In areas where winters are cold enough to induce plant dormancy, no garden is complete without peonies. The most popular peony of all is the common garden peony, also called Chinese peony. It has been cultivated for centuries and there are several thousand cultivars and hybrids.
What’s special about peonies is that their stems often have a primary flower bud, which blooms first, followed by smaller side buds so you get to enjoy their spectacular flowers for longer.
It may take up to three years for peonies to get established and bloom, but you’ll be rewarded for your patience with a long-lasting perennial flower. Peonies are extremely long lived—they can get more than 100 years old.
|Botanical Name||Paeonia lactiflora|
|Common Name||Chinese peony, common garden peony|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||Two to three feet height, two to three feet width|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, silt, loamy|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7|
|Bloom Time||Late spring to early summer|
|Flower Color||Pink red, white|
|Native Area||China, Siberia|
How to Grow Chinese Peonies
When planting peonies, generous spacing and good air circulation are crucial because overcrowding encourages the spread of diseases. Chinese peonies are planted just like other peonies, which is described here.
The flower heads of peonies are large and heavy so they tend to flop over, especially after it rains. If you do not want to buy special peony rings you can use wooden or light metal stakes and twine to make your own support.
The only other regular maintenance peonies require is removal of the foliage and a thorough fall cleanup. During the growing season, for a neater appearance and to prevent the spread of disease, remove any diseased leaves.
For the best bloom, garden peonies need full sun with at least six hours of sunlight. The only exception is warmer climates where you can plant them in partial shade to protect them from the midday heat.
Peonies can grow in many different soils as long as the soil is fertile and well-drained. Avoid wet locations where water pools. If the soil is sandy or high in clay, add organic matter but not manure, as it may cause the plant disease botrytis. When adding amendments to the soil, make sure to mix them in deeply.
Generally Chinese peonies do not require watering. Their water needs are the highest in the spring and fall so if there are dry conditions during those crucial months, keep the soil evenly moist by watering them slowly and deeply as needed.
Temperature and Humidity
Peonies are perennials for cool climates. They need winter chill to induce plant dormancy.
They don’t do well in strong heat and humidity, especially during the bloom. In warmer climates, one workaround is to select varieties that bloom earlier, before the onset of the summer heat.
Chinese peonies generally don’t need fertilizer unless the soil is poor in nutrients. Apply a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, such as bulb fertilizer, after the bloom and again in the late summer, around the dripline of the plants.
Varieties of Chinese Peonies
Of the many different cultivars of Chinese peonies, these Paeonia lactiflora cultivars are some of the most popular:
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernardt’, a fragrant late-season bloomer with rose-pink double flowers.
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Karl Rosenfield’, a crimson-colored mid-season bloomer with double flowers.
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Shirley Temple’, a fragrant, early bloomer with double, light-rose flowers that gradually fade to ivory.
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’, a fragrant, early-season bloomer with single pink flowers and frilly off-white to yellow centers.
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Kansas’, a fragrant, early to mid-season bloomer with bright pink-red double flowers.
- Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’, a highly fragrant, early-season bloomer with double white flowers.
Growing Chinese Peonies in Containers
Because they are so tall and top-heavy, Chinese peonies tend to topple over when planted in containers. If you want to grow them this way, choose dwarf hybrids, also called patio peonies.
The most common diseases affecting Chinese peonies are botrytis blight and other fungal diseases, especially in wet, cool spring weather. If you notice diseased, blackened or wilted leaves or stems, remove them promptly to prevent the spread of the disease. In the fall, cut the herbaceous stems down to a few inches and dispose of them in the garbage.
Mildew, which is also a fungus, appears as a white coating on leaves and stems, mostly in hot, humid summer weather. It is merely unsightly and does not harm the plants. Here, too, a thorough fall cleanup helps preventing the plants from getting reinfected in the following year.