Keeping the (Peony) Kids Safe

I have discovered that tree-peony motherhood engenders much the same anxieties as any other kind, namely how best to keep the ‘kids’ safe and healthy. Suddenly the typical denizens of my suburban backyard took on the aspect of evil aliens bent on the destruction of my helpless seedlings. Weeds and excessive sun had been dealt with, but what about those dangers that are slimy (slugs) or sneaky (rabbits and squirrels)?

After discovering that peony seedlings are among slugs’ favorite foods, I panicked and rooted around in my Miscellaneous Stuff box for the roll of slug tape that I was sure I’d bought a few years ago. Sure enough, there it was [whew!] and there seemed enough of it to completely encircle the entire seedling area.

 

I hadn’t realized how flexible and, well, flimsy the copper tape is. It has an adhesive backing covered by a layer of peel-off tape, because its intended use is to be affixed to the rim of a container or possibly the top edge of a raised bed; theoretically when a slug climbs up and contacts the tape it will be deterred from proceeding further. In order to get the tape to stay in place on its edge in soil, though, the bottom third needed to be buried. I had my doubts about whether a decent sized slug couldn’t simply slide over the top or, more likely, easily push it over after the tape had become softened by rain. Besides, how much ‘copper’ can really be applied to thin paper tape? But possibly it was better than nothing, so I installed it and went back to the computer to look for a sturdier alternative.

I found it on the Lee Valley Tools site (where else?) which is apparantly the only USA site selling these Copper Slug Rings. Now this was more like it: thin 100% copper bands with notches on the ends so that several can be connected together if need be. Unlike the tape product, these are designed to be placed in soil. I ordered two packages of four bands; each band is 16″ long and 2″ high which is the minimum width of copper needed in order to afford any protection. (Copper wire is useless; there are a number of YouTube videos showing slugs slithering right over that.)

 

Because two of the seedlings are “off to one side” I encircled them separately from the rest of the group. There’s some overlap in the larger circle but that’s okay; I can always adjust it later if need be.

 

Here’s a slug’s-eye view of the “Border Wall” around the larger group.

It crossed my mind to wonder if anti-slug copper bands become less effective as they age – which anything made of copper and left outdoors will inevitably do – and become covered with verdigris. Verdigris is the blueish-green patina, formed of various organic and inorganic metallic salts and acids, that results from copper’s interaction with water and various atmospheric gases (that’s the end of the chemistry lesson, don’t worry.) But does the presence of verdigris change how slugs react to copper? In other words does a slug who contacts a weathered copper object get less of a ‘zap’ from it than if the copper object was shiny and new, like my bands? This is apparantly one of those esoteric questions for which Google seems to have no answer; and I am not inclined to go rounding up slugs to see whether they retreat faster from a verdigris-covred copper whatsit (which I don’t even have) or not.

Now that I’d – hopefully! – protected the seedlings against slavering slugs, I turned my attention to the furry four-footed peony predators: squirrels and rabbits. I’d already seen evidence of a squirrel digging in the dirt in this area, not even six inches from the leftmost seedling, so it would only be a matter of time before one or more was damaged. Worse yet, I’d seen a rabbit in my front yard one evening only a week earlier, so I had to act fast!

Gardeners Supply sells two clever chickenwire protective devices, one in the shape of a classic bell cloche but the other, called a 3-in-1, is more suited to the seedlings’ situation because it can be set up as a low wide ‘cage’ or as a much taller one with a smaller footprint. Both orientations are shown on their site.

 

Because my seedlings are still small, I can use it in the low/wide orientation. The two halves are securely fastened to the soil with earth staples at both ends and also where the two halves meet, but it is still easy for me to lift if I need to weed around the seedlings.

Actually, for something made of chickenwire I don’t think it looks bad at all. And once it rusts (I’m seeing a few areas already) it will almost blend into the surrounding soil.

 

And it was installed not a moment too soon, because the very next day I spotted this baby rabbit practically wolfing down some creeping phlox less than six feet away from my now-Perfectly Protected Peonies!!

  6 comments for “Keeping the (Peony) Kids Safe

  1. June 22, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Okay…I think this qualifies you as peony mother of the year!

  2. June 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Oh how gloriously eccentric! Goodness you are not taking any chances. They must be the most pampered peonies in the world. And they are still only babies. However will you cope when they reach adolescence and have relationships with undesirable, common peonies from the wrong side of town?

    • June 24, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      LOL! I wonder what the peony-grower’s version of the classic Father Casually Cleaning Shotgun As Daughter’s Date Arrives is? 😉

  3. June 25, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Good luck, sounds like they have a very attentive “mum” so their success is almost certain. 🙂

  4. June 26, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Someday you’ll look over at your massive peony shrubs and wonder how their survival was ever even in question!
    In case you’re wondering none of my sprouting seeds survived the winter. I suspect I should have put them into the ground rather than try to nurse them along in a pot… especially considering my record!
    They look great by the way 🙂

    • June 27, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Apparantly tree peony seedlings in containers can be fussy about the temperature range over winter. Unfortunately Page’s book doesn’t address the topic at all, other than to say that containerized tree peonies need to be “protected from a hard frost.” A couple of other sources advise keeping the pots in an unheated garage or basement over winter so that plants will be cold enough for proper dormancy but won’t freeze: e.g., say, between 35 and 40F. So it sounds like a 30-40F winter location is probably the ideal. What I’m trying to find out is the proper amount of watering (if any) of tree peonies in either pots or growbags over that kind of coldish-indoor winter storage.

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