By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Peony flowers are large, showy and sometimes fragrant, making them an essential in the sunny flower garden. Foliage of this herbaceous plant lasts all summer and is an attractive background for other plantings.
Learn how to grow peonies, whether the tree or garden form, for abundant flowers for cutting and a show in the landscape. Care for peonies is not difficult if you’re planting within the right growing zones, USDA Zones 2-8.
Peony flowers bloom for about a week, somewhere between late spring and early summer. Select early, mid-season and late bloomers for a long lasting display of exquisite, growing peonies.
Peony care involves planting peonies in a sunny location with organic, well-draining soil. When growing peonies, include a stake or trellis for support on tall and double varieties. Peony flowers come in most colors, except for a true blue. With breeders continually making changes, this color may be available soon.
Divide peony clumps following a summer when flowering is not abundant, every few years.. Divide and replant them in the fall for best performance. With a sharp knife, split the bulbs, leaving three to five eyes on each division. Replant so that eyes are about an inch deep and allow 3 feet between each plant. Incorporate organic matter into the soil before growing peonies for a jump start on peony flowers.
Care for peonies involves winter mulching in colder zones where no snowfall blankets the ground and insulates the peony bulbs.
Insect control during care of peonies is minimal; however, peony flowers and plants may be infected by fungal diseases such as botrytis blight and leaf blotch. These fungal diseases may damage stems, leaves and flowers and may require removal of the entire plant. Disposal of infected plant materials is required during this infrequent aspect of growing peonies. If you suspect your peonies were killed by fungal disease, plant more peonies in a different area in the fall.
Take advantage of a fabulous flower for many landscapes. Choose a peony bush or tree to include in your fall bulb planting routine.
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One of the most magnificent mainstays of the garden is the common herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora). Peony plants are virtually pest-free—deer and rabbits don’t like their bitter taste—and peonies in containers can be planted almost any time!
Showy and fragrant, peonies will make excellent cut flowers—and the plants are so long-lived that it is commonly said that peonies will outlive the gardeners who plant them! If a peony is well situated and happy, it may bloom for 100 years or more with little or no attention.
Peonies also thrive almost anywhere in the country. Many varieties can even survive a Zone 2 winter (that’s a low of -50 degrees F).
Even when they are not in bloom, their dark green, glossy foliage and shrub-like appearance make them handsome focal points in the garden.
While September is the best time to divide or plant bare root peonies (since they are dormant in the fall), container-grown peonies can be planted at any time. If you are looking longingly at your neighbor’s peonies and wishing you had some right now, go for it!
Many nurseries offer early, midseason, and late blooming varieties, making it possible for you to stretch out the peony season over many weeks. There are 6 flower types to choose from: anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double, and bomb. The colors range from pristine white to pink, peach, yellow, magenta, deep reds, and even bi-colors.
Fragrances vary as well—some plants such as ‘Festiva Maxima’ and ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ have intoxicating rose-like scents while others are lemony or have no scent at all. If fragrance is important to you, give them the sniff test before you buy.
Seeing ants on your peony buds? Don’t worry! Ants love to harvest the sweet sap covering the flowers buds but are harmless and may even keep other insects away.
Peonies need support while growing due to their heavy flowers and brittle stems of the larger flowering varieties. Peony rings were invented for just this purpose or you can use a wire tomato cage. Placing the support around the plants early in spring is ideal so you don’t accidently pierce the crown.
The plant will grow up through the support and eventually hide the wire.
If you share my passion for peonies, get out there and enjoy them! Pick lots of of bouquets to perfume the house! Like all good things, peony blossoms won’t last forever and you don’t want to miss a minute!
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Peonies are an elegant flower known for their large, beautiful blooms and long lifespan. Many peony plants can live more than 50 years! Unfortunately, they usually take a few years to get settled into your garden. To grow and care for peonies, get peony roots (called tubers) and plant them in the fall. Plant them in your garden, leaving 3–4 feet (0.91–1.22 m) between your flowers and other plants. Cover the roots with soil and mulch to encourage growth. Water the soil once every other week during the summer until the plant grows. After 1-2 years, your peonies will blossom into massive, beautiful flowers.
The peony is outrageously beautiful in bloom from spring to summer—with lush foliage all summer long. Here’s how to grow peonies and get the best peony flowers in your garden.
The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom.
–Henry Mitchell, American writer (1923-93)
Peonies are perennials that come back every year to take your breath away. In fact, the plants may live longer than you do—some have been known to thrive for at least 100 years.
Peonies bloom from late spring through early summer, depending on your location and the variety of peony you’re growing.
Many nurseries offer early, midseason, and late blooming varieties, making it possible for you to stretch out the peony season over many weeks and enjoy those lovely blooms for as long as possible!
