Listen to this podcast about how to grow and care for tree peonies in the flower garden.
One of my favorite spring perennial flowers is the peony. They’re getting ready to burst with big gaudy, red, white and pink colored flowers. While many of us grow the herbaceous peonies that die back the the ground each winter, there is another type that’s gaining popularity. Tree peonies are just what they sound like. They have woody stems that survive the winter. Though they may never grow into “trees” in our climate, they do have a shrubby appearance. Tree peonies flower later than herbaceous types, expanding the peony season, and have bigger flowers in a wide range of colors including the elusive yellow peony.
Tree peonies are hardy to zone 4, but they aren’t for the impatient gardener. They may take a few years to get established and start flowering. Once blooming, however, they will last for many years and slowly grow into a small shrub. Tree peonies are slow to leaf out in spring so be patient. They thrive in part to full sun on well-drained soil. Plant them in a spot protected from the drying, winter winds. Look for unusual colored and fragrant varieties such as ‘Black Panther’, ‘Golden Era’ and ‘Cinnamon Pink’. You can also grow Itoh hybrids, a cross between tree and herbaceous peonies. These produce large plants with colorful, big flowers like tree peonies, but on a bush that dies back in winter.
Plant bare rooted varieties in fall, but potted plants anytime. Find a permanent spot, 3 feet from other plants, to plant. Dig a good sized hole and amend the soil with lime and compost. Plant so the crown is just a few inches below the soil line and keep well watered.