Peonies are a classic ingredient of the perennial border and have been in cultivation for over 2000 years. Beloved for their abundant blooms, the beauty of their exquisite flowers, their delightful fragrance, and their bold foliage changing shades over the seasons, peony flowers add a dazzling splash of color in the landscape. Virtually carefree once established, they live for generations, are deer proof and produce some of the best cut flowers - making them one of Nature's loveliest perennials! Peony bouquets are a favorite of florists and many brides-to-be. Why not enjoy a peony bouquet at home?
Basic Facts About Peonies
The genus Paeonia is divided into 3 groups: Tree Peonies, Herbaceous Peonies, and Intersectional Peonies.
- Most well known type of peonies, they do best in hardiness zones 3 to 8 and are available in an incredible array of flower form, color and fragrance. They bloom in late spring - early summer, for approximately 7-10 days.
- Herbaceous Peonies grow up to 2-3 ft. (60-90 cm), in a lush, bushy mound of glossy green divided foliage which remains attractive throughout the summer until frost and often colors up in the fall.
- Tree peonies are woody perennial shrubs which thrive in hardiness zones 4 to 9 . They bloom before the herbaceous peonies (April - May) and produce incredibly large flowers.
- Tree peonies stand upright and do not require staking. They grow slowly up to 3-7 ft. (90-210 cm).
- After the bloom, tree peonies provide a lovely structure to the garden with their deep green foliage in summer turning bronze and purple in fall.
Intersectional Peonies or Itoh Hybrids
- Hybrids produced by crossing a tree peony with a herbaceous peony.
- These peonies produce up to 50 or more huge flowers on sturdy short stems that do not require staking.
- They generally bloom after the herbaceous peonies for 3-4 weeks.
- Excellent as cut flowers, they are valued for their terrific array of yellow and gold colors, which are not widely available in herbaceous peonies.
- These plants have the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies, but die to the ground in the winter like herbaceous peonies.
- Strong and healthy, with a nice rounded bush form, they are typically shorter than most bush peonies. Growing up to 2.5 ft. (75 cm) tall by about 3 ft. wide (90 cm), their compact form and lovely shape allow them to be placed at the front of the border.
- Peonies enjoy full sun or part shade in rich, fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soils.
- Deer resistant, attractive to butterflies, they are virtually pest free.
- Low maintenance, peonies are long-lived (may live up to 50 years!).
Peonies Blooming Season
- The overall peony blooming period last 6 weeks, starting with the tree peonies, followed by the herbaceous peonies and finishing up with the intersectional peonies (Itoh peonies). Blooms occur in late spring - early summer, starting in April and through the months of May and June. It should be noted that the blooming season will last longer in cooler weather while it will be profuse but fairly brief if the weather is very hot and sunny.
- Sadly, peonies flower for a relatively short period of time, approximately 7-10 days. However, they do not all flower at the same time and are classified with a blooming time, ranging from Very Early to Very Late season, relative to other peonies. Therefore, to fill your garden with continuously blooming peonies throughout the season to up to 6 weeks, you may plan to plant a variety of cultivars, from Very Early- to Very Late season bloomers. Learn how to extend your peonies season to up to 6 weeks.
'Monsieur Jules Elie'
How to Choose Peonies
There are over 3 000 peony cultivars available (!!!) and you may want to determine first what you are exactly looking for before buying. Here are a few criteria that will help you find the right peony for your garden.
- Award winners: outstanding peonies granted prestigious awards from the American Peony Society or the Royal Horticultural Society
- Bad weather: peonies that can withstand rain, wind or heat
- Bloom time: peonies flower for a relatively short period of time, approximately 7-10 days, during an overall blooming season which lasts 6 weeks.
- Color: peonies are available in a wide array of colors including white, pink, red, coral, or yellow.