Peonies are hardy to Zone 3 and grow well as far south as Zones 7 and 8. In most of the U.S., the rules for success are simple: provide full sun and well-drained soil. Peonies even relish cold winters, because they need chilling for bud formation.
There are six peony flower types to choose from: anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double, and bomb. Fragrances vary as well—some plants such as ‘Festiva Maxima’ and ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ have intoxicating rose-like scents while others are lemony or have no scent at all.
Peonies make fine sentinels lining walkways or a lovely low hedge. After its stunning bloom, the peony’s bushy clump of handsome glossy green leaves lasts all summer, and then turns purplish-red or gold in the fall, as stately and dignified as any flowering shrub.
In mixed borders, peonies bloom with columbines, baptisias, and veronicas, and combine well with irises and roses. Plant white peonies with yellow irises and a froth of forget-me-nots set off pink peonies with blue Nepeta or violets.
Peony plants require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves. Note, however, that they do not respond well to transplanting, so you should plan your planting site accordingly.
Like children, young peonies take time to develop. They usually need a few years to establish themselves, bloom, and grow. And soon enough, they venture out on their own, mature and well-adjusted… Wait, no, that’s just children.
Peonies thrive on benign neglect. Unlike most perennials, they don’t need to be dug and divided every few years.
Peonies are generally very hardy. Plus, peonies are also one of many deer-resistant plants you can grow in your garden.
However, they are susceptible to:
Many gardeners wonder why so many ants crawl on the peony buds. Don’t worry! They are just eating the peony’s nectar in exchange for attacking bud-eating pests. They are attracted to the sugary droplets on the outside of flower buds or to the honeydew produced by scale insects and aphids. Never spray the ants they’re helping you by keeping your peonies safe!
Peonies make wonderful cut flowers, lasting more than a week in a vase. For best results, cut long stems in the morning when the buds are still fairly tight.
You can wrap freshly cut peony stems in damp paper towel and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. When removing the peonies from the refrigerator give the stems a fresh cut and place them in lukewarm water to wake them up.
Peonies bloom between late spring and early summer, but you can plan your garden for a successive display of flowers from mid-May to late June by planting a selection of varieties. Here are some choices:
Had I but four square feet of ground at my disposal, I would plant a peony in the corner and proceed to worship.
–Alice Harding, The Book of the Peony
There are many kinds of flowering plants that need to go through a cold winter in order to bloom properly. The list includes everything from spring-flowering bulbs to lilacs, apple trees…and peonies.
It can be challenging to grow peonies in the south, where winter temperatures rarely fall below freezing for more than a couple days at a time. But success is possible! The key is to start with the right type of peony and plant it correctly.
Most of the classic garden peonies are herbaceous. This means the plants die to the ground in late fall and emerge again in spring. New growth sprouts from modified stems that lie just below the soil surface.
There are about 30 species of herbaceous peonies. The one that’s most common in the horticultural world is Paeonia lactiflora. These plants, which are native to China, tend to be about 40″ tall and produce multiple buds on each stem. They are extremely cold-hardy and able to tolerate temperatures as low as -40°F.
These herbaceous peonies also require a long winter dormancy – at least six weeks at temperatures that stay consistently below 40-45°F. For this reason, they are not the best peonies for the south. Cultivars of P. lactiflora such as Bowl of Beauty, Sarah Bernhardt and Festiva Maxima grow best in cold climates (hardiness zones 3-7).
Most other species peonies are not commonly available. But plant breeders have combined them with P. lactiflora to create many valuable hybrids. Hybrid herbaceous peonies are available in a wide range of heights, colors and bloom times and typically have stronger stems and fewer side buds than P. lactiflora.
All hybrid herbaceous peonies are suitable for zones 3-7 and some can be grown successfully in zone 8. Heat tolerance varies by cultivar, depending on which species were combined to create the hybrid.
Some of the herbaceous peony cultivars that have proven to grow well in warm climates include: America, Blaze, Coral Charm, Felix Crousse, Festiva Maxima, Halcyon, Kansas, Krinkled White, Miss America, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Paul M. Wild, Paula Fay, Red Charm, Scarlet O’Hara and Shirley Temple.
Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are long-lived, woody shrubs that can grow 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They bloom earlier than all other types of peonies and their enormous flowers can measure up to 10 inches across.
Tree peonies require a winter dormancy period, but temperatures do not need to drop below freezing. For this reason, most tree peony cultivars grow well in zones 4-9. If you add a tree peony to your garden or landscape, choose the planting location carefully. While all other types of peonies flower best in full sun, tree peonies actually prefer growing in dappled shade.
