How Much Sun Do Peonies Need To Grow

  • Keep plants neat by deadheading and prune as needed (herbaceous only).
  • When peonies become congested and produce fewer blooms, divide the plants.
  • When the blossoms feel like soft marshmallows, cut the stems for bouquets. Water should contain Miracle-Gro for Fresh Cut Flowers.

When the peonies blossom, you can finally start to feel the arrival of summer. Around Memorial Day, when spring bulb flowers are starting to fade and summer blooms are beginning to emerge, these stunning perennials bloom profusely. Peonies are resistant to deer and rabbits, which is useful for gardeners who frequently experience issues with animals eating their plants. Peonies are frequently seen blooming despite years of neglect if you drive through old cemeteries or abandoned farmsteads. That is because to how simple peony are to grow!

How to Choose Peonies

Peonies come in four different varieties. They are forest peonies, tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, and intersectional peonies, in the order of blooming time. Herbaceous peonies, which thrive in zones 3–7, and tree peonies, which flourish in zones 3–9, are the two most popular varieties. Herbaceous plants often reach heights of two to three feet and spreads of two to four feet. With some types reaching heights of 7 feet, tree peony are more closely related to tiny shrubs. The type of peony you plant will depend on where you live and the style you’re going for because all peonies require similar maintenance. The focus of this paper will be on tree and herbaceous peony.

When to Plant Peonies

Fall is the ideal season to plant peonies. This is often when peonies purchased from a catalog will be delivered. It’s okay to plant peonies when you see them flowering and for sale in containers in the spring.

Where to Plant Peonies

Peonies require at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day, though in zones 8 and 9, some shade from the sweltering afternoon sun is beneficial. Additionally, picking a location with sufficient air circulation is crucial to avoiding fungal illnesses.

How to Plant Peonies

In somewhat damp, well-drained soil, peonies thrive. Dig a hole, take the plant from the pot, and plant container-grown herbaceous peonies (the kind you buy in pots) so that the top of the root ball is level with the earth (any deeper and the peonies will not bloom). Fill up the area surrounding the plant by combining the discarded soil with an equal amount of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers.

Before planting bare root herbaceous peonies, give them a brief dip in a basin of water to rehydrate them. Create a planting hole that is big enough to fit the roots, mix the soil as previously mentioned, and place a mound of the blended soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the roots atop the mound and let them fan out and descend. Using the remaining blended soil, fill in the remaining portion of the hole, making sure that the “No more than 1 to 2 inches of soil should be present around the plant’s eyes (or growth buds) in order for it to bloom.

Deeper planting is required for tree peony. Unless they are grafted, peonies should be planted in the same soil combination as above, 2 to 4 inches deep at the crown (where the roots meet the stem). Check the label to see if the plant has been grafted, and then plant it such that the “The plant’s graft union, where the grafted top and rootstock are united, is located 4 to 6 inches below the soil line.

How to Stake Peonies

Peony stems are prone to toppling over after it rains, and the blossoms can become big and heavy. For herbaceous peonies, the best approach is to cover each plant in a peony cage in the spring, before the leaves begin to sprout (picture metal supports with rings for the flowers to grow up through). This is far more effective than attempting to hold each flower stalk separately, and it also looks nicer than wrapping the entire plant in string and cinching it in like a belt.

One stake can be used to stake tree peonies. Place the stake next to the stem in the ground, and then use a piece of twine to loosely secure the plant to the stake.

How to Water Peonies

When planting, give everything plenty of water. When the spring foliage begins to emerge and the flower buds start to show, give the plants another drink. Although peonies do not have a thirst, they will benefit from watering during dry spells for a year following the first planting.

How to Feed Peonies

Your peony will benefit from a powerful combination of care that includes excellent soil and the ideal plant food. Give peonies the nutrition they require by feeding them Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Rose & Bloom Plant Food in addition to the soil improvements indicated above for stunning color and more flowers than unfed plants. Peonies should be fed twice a year: the first time, right after they emerge in the spring (when the new shoots are 2 to 3 inches tall but before the flower buds are pea-sized), and the second time, in the middle of the growing season (about three months after the first feeding), to help them develop sturdy roots before the arrival of winter. Make sure you adhere to label instructions.

