The peony flower, (genus: paeonia) is one of the most elegantly iconic flowers associated with late spring.
We eagerly await those first peony buds to open up to reveal luscious, showy flowers. And the scent? It’s sweet and intoxicating. It’s no wonder that peonies are considered by many gardeners to be the perfect flower for late spring blooms.
Have you admired peonies from afar, unsure of how to grow your own? We want to answer the frequently asked questions about peonies. Therefore, we’re unlocking our vault and sharing all our research on all things peony with you. So, let’s set you up for success in growing peonies in time for spring!
The peonies are luscious full blossom flowers growing in zones 3-8.
What are Peonies?
Peonies are a flowering perennial plant or shrub with fragrant and unscented blossoms that bloom in early, mid or late spring, depending on the variety. There are peony plants that grow from 1 to 3 feet high. On the other hand, there are peony shrubs that can grow up to 12 feet tall!
Peony height depends on which species you choose. Rest assured that both have large, colorful blossoms that arrive each year in late spring—the exact timing depends on your specific growing zone.
Four Types of Peonies
- Tree Peonies – deer resistant, gigantic, non-fragrant flowers on slow-growing woody perennial shrubs that can live for centuries in zones 4-9.
- Herbaceous Peonies – popular, disease resistant, variety of colors and fragrance great for cut flowers; blooms late spring in zones 3-8; die back each winter but lasts for generations.
- Woodland Peonies – white flowers, can grow in partial shade; low-growing, 1-1.5′ tall in zones 3-8
- Intersectional Peonies – a deer and disease resistant hybrid of tree and herbaceous types, this Itoh peony produces prolific, long-lasting, heavy foliage and blossoms known more for colors than scent.
Here’s a fantastic illustration from PeonysEnvy.com of the peony types that gives you perspective on the different shapes and sizes of peonies.
Origin of Peonies
The peony plant is a native to the southernmost tip of China and Tibet where they thrived in the cool, temperate mountain climate for centuries. Ancient Chinese gardeners cultivated these flowers for royalty, and peonies are often the subject of classic Asian art.
As trading with the Far East began, the plants made their way into the key trading points across Europe and North Africa. Settlers brought peonies to America with the colonization by England and used them as focal points in their colonial gardens. Today, there are 30 varieties of peonies.
Native to China and Tibet, ancient Chinese gardeners cultivated peony flowers for royalty.
When Do Peonies Bloom?
Peonies bloom in the late-spring before the summer heat. Peony blooms last just a short seven to ten days, but this depends on your weather!
While the exact week your plant will bloom varies from region to region, most Americans associate them with Memorial Day. The blooming peonies are a welcome sign that summer fun is just around the corner.
The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty, the peony is now coming into bloom.
~Henry Mitchell, American Garden writer, “Earthman”, 1924-1963
The Meaning of Peonies
The name for peony in Chinese, translates in English, to ‘most beautiful’.
Gifts of peonies have significance dating back to ancient China. The name for peony in Chinese translates in English to “most beautiful.” In Chinese traditional gifting ceremonies, peonies were given as a gift to wish the recipient good fortune, longevity, and happiness.
Peony bridal bouquets hold the promise of a long and happy marriage.
Peonies were not only significant to the Chinese. The Greeks brought peonies back from their trading voyages to the Far East. They revered it a flower of the Gods. It was said to be a favorite flower of Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. From this legend, early Europeans associated peonies with royalty, riches, and prosperity.
In America, the peony is the state flower of Indiana and the traditional 12th wedding anniversary gift.
The Peony Fragrance Like?
Actually, not all peonies have fragrance. In fact, there are fragrance-free varieties that still open up to show off brightly colored blooms. Allergy sufferers and those who are sensitive to fragrance but still love the blooms adore these!
Those that do have fragrance are best described as a full, rich floral scent with a touch of sweetness. However, their scent is subtle and complex, not overbearing.
This very pleasing scent puts peony bridal bouquets and table arrangements in high demand every spring!
Peony Flower Colors
Plan to make your peony plant a late spring showpiece by choosing the color that will complement your landscaping. There are so many to choose from! Here are some of the best-selling peonies.