When planting tree peonies, position the crown of the plant (where roots meet stem) 4 to 6” below the soil surface. Tree peonies that have proven to be especially heat tolerant include Snow Lotus, Pink Lotus and Cup of Shining Night.
Intersectional peonies (also known as Itohs) are shorter than tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. They bloom just after the other two. The flowers are typically about 8″ across and are available in many different colors. Intersectional peonies are more tolerant of heat and humidity than herbaceous hybrids, and most will grow well in zones 4-9. Examples include Bartzella, Keiko and White Emperor.
When choosing a planting location, look for microclimates where the soil stays cooler than normal. Full morning sun and dappled afternoon shade is ideal. Planting your peony near a large shrub is another way to give it some protection from afternoon heat. Plan to provide drip irrigation from late spring through early fall. After planting, cover the soil with a 1-2″ layer of mulch to help retain moisture.
When growing peonies in the south, favor early-blooming varieties so your plants bloom before the weather gets too hot. Gardeners in zones 8-9 find peonies with single or semi-double flowers tend to perform better than doubles.
In warm climates, herbaceous peonies should be planted even more shallowly than in the north. Position the thick, tuberous roots, which are actually modified stems, just 1/2 to 1” below the soil surface.
In zone 9, herbaceous hybrids and intersectional peonies may need to be forced into dormancy. To do this, cut the plants back to the ground in November. This mimics the natural leaf drop that would occur in colder climates.
The general rule for growing peonies in the south is this: if people in your neighborhood can grow apples, you can probably grow peonies. Keep in mind that most newly planted peonies take at least 3 years to produce a good show of flowers. For general planting and care instructions, you may also be interested in reading the following articles:
Once established, peonies are a relatively low-maintenance, easy-care perennial bush.
But for some, that initial “establishing” effort can certainly be a challenge. Especially when it comes to getting the bushes to bloom.
Growing peonies in your landscape is a great way to have beautiful cut flowers each spring.
When there are problems, the struggles can usually be traced back to one of three key factors:
With that in mind, here is a look at where to grow and how to plant peony bushes, and how to maintain them as well.
Peony bushes prefer to be grow in cooler climates with cold winter temperatures. The cold of winter helps to create stronger and more bountiful buds for the coming year.
If you have warm or mild winters and hot summers, it can be quite difficult to get plants to survive. And even less likely to get them to bloom with any consistency.
A new peony shoot coming up through the soil in early spring.
Although peonies can survive in growing zones 3 through 8, they will always thrive more in climates with more frigid winters.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a climate peonies love, planting them in the right space and place is the first step to long-term success.
Although they can handle all-day sun, peonies perform best when they receive light early in the day. When planting, select a location that receives morning sun, and at least 6 to 8 hours of total sunlight.
Peony bushes need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to bloom – with morning sunlight being the best of all.
They should also be located away from large trees and shrubs to prevent root and nutrient competition.
Peonies bushes grow large over time. In fact, mature bushes easily reach three to five feet in diameter. With this in mind, allow for plenty of future growing space when planting.
One of the best features of a peony bush is that once established, it requires little care to continue flowering. It can take up to 3 years of growth to reach full blooming potential. But beyond that, there is no need for digging or dividing to keep it blooming.
Unlike many perennials, peony bushes do not need to be divided to continue blooming year after year.
It is actually better to plant peonies in the fall vs. the spring. Planting in the fall allows the bush time to become established before going dormant. But more importantly, it also allows it to store up energy for the following year’s blooms.
Although spring-planted peonies will survive, the stress of the growing can be hard on plant’s blooming cycle. For this reason, most spring-planted peony bushes blooms are delayed by a full year compared to fall planted peonies.
When planting, how deep you plant is as important as when and where you plant. If peony bushes are planted too deep, they simply won’t bloom.
Planting or dividing peony bushes is best done in the fall, and not the spring.
To plant, being by amending the soil with a generous amount of compost. This will help loosed the soil and allow the roots to establish easily.
Next, set the plant in the hole making sure the top of the plant’s soil is at the same level as the top of the existing soil. As you plant, also be careful not to cut or sever any roots.
Finish by mulching with a few inches of mulch 12 to 18″ around the base of the plant. Product Link : Rose of Sharon Peony Bush
To keep blooms coming back in full force each spring, it is vital to cut back the foliage in the fall. Cutting back allows the peony bush to concentrate its energy into the following years blooms.
Fall is also the time to divide and split if you are looking to create more plants. When digging up, slip apart into sections with at least three or four roots to each transplant.
Simply replant with the roots in the top level of the soil, again being careful not to plant too deeply.
Here is to growing gorgeous peony bushes n your landscape. And keeping them blooming big year after year! For more advice on growing perennials, check out our Perennials Section on the blog.
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