Peonies are one of the gardener’s all-time favorite herbaceous perennials. Reliable and easy to care for, peonies add an unmistakable fragrance to a spring flower garden.
There are two types of peonies to choose from; Paeonia (lactiflora or officinalis) hybrids or garden peony and Paeonia suffruticosa or tree peony.
Garden peonies grow from two to four feet high and approximately three feet wide. Their unusual size makes peonies a good choice for a background plant, border or centerpiece.
Because of their size, it is common practice to stake the plants at the start of the growing season. As the lush foliage fills in, it will adequately cover the “props.”
Tree peonies grow to a height of five feet. Unlike the garden peony, tree peonies do not die back in the fall but remain evergreen.
The blooms of a peony can grow eight to 10 inches in width. These plants are classified by their type of bloom; single, semi-double, double, Japanese and anemone.
Peonies thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun. These plants are deep rooted, so the best time to amend the soil is when planting.
Planting or transplanting peonies is best done in the fall. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root structure and incorporate the soil with organic matter in the form of compost or peat. Each section should contain three to five “eye” buds. These buds are red and resemble asparagus tips.
Place these buds facing upright in the soil no deeper than two inches.
Backfill and lightly mulch. Any deeper (including the mulch depth) than two inches and your peonies won’t flower.
To encourage larger blooms, some gardeners use a practice called “disbudding.” To disbudding an eye bud, carefully cut off the side buds leaving only the terminal or top bud.
Tree Peonies are most commonly propagated from grafts. But if you plant a tuber, plant it at a depth of four to five inches.
Routine fall maintenance for established plants is to cut back garden peony to a height of three inches. Tree peony should not be pruned back.
Even when proper transplanting procedures are followed, it can still take up to four years to flower. This is not a problem since peonies live for fifty or more years.
If an established plant fails to bloom, check for overcrowding or too much shade. Trees planted long after the peony was planted may now be casting shadows. Even additions to the home or building can effect the amount of sunlight reaching your plants. Also, deadheading spent flowers will help encourage full blooms next season.
Peonies are susceptible to few insects and disease, but are very attractive to ants; they like the sticky liquid secreted by the buds.
Ants are not beneficial nor harmful to the plants, but remember to shake them off before bringing blooms inside.