The peony is one of the most beloved of perennials, good for brightening up your garden in spring. They grow in a wide variety of shades, including white, red, yellow, and pink. There are three distinct groups of peonies: the tree peony, herbaceous peonies, and intersectional peonies that grow well in North Carolina. More commonly, peonies are separated into 6 types: anemone, single, semi-double, double, Japanese and bomb! Peonies can live for over a century if well taken care of. In this article we’re going to show you step by step how to grow, cultivate and maintain your peonies for years to come!
The peony originates in China, where they’ve been grown since 1000 BC. In the 8th century AD, they were brought to Japan, a major grower of the flower. In 1789, the peony tree (P.suffruticosa) was introduced to Europe by a British botanist named Sir Joseph Banks. Before this time, most European varieties were French tree peonies. In the early 1800s, European explorers brought peonies home from Asia and folks began cultivating them, resulting in its global popularization.
Peonies are valued in the east not only for their beautiful blossoms, delightful appearance and luxurious scent, but also their intensive medicinal properties! According to the Ancient Chinese, Peonies’ roots and seeds have been used to cure headaches, alleviate asthma symptoms, and relieve child bearing pain. They can be used for bouquets and are great additions to any landscape. Be wary, for the flowers, seeds, and roots of the peony flower are all very toxic and are not to be used medicinally in the present day for inexperienced plant folk (me included).
Peonies love the cold. Most peonies can survive in zone 2 (Zone 2 has lows of negative 50!) to zone 8. It’s best to plant peony tubers in fall. They require a cold winter in order to flower. Peonies aren’t planted as seeds. They’re like dahlias, which bloom from a bare root. To plant peonies, start by digging a hole that is 1 foot to 1½ feet in depth. Use a garden tool to loosen the surrounding earth in the hole. Mix compost to the soil that you dig out of the hole. Plant your eyes 1” below the surface level. Be sure to face the growth nodules or “eyes” of the bareroot towards the surface to get the most blooms. If you want to plant potted blooming peonies that a loved one gives you or that you buy, you can plant them in your garden in spring by digging a hole two times as big as the root ball, amending the soil (we use Daddy Pete’s Planting Mix) and planting it , making sure to not plant it any deeper than it was growing in the pot. Water well and have them bloom for years to come! To keep your peonies happy and healthy, mulch them with 3” of organic matter to deter weeds and keep the soil cool and moist.
Supply a good source of phosphorus to your peonies for beautiful, bright blooms. Apply a small amount of low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring when stems reach 2-3 inches above the soil. If you’d like larger blooms, disbudding is very helpful! You should remove all of your side buds from the stem, leaving only the terminal buds intact. This should be performed as soon as the buds are visible.
Protect your herbaceous peonies by giving them some support for the flowers. Stakes with string or a plant cage will greatly benefit your peonies as they grow. Remove flowers as soon as they start to falter. You can use these cuttings as nice cut flowers for your indoor spaces. Be sure not to cut more than half your blooms or it will lessen the amount of blooms in the future. Leave as much foliage as possible on the plant. In late fall after frost, trim your herbaceous peonies down to about three inches above the surface to give your peonies a fresh start in the spring. Don’t trim tree peonies, only clean off the old leaves in fall after they turn brown.
We hope this guide will help you get started on growing your peonies this spring and help you maintain them for years to come!