Peonies: A True Rival To Roses In Both Beauty And Fragrance

Peonies: A True Rival To Roses In Both Beauty And Fragrance


Photo Compliments Of F.D. Richards

Peonies rival the rose for beauty and fragrance, and they are really easy to grow.

Peonies can be divided into two types: herbaceous or garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), and tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). Intersectional peony hybrids, or Itoh varieties, are crosses of herbaceous and tree peonies. Garden peonies grow to heights of between 2 and 3 feet, whereas Itoh and tree varieties are taller, reaching 3 1/2 to 4 feet (Check with the nursery on the plant variety that interests you).  Peonies are further distinguished by their bloom type, which may result in single, semi-double, double, Japanese or anemone like flowers.

Few herbaceous plants can rival the perennial peony for either floral display or its foliage. Blossoms are large, often fragrant, and they make excellent cut flowers; the foliage provides an excellent background for annuals or other perennials in the garden.

All peonies have five or more large outer petals called guard petals and a center of stamens, or modified stamens. Flowering is usually late spring to early summer. By selecting and planting early, mid, and late-season bloomers, flowering may be extended for six weeks.
Peonies are hardy from zones 2 to 8, with some exceptions. Tree types grow best in Zones 4 to 9 with winter protection.

How To Make Peonies Thrive

Peony should be planted in full to partial sun where they receive at least 6 to 8 hours of light per day. These plants are drought tolerant and can grow in most soil types that are well drained.

Site selection is essential for plants to thrive. Choose a location with full sun and is sheltered from wind. Although peonies prefer loamy earth, they tolerate most soil types; you should ensure the ground drains well. Adding organic matter like compost improves drainage. Peonies require regular watering and can be fertilized with a low-nitrogen boost in spring when leaves first appear and again after the blooms have faded for the season.

Taller peonies often need structural support to help hold their large blooms upright. During the flowering season, regularly remove spent blossoms. This encourages leaf production and increased flower numbers the following year. If you cut flowers for bouquets, do not to remove more than half the peonies from an individual plant. Excessive flower removal can result in decreased bloom production in the future. In autumn, cut back herbaceous varieties, leaving 3 inches of stem above ground; tree peonies should be left untouched.

General Peony Information

Pests And Diseases

Peonies can suffer from several types of fungal infections, including Botrytis blight, verticillium wilt and leaf blotch. Fungal problems are more prevalent during cold, damp weather. Treat infections by removing and destroying any diseased foliage and then cutting stems to the ground after a hard frost. If peonies fail to flower, you should first consider whether they are receiving sufficient sunlight.


Selection can be overwhelming with the number of varieties that are now available; your choices should be based on your local climate and bloom preference. Varieties like the Itoh hybrids “Bartzella” and “Pink Double Dandy” grow best in cooler regions, whereas the herbaceous “Blaze,” “Festiva Maxima” and “Sarah Bernhardt” all can thrive in either warm or cool climates. For maximum flower power, the garden peony “Kansas” has an extended blooming period through summer, or for pure blossom size, consider one of the tree varieties, such as “Glory of Shanghai,” “Robert Fortune” and “Thunderbolt.”

Planting Guidance

Peony plants do best when planted in the fall to allow the roots to start sending shoots. The majority of root growth in peony plants occurs in the fall season. Tree peonies are planted as a graft. Dig a hole that is 4 to 5 inches deeper than the graft location and place the tree peony in the hole. Cover with dirt, making sure the graft is under ground. Herbaceous and intersectional peonies are grown from tuber plants. Make sure the tuber has 3 to 5 buds present on the plant prior to planting (this is important). Dig a hole that is 1 or 2 inches deeper that the bud location, set the tuber in, and cover making sure the buds are underground. Set peony plants 2 feet or more apart from each other when planting.  Water after planting and apply a layer of mulch that is 1 to 2 inches deep.


