Learn about peonies, including how to plant and grow them.
Listen to podcast:
How To Grow: Peonies
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Late spring to early summer in colors such as white, coral, pink, red, yellow, and bi colors
Mature Height x Spread
3 to 4 feet x 3 feet
attracts beneficials, deer resistant
Peonies give your garden a boost in late spring with their large, fragrant, almost gaudy flowers on plants with dark green leaves. Most gardeners are familiar with the herbaceous peonies that die back to the ground each fall, but the tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are also hardy in our region and have more of a shrub-like structure. Peonies are long-lived perennials in the landscape. The flowers have a wide variety of colors and shapes including singles and doubles. Even after the flower show is finished in early summer, the dark green leaves provide a nice backdrop to other summer blooming flowers. The flowers can be cut for indoor arrangements. I like to float cut flowers in a shallow vase of water on a table.
Where, When and How to Plant
Purchase varieties in spring or fall from your local garden center or receive divisions from a friend’s garden in fall. Peonies flower best in full sun on well-drained fertile soil, amended with compost. Plant so the crown is no more than a few inches below the soil line or the peony plant may be slow to start flowering. Space plants 3 feet apart.
Keep the plants well watered and mulched to prevent weed growth and keep the soil moist. Fertilize annually in spring with compost and an organic plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Because the herbaceous peonies grow from the ground each spring, the flower stalks may need help supporting the large, heavy flowers. Use peony wire cages, chicken wire fencing or twine tied to a garden stake to support peonies and prevent the flowers from flopping. Tree peonies don’t need additional support. Peonies can be divided and moved in fall. Herbaceous peonies may not flower for a year or two after dividing and transplanting. During periods of rainy spring weather, peony flowers may be attacked by botrytis fungal blight disease, which causes the flower buds to dry up and die before opening. To prevent his disease, space plants further apart so the leaves and buds to dry out faster. Spray with an organic fungicide such as Serenade.
Companion Planting and Design
Peonies look great planted together in their own bed. Consider mixing and matching early, mid and late season varieties to extend the flowering. Also, pair peonies with other spring flowering perennials, such as iris, catmint, and clematis.
“Blaze” has single, bright red flowers. “Festiva Maxima” is a fragrant white variety with just some splashes of red coloring on the petals. Fern-leaf peony (P. tenufolia) has double red flowers, but its calling card is the unusual, serrated, fern-like foliage on 2-foot tall plants. “Coral Supreme” has beautiful coral colored double flowers. “Sarah Bernhardt” has fluffy, double pink flowers. “Bartzella” is one of the newer herbaceous and tree peony crosses that features rare, yellow colored flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
There’s no more audacious and dramatic flower than the peony. However, many gardeners don’t realized that peonies were grow for thousands of years for their medicinal purposes as well as their beauty. The Chinese used peonies to relieve pain and cleanse the blood. Europeans used them for ills such as gall stones, bad dreams, and to ward off evil spirits. We mostly grow them, though, for their flowers.
Herbaceous peonies are the ones most gardeners are familiar with. These 2-to 4-foot tall and wide plants have floppy, softball-sized flowers in colors ranging from deep burgundy to white. If you forgot to stake or support your peony flowers to keep them off the ground, wrap chicken wire around plants now to keep the flowers upright. I like the tree peonies. These woody plants have a stately structure. Although not as hardy as herbaceous peonies, some varieties produce unique yellow colored flowers.
Peonies grow best in full sun, on well drained soil, and like my cat, don’t like to be moved. If you must move or divide your peonies, do so in September. Dig a large hole, remove the whole clump, divide into good sized sections, and plant the crown so it’s only 1- to 2-inches below the soil line. Any deeper and it will be slow to flower. In fact, other reasons peonies stop flowering include lack of light, overcrowding, and too much nitrogen fertilizer.
There are few diseases that attack peonies, but one I see during wet springs is botrytis blight. This fungus causes the flower buds to dry and shrivel before opening. Give plants plenty of space to allow the leaves to stay dry. During wet springs, spray with Serenade to prevent damage.
Now for this week’s tip, thin apples now so there are 1- to 2-fruits per cluster and 6-inches between clusters on the branch. There will be fewer, but better quality fruits.