How to Help Prevent Problems with Peonies

Although mostly fuss-free, peonies occasionally experience fungal issues. Browning and failure to open flower buds are symptoms of botrytis. Brown patches on leaves are a symptom of some fungus illnesses. Infected blooms and leaves should be simply pruned off and disposed of (do not compost) in order to control these problems. Additionally, keep the plants neat, remove old foliage at the end of the season, and deadhead spent blooms. Peony blooms occasionally draw ants, but they won’t hurt the plants, so you can ignore them. (Contrary to popular belief, peonies do not require ants to blossom.)

How to Prune Peonies

Cut back each flower stalk on herbaceous peonies once all of the blooms have faded to just above a leaf, low enough so that the stem doesn’t protrude above the rest of the leaves. Unruly tree peony can be trimmed either in the spring or the fall (right before plants go dormant). However, any stems you trim back in the fall will not blossom the following spring (as you will be cutting off the flower buds). After blossoming in the spring, you can prune. Anytime you choose to prune, be careful not to take more than one-third of the plant with you.

How to Divide Peonies

It is ideal to leave tree peony alone (undivided) so they can flourish for many generations in the garden. If the clumps have become too large or the flowering has slowed, herbaceous peonies can be divided. Herbaceous peonies can be divided by digging up the entire clump and rinsing it off to reveal the plant’s numerous roots and eyes (or buds). Leave as least one large root and three to four eyes per clump after cutting the plant apart with clean, sharp pruners. Replant, adhering to the bare root peony planting directions above. The plants might or might not flower the first year after dividing, so keep that in mind.

How to Cut Peonies for Bouquets

Timing is crucial. Buds should feel roughly as firm as a soft marshmallow when squeezed, which is known as the “soft marshmallow stage.” Examining the bud’s coloration is another method for determining when to cut. The majority of the bud’s exterior should remain green, but you should be able to make out approximately half an inch of the flower’s vibrant petals. Although cutting the flowers at this point lessens the possibility of bringing ants inside with them, it is still advisable to inspect the flowers before bringing them inside. Plants should open up when stems are placed in a vase of water. For longer-lasting blooms, change the water every few days and apply Miracle-Gro for Fresh Cut Flowers (vs. water only).

Ready to begin peony cultivation? To learn more about a product, to buy it online, or to locate a retailer near you, click on any of the product links above.

Do peony tolerate shade?

In the early 1980s, I threw a dinner party for a few friends when I first met Kasha. I gave her a tree peony blossom from my small garden at the end of the party in the hopes that it would inspire romance. It did. We started planning for our wedding and the peony garden we would create together shortly after that.

We looked for a suitable garden location for more than a year. This was nothing compared to our plant-finding expedition. We spent years writing to people and organizations in China because we specifically wanted to grow Chinese tree peonies that were not easily accessible in the United States. When we did locate someone, they insisted that we buy a large number of plants. We hurried to sell the remainder because we just wanted a handful of the top examples. However, over time, our love of tree peonies has grown into a full-time company.

Tree Peony Paeonia suffruticosa (Pay-own-ia suf-froot-i-cosa)

  • a slow-growing, woody shrub with huge, silky blooms that grows 4 to 10 feet tall.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9-compatible (40F to 20F).
  • Flowers thrive in three to four hours of light and partial shade.
  • Plant on a hillside or in a raised bed with lots of organic debris if you want good drainage.
  • Compost should be added to the soil, and in the spring, seaweed or fish emulsion should be sprayed onto the leaves.

Herbaceous peonies and tree peonies: Distinctly different plants

There are two primary varieties of peonies: herbaceous forms and tree forms. Herbaceous peonies have flowers that are 6 inches in diameter, grow to a height of 4 feet, and are simple to divide. They can produce 40 or more blossoms on a mature plant, and they do well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 7 (30F to 0F). After the first cold, the majority die back to the ground after blooming in early to mid-June.

