A peony is one plant you will enjoy for a long time. Peonies can live to be 100 and still produce flowers. Peonies grow tall enough to be used for cut-flower arrangements and can also be displayed floating in a bowl of water. They can be grown in the ground or in containers, are very fragrant and come in a wide choice of colors.
Herbaceous peonies, or bush peonies, die to the ground in the winter and come back when the snow melts in the spring. Hybrids are crossbreeds of one or more varieties. Hybrids usually only have one flower, while the regular herbaceous peonies can have one main flower and a side bud as well. Dwarf peonies can grow from 6 to 30 inches, medium from 30 to 40 inches and tall up to 5 feet. The tree peony has woody shoots and leaves that fall off in autumn like a tree. They bloom earlier, have larger flowers and grow to from 1 to 6 feet tall.
There are varieties of peonies that are hardy in every part of the United States and Canada, with the exception of the warmest zones in the south. In the northern zones, they do need winter protection, such as a good mulch or mounding around the plant with dirt, but not until after the first frost. Remove in the spring before the new growth starts.
Peony flowers come in every color except blue and in every size from 1 to 10 inches across. Flowers will first bloom in early spring and continue to for as long as two months. Some tree peony varieties will bloom once again in autumn.
Plant in a well-drained spot. Peonies do best in full sunlight, but can take partial shade as well. Dwarf varieties can be spaced up to 18 inches apart, but the larger herbaceous varieties need about 5 feet. Tree peonies need between 4 and 6 feet of space. Peonies planted in sandy soil will have more leaves than flowers. Those planted in a clay soil will grow slower but have more flowers. Peonies should be planted in the fall before frost sets in. The roots will grow during the winter and be well-established by spring.
Peonies should be fed with the same fertilizer as bulbs and as soon as the leaves begin to unfurl. Just be sure not to get any on the crown of the plant. It needs to go where the roots are and that is from 6 to 18 inches away from the crown. Do not overfertilize, as this will inhibit flower growth. At the end of summer, the tops will turn brown–this is a sign to cut them back to the ground. In spring, gently turn the ground around the plants down to a depth of about 2 to 3 inches being mindful not to go too near or the new shoots can be damaged. This will help with weed control and will aerate the soil at the same time. Repeat after hard rains.
One thing peonies do need is a lot of water in the spring up until the flowers open, and again in the fall when they start to form the buds for next year’s flowers. If the growing season is dry, give a good soaking if they start to wilt. The water needs to get down to the roots. Excessive dry weather will make them die back early, but they will come back the next spring.