- Pink (Clemenceau, Sarah Bernhardt peony)
- Rose (Vivid Rose, Rozella)
- Purple (Raspberry Sundae, Sorbet)
- Red (Kansas, Flame, Karl Rosenfield peony)
- White (Duchesse de Nemours, Festiva Maxima)
- Coral (Pink Hawaiian Coral, Etched Salmon, Coral Charm)
- Yellow with shade variations from light to bright gold (Bartzella, Lemon Chiffon)
- Burgundy (Peter Brand, Paul M Wild)
Of course, there are shade variations within each shade range. Pinks can run from a blush to hot pink, for example. When you’re selecting your plant, read the label carefully and ask questions before you commit, especially if you’re looking for a specific shade of peony.
“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
~Lady Bird Johnson
How to Plant Peonies
If you have a lot of patience, you can grow peonies from seeds. And wait.
However, most people opt to plant peonies from tubers. Gardeners are eager to see their first blooms, so this shorter wait time makes it more attractive. Plus, you increase your chances of success with this method.
You will often also hear tubers referred to as “roots” or “bulbs.” These are acceptable synonyms, so don’t let that confuse you.
Because planting tubers is the preferred method, we are focusing on growing peonies from tubers. Here’s how you can create optimal peony growing conditions in your own garden.
Know your tubers:
- Tubers are a section of root. You’ll see “eyes” on the top and a series of thin, wispy roots on the bottom. When you’re planting, you will always put the eyes facing up and roots down. If you get confused, remember phrases like, “eyes to the sun,” or “take root” to help you remember.
Rehydrate the Tuber:
- Before you begin planting, you’ll need to rehydrate the peony tuber. They get parched and dusty during shipping, and you’ll give your tuber a much-needed assist. Simply place the tuber in a bucket of water for two or three hours before planting.
Select a sunny site:
- Peonies like a lot of sunlight. They require a minimum of six daily hours of sunshine, but the best place to plant peonies is in full sun. If you don’t give them enough sunlight, they won’t produce the blooms that you want. In addition, they’ll be more likely to develop diseases like molds and mildews.
Find soil that drains well:
- You want to find a nook of good, fairly loose soil that will drain well and not hold puddles after a rain. Too much water will cause your tuber to rot before it has a chance to grow. If you have heavy clay, amend the soil with an azalea potting mix before planting. Looser soils drain better and will help your peony grow well.
- Add compost, bone meal, or all-purpose blooming plants fertilizer to the soil before you drop in your tuber.
Don’t plant too deeply:
- When it’s finally time to plant your tuber, know that you cannot plant it too deeply. The eyes should be placed only 1/2″ to 2 ” below the soil. This will vary depending on your climate.
- Gardeners in colder climates will plant the peony tuber 2″ deep while those in warmer zones will only plant 1/2″ deep.
- If you’re not sure, check your zone map against the planting instructions on your tuber.
- If you plant the tuber too far in the ground, you’ll get lovely foliage but no blossoms.
Cover and water:
- As you move the soil back over the tuber, be sure it doesn’t push the tuber in past the recommended 1/2″ to 2″ mark. Carefully pack the soil and give your tuber a good, long drink of water.
When to Plant Peony Tubers
Plant your peony tubers in the fall, from September through October. Like everything gardening, this depends on your planting zone. Need a rule of thumb? Plant six weeks before first frost date.
In addition to planting peony tubers, this is also the best time to move a mature peony plant if the need arises to do so.
Plant and transplant peony tubers about six weeks before the first frost date.
Where Do Peonies Grow?
Peonies require a good 30 day stretch of below freezing temps each winter. In the United States, they grow in zones 3 through 8.
Gardeners in the cooler parts of zone 9 have also successfully grown peonies. However, the tubers require this cold snap. This dormancy period allows the plant to regenerate and produce flowers every spring.
See the USDA map to learn if you’re in one the peony growing zones.
Peonies grow best in zones 3-8.
Will You Get Flowers the First Year?
Unfortunately, the answer to this is a bit complicated. Yes and no. The first spring after planting your tuber, you should see a decent amount of growth as the plant shoots up stems, however, you will probably see only one or two flowers.