But the tree peony is a completely other kind of flower. Woody plants called tree peony can reach heights of 10 feet on their own. Their flowers are more bigger and typically bloom two weeks earlier than herbaceous peonies. They come in a wide variety of forms, colors, and perfumes. Even though they shed their leaves in the fall, they continue to have a lovely branching structure all winter long. In USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9, tree peonies can be grown (40F to 20F).

Tree peonies prefer dappled shade and good drainage

Tree peonies require moderate shade with three to four hours of sunlight, as opposed to herbaceous peonies, which bloom best in full sunlight. In the light, plants develop more quickly, but blooms burn and wither within a couple of days. In order to promote plant growth, we occasionally plant tree peony in full sun. However, we shade the blossoms with a parasol or fabric umbrella, which rewards us with blooms that last a week to 10 days.

Tree peony require a location with good drainage, such a hillside; standing water will destroy them. Although they don’t have any preferences, a pH range of 6.5 to 7.0 is optimal.

Unlike herbaceous peonies, tree peonies require a rest period of several weeks with temperatures between 35F and 40F before blooming. They flourish as far south as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because of this. They can withstand temperatures as low as 30F in the winter in southern Minnesota, where they are hardy.

Tree peonies: Diversity is their hallmark

Tree peonies are divided into Itoh, or intersectional hybrids, and Chinese, Japanese, European, and American hybrids. The species Paeonia suffruticosa is commonly regarded as the parent of tree peonies. Although peony taxonomy is a complicated topic, recent research suggests that Chinese tree peonies may possibly be hybrids of two or three species. Cultivar names are the easiest to understand and recognize in the nursery industry. The names “White Light in the Night,” “Amber Moon,” “Tiger Tiger,” “Necklace with Precious Pearls,” “Princess Zhao Marries Beyond the Great Wall,” “Intoxicated Celestial Peach,” “Coiled Dragon in the Mist Grasping a Purple Pearl,” “Great Winged Butterfly,” and “Taoist Stove Filled with Pills of Immortality” are simply delightful.

Since the Sui Dynasty in the seventh century, the Chinese tree peony, or mudan, has been the nation’s favorite flowering plant. In fact, others have compared its popularity to the tulip frenzy that swept over Holland in the 17th century.

We concur that the Chinese characterize the mudan blooms as velvety. While some blossoms have a diameter of a foot, the majority are 8 to 10 inches. The Chinese cultivars of tree peony have the most range. Flowers can be white, pink, red, magenta, maroon, violet, or multicolored. They can also be any shade of these hues. Some flower petals have frosted tips, while others have darker centers. The petals’ colors frequently morph before your eyes when light hits them, relaxing in the sunlight. Flowers with light yellow petals turn lavender as they transition from light yellow to white.

In general, flower shapes can be categorized as solitary, semidouble, or double. But there is a lot of variety even within these categories. The single, light semidouble, heavy semidouble, double, ruffled ball, thousand petal, crown, and rumpled forms have all grown on our plants. Additionally, flowers might be looking up, to the side, or downward. We think that everyone belongs in the garden.

The smells of many Chinese tree peony range from sweet to peppery and occasionally even woodsy. Grand Duke Dressed in Blue and Purple, one of our favorites, with an unfathomably wonderful perfume. Let’s simply say that the aroma of heaven would be similar to that of a candy store. We plant roughly 80 of the over 600 tree peony cultivars that the Chinese acknowledge in our Connecticut garden.

The tree peony was introduced to Japan by the Chinese as a medicinal plant in the eighth century. In the 17th century, it was once more presented to Japan, but this time for its beauty. Since the plants haven’t altered in the 400 years that have passed, we believe that many of the Japanese tree peonies that are grown in Japan now are actually Chinese tree peonies.

There are, of course, exceptions. One of them is “Island Brocade,” a variation of “The Sun.” It produces gorgeous variegated pink and red flowers. The Japanese only plant single and semidouble varieties, which bloom about a week after the Chinese mudans, for their own aesthetic reasons.

