Red Charm Peony Plant Profile

This True Red Paeonia a Must-Have for Lovers of Rich Colors

Red Charm peony in bloom.

David Beaulieu

Peonies can live for 100 years, but some find the Red Charm peony's best attribute to be the color of its flower. Gardeners tired of growing the usual pink or white peonies will love the rich, true-red color of Red Charm. Along with the fact that the flowers are also large and double, these perennials are born attention-grabbers.

Botanical Name Paeonia lactiflora x Paeonia officinalis 'Red Charm' or simply Paeonia 'Red Charm'
Common Name Red Charm peony
Plant Type Herbaceous, with a perennial life cycle
Mature Size 3 feet tall, with a similar spread
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial sun
Soil Type Medium moisture and fertility, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral (6.5 to 7.0 pH)
Bloom Time May in zone 5
Flower Color Red, dark-red
Hardiness Zones 3 to 8
Native Area Hybrid (parents native to China and southern Europe)

How to Grow Red Charm Peony

It is important not to plant your Red Charm peony tubers too deep in the ground. Planting them 2 to 3 inches deep allows them to set their flower buds properly. To understand why, you need to learn about chilling requirements:

The cold-hardiness of many peonies (P. lactiflora is hardy to zone 2) is a major boon to northern gardeners. But these sturdy specimens do not simply tolerate the cold, they positively need it, because it is critical for them to undergo a period of dormancy. Peony is one perennial that has a chilling requirement, and if that requirement is not met, buds will not set (and you will not get flowers).

This fact makes even mulching problematic. The depth of the tuber will end up being greater when the layer of mulch is factored in. You can still mulch around your peony to suppress weed growth, but make sure the mulch covers only the ground surrounding the base of the plant (not the base, itself).

If you are planting a pot-grown peony in the ground, the plant should be installed such that the top of the soil in the container will rest at the level of the soil once you have put it in the ground. If you anticipate settling in the soil, it should even be a bit above that level. Again, the idea is to resist any temptation to bury it deep.

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. In fact, some gardeners remove any flower buds that form on newly-planted peonies so that the plants can put all their energy into developing their foliage and root systems. This means sacrificing immediate gratification in exchange for superior plant health in the near future, which is a tough sell for the impatient.

To discourage plant diseases, most people trim peony vegetation down to ground level and dispose of it in autumn after the initial hard freeze.

There are four things you should know about plants in the Paeonia genus regarding how animals interact with them:

Light

At the southern end of its range, give Red Charm peony partial sunlight. But, at the northern end of its range, giving it full sun will promote better flowering.

Soil

Red Charm peony likes a well-drained loam.

Water

This perennial has average water needs.

Fertilizer

Fertilize annually in spring with compost.

What Red Charm Peonies Look Like

The fragrant, double flowers of Red Charm peony can be 6 inches wide, making these blossoms quite impressive. The flowers bloom a bit earlier than those on P. lactiflora. For example, if the latter blooms for you in early June, your Red Charm peonies may flower a couple of weeks ahead of that, in May.

These clump-forming perennials grow from underground tubers, technically, although you may hear some gardeners referring to them as "bulbs."

Varieties of Peonies

Red Charm is a hybrid created by crossing P. lactiflora with P. officinalis. Both parents are sometimes called the "common peony." But the former (or its hybrids, more specifically) is more widely grown in North America. It is one of the many plants from China that have become part of the fabric of our landscaping lives. Meanwhile, P. officinalis is native to southern Europe.

P. officinalis comes in both single and double-flowered forms. According to the Minnesota Peony Society, "The species has been used for developing the modern American Hybrid peony. In its single form, it is used to get vibrant red-colored flowers," while, in its double form, it is used to get double flowers. Thus it is hardly surprising that P. officinalis should be one of the parents of Red Charm peony.

Besides Red Charm, other dark-red peony cultivars include:

  • 'Black Swan'
  • 'Chief Black Hawk'
  • 'Rubra Plena'

So-called "tree peonies" (Paeonia suffruticosa) are yet another species and are classified as sub-shrubs.

Uses for Red Charm Peony

Red Charm peonies have enough size and color to be treated as specimens in your late-spring landscaping. They are a classic choice for flower borders and foundation plantings alike. Paeonia is also a traditional cottage-garden plant.

Moreover, they make excellent cut flowers. Fill your vase with water and apply whatever preservative you may wish to use. Then snip off the lower 1/2 inch of the stem before placing it in the water. Some like to cut a bunch of them before a rainstorm to avoid having the blooms become waterlogged.

Pros and Cons of Peonies

Their pros far outweigh their cons and include the following:

  • Peony is one of the plants that you can enjoy even when the blossom has not yet fully unfurled. At this early stage in the blooming cycle, the perennial presents attractive, tightly-wound balls of color.
  • The foliage is pretty in its own right.
  • The flowers offer one of the landscape's best smells.

One of the few drawbacks involves maintenance. One predictable chore in peony care is providing support for your plant. The flower heads are so large that they will become quite heavy with moisture after a rainstorm and try to flop over. While some form of staking might work for support, gardeners more generally place metal rings around the plants. Just ask for "peony rings" at your local garden center.