Over the next 2 to 3 years, your plant will continue to develop its roots and stems and continue to produce only minimal blooms.
However, in year 4 or 5, you will be rewarded for your patience. This will be the most likely time you will finally get to see those big, beautiful peony blossoms that you so eagerly anticipated.
Full peony flower production can take up to five years.
When to Fertilize Your Peonies: Tips on Peony Food
First, fertilize just after the new shoots appear in the spring and “green up.” However, you should do this before blooms form! The first fertilizing will support luscious blooms for your enjoyment.
Fertilize peonies twice per year.
Fertilize your peony a second time about three months after the first round of fertilizing. This time, you are replenishing nutrients lost during blooming. Additionally, you are supporting continued root health and stem and leaf growth.
Can Peonies Grow in Pots?
In-ground planting is hands down the best way to grow peonies.
But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t grow them in a container garden. It just means you’ll need to follow some special care instructions.
- Use a large pot minimum 24″. Tubers shoot off long roots, deep into the ground. Be sure to select a large container at least 24″ tall for your peony. You will still only plant the tuber barely beneath the soil, but you are allowing room for root growth. These are some of our favorite lightweight pots.
- Use a dolly. Since you are planting your peony in a large pot, it will be heavy. Before you add soil, it’s helpful to place the pot on a plant dolly with heavy casters. It’s going to be heavy!
- Choose a potting mix for flowering plants as opposed to a vegetable plant mix. There’s a different ratio of soil to perlite.
- Find a sunny spot of your patio for the pot.
- Water well weekly if you don’t have any rain.
- Fertilize each spring with a 5-10-10 low nitrogen fertilizer.
What Are the Other Benefits of Peonies?
As if the grand, profuse show of flowers aren’t enough, here are some other reasons to plant peonies:
- Peonies are deer-resistant. Deer will pass on your prized plant to find another food source.
- Peony petals are edible. In Asia, peony petals are used as a gorgeous, safe food garnish or added to salads. We do warn you to eat the petals only if you garden organically. (More on edible flowers).
- Peonies are drought-resistant. They can make do with just a light watering once a week after their blooms are spent.
- Peonies require minimal care. Once established, the peony requires minimal care.
Common Peony Diseases
Peonies are subject to an array of different diseases. This is not unusual with any plant, it’s just something to be aware of. Here are the three most common peony diseases.
If you observe spotting or discoloration of your peony stems or shoots, this is usually a case of bacterial blight.
Avoid this by watering at the base of the plant as opposed to showering water on it. Remove dead leaves and other garden debris that breeds the harmful bacteria that causes those unsightly spots.
Treat blight by pruning away affected areas.
Large blotches of red or purple dark spots or lesions are symptoms of measles.
It’s usually caused by overwatering. Reduce watering or make sure the soil is well irrigated. Keep the area free of weeds that can spread the disease across species.
Measles are removed by carefully pruning the infected parts of the plant. Be sure to apply a fungicide to prevent reformation of this plant disease.
White Powdery Mildew:
As the name implies, you might see a white, powdery sheen over the foliage of your plant. This is simply called white powder mildew.
Like the other diseases mentioned, this can come from overwatering. In addition, you need to check to see that your plant is getting enough sunlight to minimize excessive moisture that can lead to the formation of mildew spores.
Treat the affected areas with a fungicide. Trimming may also be necessary if it doesn’t clear up.
Pesky Peony Pests
Watch out for these pests! They find your peony to be a favorite delicacy and will devour it if you leave them unchecked.
Rodents like mice, squirrels, and chipmunks will devour your peony bulbs, especially in the cold winter months when their food is scarce. You can try to deter them by encircling your peony with gravel under the soil. They don’t particularly like to dig through sharp gravel.
Beetles can devour the petals of the budding or fully-bloomed peony in a matter of hours. Examine your peony for these beetles and pick them off daily during the short blooming season.
Thrips are tiny sucking insects so small you won’t even notice them. They suck the moisture and nutrients from the buds of your peonies, destroying them before they bloom. Treat your peony with insecticidal soap, or let the ants that your peony attract eat them for lunch.
