Plant peonies in your garden for elegant spring flowers that return year after year. Expensive to buy as a cut flower, these popular perennials are particularly prized for their large double blooms, blush colours and heady scent.
Peonies are easy to grow, but following a few simple tips will guarantee magnificent blooms, fine form and fabulous fragrance. With the right care, some plants have been known to blossom for fifty years or more!
Peonies are split into two main groups; tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. Herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) die right back down to the ground around October at the end of the growing season. They grow again quickly in the spring, and it’s a good idea to use a special peony plant support to prevent the magnificent flower heads from being snapped in the wind.
Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) produce woodier top growth that remains visible above the ground throughout the year. These cultivars grow to a greater size and, when established, can produce hundreds of blooms throughout the season. Choose a tree peony if you have lots of space in your border.
Intersectional Peonies, also known as Itoh Peonies, are hybrids of tree and herbaceous peonies, taking the best characteristics from each parent. They need to be grown in a sunny spot and dislike very wet or very dry soil.
Plant your herbaceous peonies in full sun for the best results, although they will grow in semi-shade too. Prepare your flower bed by digging in some well rotted manure or special peony fertiliser, and be sure to choose a free-draining part of the garden. Peony crowns will rot if they stay waterlogged over time.
Dig a good sized hole and plant your peony so the budding ‘eyes’ on the plant crown are roughly 2cm below the soil surface. If they’re planted too deep, the flowering tips will struggle to push up through the soil and flowering will be delayed. Bare root herbaceous peonies should be planted between October and March. Potted garden ready plants can be planted in early spring.
Expect your herbaceous peonies to flower every year from late spring to early summer. After three years your plants will be fully established and will produce lots of stunning blooms.
Plant your tree peony in mid-autumn to give the plant a chance to establish itself through the winter months. Like herbaceous peonies they prefer full sun, and perform best in rich, free-draining soil.
Place your tree peony much deeper into the planting hole than a herbaceous type. Make sure the notch showing where the stem and rootstock are grafted together sits at least 10-15cm below the soil surface. If your tree peony is planted too shallow, flowering and establishment can be delayed.
Don’t prune your plant until it’s firmly established, which takes roughly two to three years. To find out exactly how to prune your tree peony, take a look at our easy guide. Tree peonies flower from mid-spring through to mid-summer, and deadheading regularly will encourage more flower production.
You can create new plants from your mature tree peony through layering or division. Pull longer branches down to soil level to stimulate root production or divide a mature plant. Tree peony species can also be grown from self-collected seed, although hybrid plants will not grow true to the parent seed and should be bought.
For stunning cut flowers with large double blooms, try growing herbaceous peony ‘Double Pink’ and peony ‘Pink Hawaiian Coral’. Both look gorgeous in bouquets and just a few stems will fill a vase to spectacular effect.
If you want to grow tree peonies, ‘Luoyang Hong’ is a superb variety that produces ruffled magenta blooms. Plant alongside the simple scented white flowered ‘Feng Dan Bai’ for great colour contrast.
We hope this guide to growing peonies has inspired you to grow some in your own garden. Follow our planting advice to enjoy years of fabulous colour and scent from these elegant flowers. Share your pictures with us via our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #YourTMGarden. We love to hear from you!
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