water to rehydrate, opening fully within two days.

If you want to grow great annuals try following these three simple steps:

1.) Encourage more compact growth and branching by pinching the growth tip of the plant back to the leaf axil. Also remove flowers so the plant can divert it's energy into growth rather than blooms.

2.) When ready to plant: Remove plants by squeezing or pushing them up from the bottom of cell packs, or for pots by turning the container upside down and tapping the edges slightly until the plant falls out in your hand. Most cell pack and container grown annuals will have well developed or dense roots. Gently loosen the roots or cut down the sides of the root ball with a knife. Roots that are left woven together will not spread into surrounding soil and will need more frequent watering. Prepare a planting hole that is slightly larger than the plant size. Set the plant inside of it at the same depth that it grew in the pot, spread the roots, fill the hole and lightly firm the soil around the roots. Water plants well.

3.) About every three weeks during the growing season fertilize your plants. Foliar feeding works faster than root feeding because it puts the nutrients where the plants can use them immediately. To foliar feed: Spray diluted liquid fertilizer directly on the annuals' leaves preferably on cloudy days or in the evening, so it does not burn leaves.