Propagate herbaceous and intersectional peony plants by separating the tubers of the main plant. Dig up the entire plant in the fall and pull apart the root tuber sections making sure each has at least 3 to 5 buds present. Divide peony plants every 10 to 15 years or if they become closely set together. Tree peony plants can only be propagated through grafting.

Great Online Peony Sources

Adelman Peony Gardens

Amazing selection, good support, and great online company.  My experience has been excellent.

Far Reaches Farm

They offer some very more interesting, but selection is more limited; support is excellent, they are one of the best online sources where I have experience.

Photo Search

Flickr – Peony Photos

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  1. I love peonies but have spent a large part of my life staking them for people. That is my only problem with them-their weak stems.
    I used to like floating white peony blossoms in a bowl of water with food coloring added. The blossoms take up the food coloring so you can see all of the otherwise unseen veins in the petals.

  2. I love peonies! They are so beautiful and romantic. If I had a garden, it would be full of them! 🙂
    Calee recently posted..rosaMy Profile

    • I totally agree with you. I have a garden and the peonies are blooming right now; they are easy to grow, the blooms are terrific, and they are fragrant. They follow the lilacs and the wisteria. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…love your blog.

  3. I try to have peonies in all my designs. They are a great plant for foliage too. I have three in my own small garden and bloom with my iris and lilies.
    Donna recently posted..Garden Glimpses Through the SeasonsMy Profile

  4. Another of my favourite plants…unfortunately, I don’t have sufficient space to grow them. The Dorothy Harvie Gardens at the Calgary Zoo have a peony garden and I go there when they’re blooming just to take it all in! Great post!

    • I really enjoy a day at the zoo… Our zoo has 400 species of animals and over 4,000 species of plants; what could be more amazing than a day at the zoo. Thank you for taking time to drop by and share your thoughts, I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your posts.
      Charlie@Seattle Trekker recently posted..Events in SeattleMy Profile

  5. Our peonies are just starting to flower now with Molly the Witch always first, such a beautiful flower. They are such flamboyant flowers and the bees love to wallow in them, there will always be room for them here even though their season is so short.

  6. Oh, I do love peonies!
    ladyfi recently posted..Rush hourMy Profile

  7. Wonderful post!
    Peonies are my favorite, and now I know soil has been a problem, and lack of good drainage) plus replanting with more shelter against Colorado wind all need to be improved for my struggling little plant to produce blooms.
    Thank you.
    marylin warner recently posted..BEST MOMENT AWARDMy Profile

  8. Peonies are great friends that return to visit year after year in my garden. I adore them! Thank you, Charlie, for the reminder of how to make them feel welcome.

    Blessings ~ Wendy
    Wendy recently posted..A Seaside SojournerMy Profile

  9. Aren’t these some of the most wonderful flowers???
    All of mine are in bud now, so it should not be too long.
    Thank you as always, Charlie, for the information here.

  10. I love peonies but honestly have never tried growing them myself. My neighbor has a few that are blooming beautifully right now.
    Amy recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: EscapeMy Profile

  11. Love Peonies my favorite flower!

  12. Peonies – my love. 🙂
    This is an very interesting article.

  13. ahhhh the beautiful peony! I had a nice clump going in my Massachusetts garden but boy was it a struggle! the problem was the neighborhood…too shaded! The problem was this…they’d get a good growth going before the trees fully leafed out…after that happened they needed to really s-t-r-e-t-c-h toward one side to get the sun they needed…so of course that meant when the flowers opened they spent most of their time with heads bowed! I tried a million different ways to stake them but they never really looked right!
    karen recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: FleetingMy Profile

  14. I love peonies. The town I lived in as a child has a Peony Festival and parade every summer (Van Wert, OH)

  15. Indeed, it is hard to pick a favorite between roses and peonies. I love that peonies are big and fragrant and delicate and have no thorns. They are easier to care for than roses, too. They really look gorgeous in a vase. My only complaint about them is that they droop to the ground after a rain. Am I glad that hereabouts, peonies and roses bloom at different times – that way, I really do not have to pick favorites. 🙂

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