- Form: peony flowers may be single, semi double, fully double, Japanese and offer various lovely shapes: Anemone and Single (1 row of guard petals), Lotus (2 to 3 rows of guard petals), Chrysanthemum (4 to 8 rows of guard petals), Rose (up to 20 rows of guard petals), Golden Circle (golden stamens ring at the heart of the flower), Crown (1 to 2 rows of guard petals and an inner tuft of short curly petals) or Hundred Proliferate (very large flowers, fuller than the rose form)
- Fragrance: peonies may be unscented, slightly, moderately or very fragrant
- Size: peonies range from 2 ft. (60 cm) to 7 ft (210 cm)
- Type: herbaceous peony, tree peony or Itoh peony
- No staking: peonies that do not require support
Landscaping with Peonies
- A well-selected peony garden may have plants in bloom for up to 6 weeks! Low maintenance, peonies are long-lived perennial which add romance and bring interest to the garden, from spring to fall. They offer beautiful and changing foliage color.....
- Peonies are very arresting plants for the landscape and may be planted individually or in mass in borders, beds, wall-side borders, cottage gardens. They are ideal for bordering a walk or driveway or as informal hedges.
- Peonies do not respond well to transplanting, so choose your planting location carefully.
- The best time to plant peonies is in early fall, so they will have time to become established in the soil before winter. They do not flower the first year of planting, and may take up to two years to produce their showy, fragrant blooms.
- Peonies enjoy plenty of companion plants, including Alliums, Bearded Irises (Iris germanica), Siberian Irises (Iris siberica), Columbines (Aquilegia), Spring Bulbs, Roses and small shrubs and trees.
Paeonia "Felix Crousse" in the Rose Garden in June at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook, Kent. ©NTPL/Jonathan Buckley
- Peonies may be planted in the fall, so the plants may become established before the first hard frost.
- Peonies grow best in cool climates (Hardiness zones 3-8). They need a pronounced period of winter chilling in order to bloom well. In the southern states, choose early-blooming varieties, plant them about an inch deep, and provide some shade.
- Peonies need at least a half-day of sun (minimum of six hours of sun a day). Full sun is better as Peonies bloom best in sunny spots except in the South, where afternoon shade is appreciated and will help the flowers last longer.
- These plants require good drainage. If your soil is heavy or very sandy, enrich it with compost. Incorporate about 1 cup of bonemeal into the soil.
- Peonies love deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soils. Soil pH should be neutral (pH 7.0) or at the most, only slightly acidic.
- Space Peonies three to four feet apart (90-120 cm) to ensure good air circulation. Plant them away from trees or shrubs as peonies don't like to compete for food and moisture. Provide shelter from strong winds.
- Dig a hole about two feet deep and two feet across. Add a 4 in. layer of organic matter (10 cm) such as compost, pine bark, or well-aged manure. A half cup of a good plant food (10-6-4), bone meal or superphosphate should be mixed into this layer.
- Set the root, so the eyes face upward on top of the firmed soil, placing the root just 2 in. (5 cm) below the soil surface.
- Backfill the hole, making sure that the soil doesn't bury the root deeper than 2 in. (5 cm) or your Peony may not bloom. Water thoroughly.
- Peonies do not flower the first year of planting, and may take up to two years to produce their showy, fragrant blooms.
- Peonies almost thrive on neglect. Unlike most perennials, they don't need to be dug and divided.
- Peonies require regular, deep watering, specifically during the dry summer months.
- Apply a spring layer of 2-4 in. (5-10 cm) organic mulch to help to preserve the soil moisture. This mulch must be removed and destroyed before winter and a new, fresh winter mulch of loose straw or evergreen boughs added, to help control disease.
- Staking may be required as the large flowers tend to arch toward the ground and may be driven to the ground by hard rain.
- Remove spent flowers as they fade, cutting to a strong leaf so that the stem doesn't stick out of the foliage. Cut back after the foliage has died down in the fall to avoid any overwintering disease.
Peonies: Pests & Diseases
- Few insect pests bother Peonies.
- Peonies are prone to Verticillium