Learn all about growing peonies. Including the different types of peonies such as tree peonies and Itoh peonies, history, and basic care.
Hands down, the peony is my all-time favorite flower. I used to say that I could not pick a favorite, and there are several flowers that I really love. However, peony plants are definitely my favorite, and is in my opinion, the finest of all garden flowers.
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Growing Peonies in the Garden
Why I love Peony Plants
- They are truly beautiful and range in color from white, yellow, pink to deep dark red.
- They have been around for thousands of years.
- Peonies are highly fragrant, with very large flowers making for a fabulous cut flower.
- Once established, they grow effortlessly, coming back to the garden year after year.
Peony Flower Tip: Did you know that peonies can last in full bloom for up to ten days in a vase? Pick them in the bud stage, wrap all but the ends of the stem in plastic, and place them in the refrigerator. They will keep for a month.
Peonies are one of the oldest garden flowers in history and have been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years. Native to Asia, they were first prized for their medicinal value.
There are several different stories about how the peony got its name. They all seem to center around a physician named Paeon who helped the gods, with the use of many plants, including the peony.
Types of Peony Plants
There are three different types of peonies, Herbaceous, Tree, and Itoh or Intersectional.
Herbaceous peonies are the most common. They are the ones your grandmother probably had in her garden. Most of my peonies are herbaceous peonies. They die back to the ground every year, come up in the springtime, and usually flower from May through mid-June.
One of my favorites is Sarah Bernhardt shown above. It's large and very fragrant. Similarly, Dr. Alexander Flemming is another beautiful fragrant classic peony to grow in your garden.
The biggest trouble with growing these types of peonies is the way they tend to flop over when they are fully in bloom. This is especially true during the springtime when the wind and rain cause havoc. Many people use special garden supports for the problem. You can also use broken branches and other garden trimming to prop up the stems.
Herbaceous peonies also come in several varieties. Most are double peony flowers However, they also come in single blooms (above), semi-double and bomb doubles. In addition, the range of color, fragrance, and shape is extensive.
The tree peony is more of a shrub than a tree. It grows about four to five feet tall and has very large blooms. This one is the first to bloom in my garden, as early as April. The blooms only last a couple of weeks but the foliage stays pretty all season long.
Itoh – Intersectional
The Itoh or Intersectional peony is relatively new. It’s a hybrid between the herbaceous peony and the tree peony. The result is a plant that is sturdy, with large blooms for about a month. This one also dies back to the ground each year.
If you love cut peonies but are worried about bringing ants into your home, read this.
Ants are attracted to peonies for their nectar. They do not hurt the plant but they will protect it from other bud-eating insects. If you are worried about bringing ants into your home, you can try one of two methods.
Cut the flowers when they are still in bud form but with the color showing, at the marshmallow (soft) stage. This way you can spray or wipe off the ants easily.
Secondly, if they are already in full bloom, you can prepare a bowl of water with a tiny bit of dish soap. Gently hold the flower by the stem and swish it in the water to knock off any ants.
They really hate to be divided, but if you must, do so in early fall. Make sure there are a couple of good eyes (small pink tips) to each section you divide.
Don’t plant the divisions too deep – just enough to keep the eyes slightly visible.
If you haven't tried them I can assure you that growing peonies is a very rewarding option for your flower garden. If you already have a couple, then you just may want to add a few more. I know I do.
P.S. If you love growing peonies then you may also love some of the crafts I have made with them. I've made a Peony Shadow Box, a Dried Peony Wreath with dried peonies, and a super easy Artificial Spring Peony Wreath for the front door.