Japanese cultivars of tree peony are the most widely accessible in the United States. Both local garden centers and mail-order suppliers offer them for sale.

A new species (Paeonia lutea) with tiny, yellow flowers was introduced to the West about 100 years ago. It has been crossed with semidouble types over the years in both Europe and the US. A.P. Saunders carried out this hybridization in the United States, and as a result, numerous plants bear his name today. The flowers have a beautiful citrus-vanilla scent and are smaller, frequently pointing sideways or downward. They lengthen the tree peony bloom season by blooming later than either the Chinese or Japanese tree peonies.

Nassos Daphnis and David Reath’s second generation of hybridization has resulted in flowers that are bigger and have a wider range of colors. Flowers like “Redon” and “Exotic Era,” which have yellow undertones, are highly prized.

Toichi Itoh, a Japanese hybridizer, was successful in fusing herbaceous and tree peonies about 30 years ago, expanding the range of hues available in peonies. These intersectional or Itoh hybrids are a botanical wonder; they resemble herbaceous plants in the fall yet have the leaves and petals of tree peony.

Plant peonies in the fall

All peonies should be planted and moved in the fall. Tree peony should be planted at least six weeks before the ground freezes; planting in the spring just does not give the roots enough time to grow, and as a result, they are unable to sustain the emerging leaves. As a result, peonies planted in the spring frequently become weak or die, earning them the unjustified reputation of being difficult to grow.

Make a hole that is 2 feet in diameter and deep to plant tree peony. Create a hill in the center of the hole and cover it with the roots of the tree peony. When filling the hole back up, use high-quality garden soil that is rich in organic matter, and water it well both halfway through and at the end. It’s very challenging to plant tree peony too deeply, so make sure all shoots are buried. Also, keep in mind that tree peony have a tendency to grow rather large, so leave holes around 5 feet apart. It’s a good idea to mulch your peonies the first year if plants in your environment are prone to heaving.

Tree peonies are heavy feeders

Tree peony tend to be heavy feeders because they have numerous leaves and huge blossoms. Even though we don’t fertilize them before planting, we do provide them with compost in the years that follow. Any compost that is readily available should work, with the exception of fresh manures, which require time to decompose.

Instead of piling the compost on top of the soil, we dig a 1-foot-deep by 1-foot-wide trench and fill it with the compost along the plant’s drip line. Once roots have penetrated the trench for a year or two, we repeat the procedure farther out. In the spring, we also apply a foliar spray to our tree peony, such as fish emulsion or seaweed. We use this same solution to irrigate the plants once they have bloomed.

Tree peonies are incredibly robust plants. They usually return, even if you run over them with a lawnmower. They are nearly pest- and disease-free when taken care of properly. We deadhead the flowers after they bloom, and in the fall, we remove all the leaves that have fallen. Botrytis doesn’t infect the plants in the spring because to this cleansing.

The rose borer is the only insect pest that we are aware of that feeds on tree peony. From spring until fall, it burrows into the pith of elder plants and lays its eggs. You should remove the impacted wood if you notice its telltale hole or a wilting branch.

Older plants provide the blooms

Tree peonies’ young plants are dormant. For a first or second year exhibition of color, we advise that you buy plants that are at least three years old.

There is still more justification for buying plants. Tree peonies are challenging to breed. Despite the fact that a lot of single and semidouble cultivars yield fertile seeds, the progeny frequently revert to the species and lose the targeted traits of the parent plants. Even if they don’t, a plant developed from seed can take up to seven years to produce blossoms.

Grafting fresh stem growth, also known as scions, onto root stock is the propagation technique that is most commonly used. Branch stacking is a different approach that we have had some success with. Spreading and low-growing plants can be propagated rather easily, but erect kinds cannot.

Tree peonies may be difficult to propagate, but mature plants are simple to grow. They are low maintenance and can produce years’ worth of lovely, fragrant blossoms.

At Cricket Hill Garden in Thomaston, Connecticut, David Furman and his wife Kasha (who also contributed to this piece) gather, cultivate, and market Chinese tree peonies.