Peonies - Old Fashioned, Fragrant Perennials

Peony 'Alma Hansen'
Peony 'Alma Hansen'. Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description:

Peonies are beautiful, often fragrant, clump forming perennials with large cupped or ruffled showy flowers. They are long-lived and easy to grow.

  • Foliage: Deeply lobed, dark green leaves. New foliage is reddish and appears early in spring.
  • Flowers: The flowers can be single, double or anemone-like, in shades of white, pink and red.

Latin Name:


Common Name(s):

Peony, Herbaceous Peony

Hardiness Zones:

Peonies need a period of cold weather, to set their flower buds. They are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8. If you are zones 7 or 8, plant your peonies in an area with a northern exposure or a frost pocket, to ensure they get the required cold temperatures.

Mature Size:

Size will vary somewhat with variety, but most mature plants grow to about 1½ - 3½ ft. tall x , 2-3 ft. wide


For good blooming and to avoid gray mold, full sun is the best exposure, however they can handle some partial shade.

Bloom Period:

Bloom time depends on the variety and your zone, but expect flowers sometime in May or June.

Suggested Varieties:

Honestly I've never seen a peony that wasn't gorgeous, but here are a few that really caught my eye.

  • 'Golden Spring' - Soft yellow anemone type. Gorgeous, but pricy.
  • ’Krinkled White’ - An early season anemone style with pink tinged white petals and a golden yellow center
  • ‘Peppermint Stick’ - A showy, ruffled variety with white, pink and red stripes.
  • ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ - An popular old variety that is late blooming, with soft pink, fragrant double flowers.

Design Tips:

Large clumps of peonies can be used as an anchor in a border. They also pair especially well with the spiky leaves and flowers of bearded iris, which bloom at the same time.

Growing Tips:

Planting: Peonies are generally started from divisions or tubers. The best time to plant is in the fall, so that the tubers can get the winter chill they need. .Plant them shallowly. To be sure they get a chill, they should not be planted more than a few inches below the soil surface. For more details, check out Planting Peonies.


When in flower, peonies can easily become top heavy and will benefit from staking. You can find round, metal hoops that are actually called 'peony stakes', for this purpose, but you can just as easily fashion something yourself, with stakes and string. It's easier to stake peonies early in the season and allow them to grow into the stakes, rather than trying to corral them once they are grown.

Herbaceous peonies never need to be divided. If you want to divide them to make more, the best time to do it is in the fall. However new division need time to adapt and they may not bloom the following year.

Pests and Diseases

Peonies are susceptible to botrytis or gray mold. Early applications of fungicide and removal of infected leaves will help. Remove the peony foliage in fall, to prevent overwintering of botrytis spores


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