Peonies are one of the greatest traditions of the spring garden. Soft, colorful, fragrant blooms have a richness that make them as treasured in the garden as they are in vases in the house. The peony is beautiful in bloom from spring to summer—with lush foliage all summer long.
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.
Many nurseries offer early, midseason, and late blooming varieties, making it possible for you to stretch out your peony season and enjoy those lovely blooms for as long as possible!
The gorgeous blossoms are produced by hardy plants that require almost no maintenance. In addition to producing beautiful flowers that are perfect for cutting, their greenery should not be ignored. In the early spring garden, the stems of emerging peonies make a terrific partner for daffodils, tulips and other early spring arrivals.
There are six peony flower types: anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double, and bomb. Fragrances vary as well. Some plants have intoxicating rose-like scents while others are lemony or have no scent at all.
To help choose the right peony for your garden, start by familiarizing yourself with the different types. Here are the most common:
Herbaceous Peonies are long-living perennials that range from delicate singles to large and lush doubles; they come in shades from pure white to the deepest red.
These peonies make perfect cut flowers, lasting more than a week if cut in full bud.
An important thing to know about Herbaceous Peonies is that they die back to the ground in winter and send up new growth in spring. For this reason, they’re generally classified as perennials.
Intersectional Peonies are a cross between Herbaceous and Tree Peonies. These generally blossom between Tree Peonies, which are first to blossom, and Herbaceous Peonies.
By planting Intersectional varieties, you extend the Peony blossom season in your garden, creating a continuous flow.
In its native China, the Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) ranks as a national favorite. It’s easy to see why when these hardy shrubs produce exquisite floral displays. They have silky blooms measuring up to 10” across and typically bloom in May and June.
Tree Peonies are woody plants that retain their structure year-round. Slow to mature, don’t be surprised if there are few or no flowers the first spring after planting. These plants generally take a few years to settle in and bloom heavily. Mature plants reach 4–5’ and bear up to 50 breathtaking blooms.
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.
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.
Little maintenance is required for peony plants as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves. Note that they do not respond well to transplanting,
- Plant peonies in the late fall or early winter here in Southwest Florida.
- If you must move a mature plant, winter is the time to do it here, after the plant has gone dormant.
- Peonies are not too fussy, but choose your location wisely, as they resent disturbance and do not transplant well.
- Peonies like full sun, and though they can manage with half a day, they bloom best in a sunny spot that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day.
- Provide shelter from strong winds, as peonies’ large blooms can make them top heavy. (Use stakes to hold them up, if necessary.)
- Don’t plant too close to trees or shrubs, as peonies don’t like to compete for food, light, and moisture.
- Grow peonies in deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soil that drains well. Soil pH should be neutral.
NOTE: Ants on peonies
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.
Ants 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!