Of the three major classes of garden peonies, the herbaceous group is by far the largest, with literally hundreds of named cultivars bred from several dozen species and hybrids, but one of the most striking of all the herbaceous peony cultivars is 'Red Charm'. This plant originated as a hybrid cross of Paeonia lactiflora and P. officinalis, and it has the bushy growth habit and fondness for cold-winter conditions that is typical of all bushy peonies.
'Red Charm' has unusually dark red flowers that will please gardeners bored with the pink and white blossoms that dominate this class of peonies. 'Red Charm' has blossoms with a single petal outer layer and dense ruffled double petals filling the inside of the blossom. 'Red Charm' grows to about three feet tall and wide; it is an early-blooming peony, producing plentiful flowers in May and June.
Herbaceous bush peonies are often planted as well-established potted nursery plants in spring, but planting from root divisions is normally done in fall. New divisions can take a year or two to reach blooming size, but once established, peonies are extremely long-lived plants, with 50-year lifespans being quite common.
Peonies contain a substance known paeonol, concentrated mostly in the bark of the stems. Paeonol is mildly toxic to people and to pets.
|Common Name||'Red Charm' peony|
|Botanical Name||Paeonia lactiflora x Paeonia officinalis 'Red Charm' (or simply Paeonia 'Red Charm')|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained, loamy|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Bloom Time||Late spring, early summer|
|Flower Color||Red, dark red|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Nursery hybrid; parent species native to Europe, Asia|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to humans and pets|
Red Charm Peony Care
Like other peony cultivars, 'Red Charm' prefers moist but well-drained soil in a full-sun location. Take care when positioning peonies, as these plants dislike being moved once they are established. It is important not to plant peony tubers too deep in the ground, as this often prevents the plants from flowering. Cover the root ball with no more than one to two inches of soil. If you are planting a pot-grown peony in the ground, it should be planted at the same depth it was growing in the container.
Even covering the soil with too much mulch can be enough to interfere with the bloom cycle. You can still mulch around your peony to suppress weed growth, but make sure the mulch is kept well back from the center of the root zone.
Be prepared to stake or cage peony plants as they grow, because the blooms can become quite heavy. A good option is to use large plant hoops with crisscrossed openings through which the flower stems can grow.
At the southern end of its hardiness range, 'Red Charm' peony does best in partial sunlight. But, at the northern end of its hardiness range, giving it full sun will promote better flowering.
'Red Charm' peony likes a well-drained loam. If the soil is slightly acidic, all the better, though they can do well in neutral soils.
This perennial has average water needs. One to two inches of water each week through a combination of rainfall and irrigation is sufficient.
Temperature and Humidity
'Red Charm' is hardy in USDA cold hardiness zones 3 to 8, but it will do best in the northern part of this range, where winters are quite cold and summers are mild. They don't do well at temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fertilize annually in spring with a thin layer of compost spread over the root zone. No further feeding should be needed.
Types of Peonies
The vast majority of garden peonies are either cultivars of P. lactifolia (Chinese peony) or P. officinalis (a southern Europe native), or, as in the case of 'Red Charm', a hybrid cross between these two species. This large class of herbaceous, bushy peonies comprise the vast majority of garden peonies, with both single- and double-flowered varieties available.
- A smaller class of peonies are the tree peonies, all of which are derived from P. suffruticosa, a native of northwestern China. These plants can grow up to four feet tall, with woody stems that do not die back to the ground in winter. Unlike the bushy peonies, they are somewhat less tolerant of bitterly cold winters, hardy to zone 4 but not suitable for zone 3 gardens.
- Intersectional peonies, also known as Itoh peonies, are hybrid crosses between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. They are known for having the large flowers and leaf shape of tree peonies, but with a growth habit that is more compact and bushy, like herbaceous peonies.
- Fern leaf peonies represent a small but important species, P. tenuifolia, and a small group of cultivars. The species form has single flowers, but 'Flor-pleno' is an attractive double-flower form. These plants have very attractive, fern-like foliage.
It is best to deadhead peonies after they have finished blooming. Otherwise, the plants will try to produce seed, which diverts some of the plants' energy away from overall health and performance.
To discourage plant diseases, most people trim peony vegetation down to ground level and dispose of it in autumn after the initial hard freeze.
Propagating Red Charm Peonies
While it is possible to propagate some herbaceous peonies from seed, it takes three to five years to do so properly. Given that, most gardeners choose to propagate by division in the fall. Here's how to do it:
- Carefully dig up the plant and gently shake or wash away soil from its roots.
- Tease the roots apart gently with your hands, making sure each plant has at least three buds.
- Cut the roots between the new divisions cleanly with a sharp knife.
