Growing Peonies OH 58
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
One of the most
outstanding perennial flowers
that is grown in the garden is the peony. Even though this plant seems
been grown forever, it still remains very popular today. Of course,
reasons for this and even though there are those gardeners who do not
plant in their gardens, they certainly should. There are few perennials
can offer beautiful flowers in the spring and provide good foliage
The peony is a hardy perennial that, once it becomes established, will flower for many years with little care. They are extremely hardy and easily withstand the winter conditions in
The plants are either planted as single specimens mixed among other plants or in clumps or masses. They may be planted in rows forming a background for smaller plants. There are basically two forms of peonies: Herbaceous (Paeonia officinalis), and Bush or Tree (Paeonia suffruticosa). The herbaceous type grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet and the tree form reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet. Most gardeners seem to have much greater success with growing the herbaceous forms rather than the tree form. There is nothing more spectacular, however, than a mature tree peony in full bloom, and if the plant hasn't been used in the landscape, it should be given a try.
The herbaceous peonies are grouped into five types--based on the shape of the petals: single, semi-double, double, Japanese, and anemone. The single (or Chinese type) is characterized by one row of broad petals that surround a cluster of yellow pollen-bearing stamens. Some of the other flower types have central petals in the place of stamens. The semi-double peonies have broad central petals. The double peonies have central petals that are as wide as the outer ones. Japanese peonies have long, thin, central petals, while the anemone type have broad central petals.
Tree peonies produce many flowers on single, shrub-like plants. The centers of the flowers are yellow, pink, or red with the petals mottled at the base. Contrary to the herbaceous peonies, which die down in the fall when freezing weather arrives, the stems of the tree peony remain alive all winter.
There are many different cultivars (varieties) available within the various types of peonies. By careful selection, the flowering period can be spaced out over a longer period of time. Colors available for herbaceous peonies are white, yellow, cream, pink, rose, and deep red. Tree peonies come in colors such as yellow, pink, white, rose, crimson, scarlet, purple, and deep purple.
Peonies, as previously mentioned, are relatively easy to grow. As with most perennial flowers, the one prime
prerequisite for good growth and flowering is a well-drained soil. This may require adding organic matter--such as coarse sphagnum peat moss, well-rotted manure, or similar material--to the soil before planting. A good soil mixture might be three shovels of soil, one shovel of organic matter, and a source of phosphorus, such as a couple of tablespoons of superphosphate.
Light is another very important factor on which the successful growing of peonies depends. The plants will grow and produce good foliage in shady locations, but the flowering will be sparse or non-existent. Select an area that receives sunlight at least 6 to 8 hours per day. Planting where there is good air movement will also reduce the chances of having disease problems.
Once the planting site has
been selected and the soil prepared, the plants can
be planted. Peonies are generally planted in the fall, but they may
available in spring as potted plants. For those herbaceous peonies
the fall, be sure the tuber has three to five buds or "eyes" present.
They will be bright red in color. Tree peonies are grown either from
grafts, with the more desirable way for the home gardener being grafted
Herbaceous peonies with three to five "eyes" will generally flower
the second year after planting, while it will take three years for a
Set the tuber of the herbaceous peony so that the buds or "eyes" will be between 1 and 2 inches below the surface of the soil. This is most important because if the plants are planted too deep, beautiful foliage will be produced but few, if any, flowers. Tree peony tubers should be planted so that four or five inches of soil covers the graft. The graft can be determined by the ridging on the stem and the different texture of the bark. By planting deep, the grafted section will establish its own roots in the soil.
After planting, the soil around the plants should be thoroughly watered. If the planting is done in the fall, it would be a good idea to mulch the plants with some organic material, such as straw, coarse sphagnum peat moss, shredded bark, wood chips, or something similar. Apply 2 to 3 inches of material.
In the spring when the plants start to grow and the shoots are three to four inches high, apply a complete, dry synthetic fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10, or organic fertilizer such as 5-3-4, at the rate of 3 to 4 pounds per 100 square feet of bed area. Water the fertilizer into the soil immediately afterwards. High-analysis soluble fertilizers may also be used; apply them at the rate given on the container. One application of fertilizer per year is generally adequate to maintain good plant growth and flowering. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, and plants may have gorgeous leaves but no blooms.
Peonies get few problems. Contrary to garden myths, ants cause no harm
to buds, nor are responsible for them opening.
They are merely seeking nectar in the flowers.
If buds “blast”, turning brown and failing to
open when pea-size, this could be from dividing the previous fall if
young. Buds form the previous year in
root crowns, so dividing may disrupt this process, or plants may need
developed roots before blooming. This
problem in mature plants can be caused by too much shade, decreased
fertility, and either dry or cold after a harsh winter.
If stems suddenly wilt and turn brown, this
could be caused by botrytis (gray mold) blight from wet and cool
springs. Prune and discard affected stems.
drier weather solves this problem.
Peonies--like many garden perennials--are easy to propagate, so if additional plants are desired or if the clump has become crowded, division of the clump is recommended. Dig the plant and separate the tubers being sure each one has three to five buds or "eyes." Any damaged tubers, or those showing signs of disease, should be removed and the good tubers planted the same way as described earlier for new plants. In general, peonies usually do not need to be divided for 10 to 15 years, if even then. Only divide if plants are too large for the space, need moving, or have poor vigor and fewer blooms than previously.
(Originally adapted from James L. Caldwell, Extension Horticulturist, The
University of Vermont Extension and U.S. Department
Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone
regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age,
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furtherance of Cooperative Extension
work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States
Department of Agriculture.
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