Bulb mites burrow in the ground and feast on the peony tuber. Because of both their underground existence and their teeny little size, you won’t know there’s an infestation until they’ve destroyed your peony.
Bulb mites are attracted to damaged tubers, so inspect your tuber before planting and cut away any diseased looking spots. Handle tubers carefully so you don’t cause any damage.
What’s with the Ants on Peonies?
You may notice ants on your peonies. While they could eat the petals of your peony blossoms, we left them off the list of pests. This is because they do more good than harm to your peonies.
In fact, they do enjoy the sweet nectar from your prized flowers. They nibble on the flowers which can cause small brown spots. But, they would prefer to eat the other pests and will control those unwanted populations of damaging insects.
The presence of ants helps you avoid spraying dangerous insecticides or chemicals onto your plants.
Ants on your peonies is a good thing; they eat other peony pests.
How to Cut Peony Flowers
Peonies make great cut flowers and are good for stunning floral arrangements to decorate your home or to give as a gift. Here are some hints for cutting peonies.
- Cut the blooms when they are just transitioning from budding to opening. This will allow you to enjoy the blossoms for longer.
- Use clean, sharp shears and make clean cuts to avoid disease or damage.
- Cut stems about 16″ long.
- Leave three pairs of leaves on the remaining stem of the plant. Cutting too far back can stunt future growth.
- Take some green foliage to make the floral blossoms pop in the arrangement.
- Don’t remove more than 1/3 of your blossoms and foliage combined.
- Pick off any ants or beetles before bringing the cut peony stems into your home!
- Arrange them in a vase with lukewarm water and cut stem food. Your blooms should open fully in a couple of days.
- Change the water and add cut stem food every two days for blooms that last for about 10 days.
Peony Flower Colors
Peony flowers are a subtle and classy way to send a message to someone you care about. In fact, they are one of the most popular cut flowers in the United States.
So, if you prefer, you can leave the flower arranging to the pros and just order your color of choice. Here’s a look at what each color represents.
- White peonies: Innocence, purity, modesty, and elegance. Brides carry white peony bouquets to represent traditional values.
- Yellow peonies: Friendship, happiness, joyfulness. You’re a thoughtful friend if you send yellow peonies to a friend who’s ill or could use some cheering up.
- Red peonies: Love, passion, desire. Show your undying love with red peonies.
- Pink peonies: Grace, youth, joyfulness, promises. Pink peonies represent the first blush of a new love.
- Purple peonies: Success, dignity, royalty, riches. Congratulate someone on their special successes like graduation or a job promotion with the gift of purple peonies.
- Orange peonies: Sincerity, thankfulness, appreciation. Orange peonies make a traditional thank you gift.
- Coral peonies: Friendship, loyalty, enthusiasm. When you’re not sure what kind of flower to send, you can’t go wrong with coral peonies as they signify strong bonds of friendship.
“Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.” ~Brian Clough, English football player and manager, 1935-2004
Are Peonies Edible? Health Benefits!
But wait there’s more!! ?
Yep. Not only are peonies edible, they actually have multiple health benefits!2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108611/3)https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-32/peony
Studies Show Peonies to be an Antioxidant be Beneficial for:
- Osteoarthritis & rheumatoid arthritis
- Respiratory tract illnesses
- Cough / whooping cough
- Menstrual cramps/PMS
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Viral hepatitis
- Liver cirrhosis
- Upset stomach
- Muscle cramps
- Nerve pain
- Migraine headache
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Healing cracked skin
- Hemorrhoids / anal fissures
PLANT PARTS USED:
- Peony root
- Peony flower petals
- In teas
We revere peonies for their lush blossoms, their tantalizing fragrance, and the versatility they offer. Whether you enjoy them planted in the earth, perched in a pot on your patio, or cut into a luscious arrangement, we can all agree one thing.
Peonies in bloom is a wonderful, beautiful thing… a flower with the most of all things good!
Hi! My name is Deborah Tayloe. I’m a full-time freelance writer and blogger. I blog about my favorite things: gardening, cooking, and DIY. I live in a very rural area called Bertie County, North Carolina. Here, I have plenty of open space to pursue my gardening habit. I’m a regular contributor to GardensAll and publish my own blog, DIY Home & Garden.
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