- Immediately plant the divided sections in a suitable garden location, with the top of the root section no more than one to two inches below the soil surface.
- Water thoroughly.
Growing Peonies From Seed
Named cultivars, especially hybrids, usually do not produce fertile seeds that replicate the parent plant. For this reason, 'Red Charm' is not propagated this way.
Pure species peonies can be grown from seeds collected from the dried flowers, but this is a very slow process that involves sowing the seeds outdoors and allowing at least two seasons of cold stratification before the seeds germinate and sprout. And even then, the seedlings can take four or five years before they mature into flowering plants.
Potting and Repotting 'Red Charm' Peonies
Although container culture is not the common method of growing peonies, it can be successful if you use a large, deep container filled with a mixture of topsoil and perlite or vermiculite.
Peat-based potting mix tends to hold too much moisture and is likely to cause fungal problems with peonies. Light-colored pots will work best because they don't absorb as much heat. Peonies have very large, deep root systems, so a pot at least 12 inches wide and 18 inches deep is best. As with in-ground planting, make sure not to plant the roots more than one to two inches below the surface.
Potted peonies should be moved to a protected location for the winter, but there is no need to protect them entirely from frost because the roots depend on a long cold dormant period over the winter. That said, potted peonies should not experience deep extended frost below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. While in-ground peonies can easily survive temperatures down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, potted peonies are a little less hardy. Many growers find that moving potted peonies to an unheated garage or porch for the winter is ideal.
These sturdy specimens do not simply tolerate the cold, they positively need it, because it is critical for them to undergo a period of deep dormancy. Northern gardeners often observe that in-ground peonies bloom the best in the spring or summer after a harsh winter.
Peony is a perennial that has a mandatory chilling requirement, and if that requirement is not met, buds will not set (and thus, no flowers). To that end, simply cut back the dead foliage after the final frost but don't provide any other interventions when cold sets in.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
The most serious problem with herbaceous peonies is botrytis blight, which causes the shoots to look scorched or burned when they are just a few inches tall. Two or three sprayings of fungicide can help if applied early enough. Ensuring good air circulation between plants can also help. Other fungal problems are also possible in conditions of high humidity, poor air circulation, and overly wet soil.
The ants that are often found on peony blossoms are completely harmless to the plants and can be easily brushed off before you bring cut flowers indoors. There are virtually no other serious pest problems with herbaceous peonies.
How to Get 'Red Charm' Peony to Bloom
There can be several reasons why a peony plant won't bloom:
- Lack of sun is the most common reason that peonies don't bloom. Remember that peonies need at least six hours of full sun to bloom well.
- Immature plants often don't bloom, especially immediately after they are divided. Give these plants a year or two before worrying about the lack of blooms.
- Planted too deeply, peonies might refuse to bloom. The root ball should be covered by no more than one to two inches of soil. A non-blooming peony that is replanted at a slightly shallower depth often responds with much better flowering.
- Too much fertilizer can cause the plant to divert most of its energy into foliage growth. Reducing fertilizer often makes a peony bloom better. For mature plants, a light layer of compost is the only feeding that is needed.
Common Problems With 'Red Charm' Peonies
One predictable chore in peony care is providing support for your plant. The flower heads are so large that they will become quite heavy after a rainstorm and tend to flop over. While some form of staking might work for support, gardeners typically place metal rings around the plants. Ask for peony rings at your local garden center.
What other dark-red herbaceous peonies are available?
If you are intrigued with dark red peonies and want to try some others, consider these:
- 'Black Swan' has extremely dark maroon double flowers on three-foot-tall plants. It is hardy to zone 4.
- 'Chief Black Hawk' is an intersectional (Itoh) peony with very dark red flowers. It grows to 34 inches tall and blooms in mid-season.
- 'Bob' has dark red flowers with yellow stamens. It grows to 32 inches tall.
- 'Old Faithful' is a late-blooming peony with very full dark-crimson flowers with nice strong stems that resist drooping.
What peonies grow well in warmer southern gardens?
Gardeners in USDA cold hardiness zones 7 and 8 might find that better peony choices include 'Baroness Schroeder' (white), 'Felix Crousse' (red), 'Festiva Maxima' (white double with a crimson center), 'Felix Supreme' (raspberry), 'Mons. Jules Elie' (medium pink double), 'Sarah Bernhardt' (apple blossom pink), and 'Teresa' (pink). These cultivars are known to perform relatively well in warmer climates, though almost no peonies are suitable for regions without cool to cold winters.
What are good companion plants for 'Red Charm' peonies?
Foxgloves, daylilies, a variety of irises, and hydrangeas all combine well with peonies.
Do deer and rabbits eat peonies?
These plants are relatively resistant to deer and rabbits, though these creatures can and do turn to peonies if all other food sources are exhausted.