Peonies…they’re every gardener’s dream. Well, at least this gardener. They are more voluptuous than some of my roses and provide an old-fashioned charm to my garden. Bearing spectacular bowl-sized blooms, peonies can last 50 years or more in your garden. Having planted more than 50 peonies in my garden over the years, I think of planting one as a lifetime commitment.
Herbaceous vs. Tree vs. Intersectional
I. There are several different types of peonies. Herbaceous Peonies are the most well known type and I have several in my garden; Sarah Bernhardt, Bowl of Beauty, Festiva Maxima and Karl Rosenfield, just to name a few. Herbaceous peonies can be planted in both spring and fall. They need at least 5 hours of full sun with rich well-draining soil. Like most long-lived perennials it can take three years for them to bloom prolifically but they are well worth the wait. Herbaceous peonies require very little care and live for generations.
II. Tree Peonies are woody perennial shrubs. Tree peonies grow slowly, producing 1 to 6 inches of new growth each year. Given well-drained soil and dappled sunlight, they will live for centuries. I haven’t acquired any in my garden yet but I plan to in the future.
III. Intersectional Peonies, also know as Itoh Hybrids, are a hybrid produced by crossing a tree peony with an herbaceous peony. I came across this variety when a gardening friend of mine found them for half price (Itoh peonies can cost around $75-$100 @) and he picked me up several at a local nursery that was going out of business. Itoh peonies produce tree peony flowers and leaves on plants that behave like herbaceous peonies, dying down to the ground in winter and reemerging each spring. A mature plant can produce 50 or more dinner-plate sized flowers on strong short stems that do not require staking, which is a plus if you having as many peonies as I do. Each plant can remain in bloom for 3-4 weeks with new buds continually opening over this period. My seven Itoh Peonies were spectacular this year considering I just planted them last fall. So far I am very impressed!
Since I garden in Zone 7b, Southerners can find it a bit tricky to grow peonies. But certain selections will tolerate our mild winters. The key to growing peonies successfully in the South is in the planting. The secret is to not plant the “eyes” of the peonies very deep. Peonies should be planted only 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep. Also, fall is the optimal planting time.
For arrangements, cut when the buds are just opening. Don’t cut full-bloom peonies, they won’t last long.