Known for their large, beautiful spring flowers, these tough perennials will return year after year. There are many different types to choose from with different growth habits and flower shapes and colors. Even when they're not in bloom, these plants have deep green and leathery foliage that stands up to the vigorous weather.
Peony flowers vary from simple six petal varieties to those with dramatic ruffled blooms. They are known for their beauty and numerous color options such as pastel shades of pink, yellow, orange, deep reds, and whites. The foliage of peonies can be quite beautiful, especially when they first emerge in spring with deep burgundies and greens. As the foliage ages, it becomes a rich leather green which provides a nice backdrop for peonies and other surrounding plants.
The most commonly grown type of peony is the herbaceous peony, or garden peony. This type does not form any woody plant material and all leaves are grown from the ground. These are the most fragrant of the peonies and often found in shades of pink, red, or white.
The second type is the tree peony. Tree peonies are less commonly grown due to the high cost of the plant. Tree peonies are slower growing than herbaceous peonies and form a woody trunk-like base. Because they grow some woody material, they will typically grow taller than the traditional peony.
From these two types of peonies (herbaceous and tree) come the intersectional peonies, or itoh peonies. Itoh peonies offer a stunning variety of colors, bringing oranges and yellows to the herbaceous peony types; they also tend to be much larger than the herbaceous types.
Another lesser-known peony is the rock garden or fern leaf peony. These are much smaller than their cousins, and have finely dissected green leaves that give the plant a ferny texture. Flowers of this diminutive peony are much smaller and less exotic looking, but form beautiful pink or red cups of flowers.
Peony Care Must-Knows
As long as your peonies are happy, they will live for many years. When planting, follow the care instructions. Planting them more than 2 inches below the soil level will cause them to put out foliage but no flowers. Peonies will do best in well-drained soil. If soils are too heavy, they will benefit from some compost being added to the soil. This plant also dislikes having its roots disturbed and can protest by withholding blooms.
Related: Dividing Perennials
Peonies thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Full sun ensures the plants put on good blooms and keep the foliage healthy. One common problem seen with peonies is their susceptibility to powdery mildew, which—while unsightly—will not kill the plants. The best way to prevent this is by planting in full sun, ensuring a good amount of air circulation around plants, and cleaning up any debris around the plants. Remove any part of the plant that you spot powdery mildew on. If push comes to shove and powdery mildew sticks around, spray with a fungicide to rid the plant of the mildew.
More Varieties of Peonies
Paeonia 'America' blooms early. It has single, deep red flowers with a central boss of yellow stamens, and grows to be about 2.5 to 3 feet high and the same for the width. Foliage is midgreen. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Blaze' offers single, 6-inch-wide scarlet-red blooms in early season. It grows 26 inches tall. It was released in 1973. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Coral Charm' blooms early with distinctly cupped semidouble coral pink flowers, and will reach 24 to 26 inches in height and 24 to 30 inches in spread. The foliage is dark green. It was introduced in 1964. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Border Charm' is a cross between an herbaceous and tree peony. It offers yellow flowers on strong stems and grows only 22 inches tall. It was released in 1984. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Charm' bears dusky dark red Japanese-style flowers with yellow-tipped centers. It was bred in 1931 and is still popular today. This selection is late-season bloomer and grows 3 feet tall. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Bowl of Beauty' blooms in midseason. It has 10-inch-wide, anemone-flowered or Japanese form, deep sugar pink cupped flowers. The center is crowded with narrow creamy white petaloids. It was introduced in 1949. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Gay Paree' is a distinct heirloom from 1933 that's still popular. Its raspberry-red flowers have a lush, ivory-white center. The plant grows 34 inches tall. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Green Halo' offers twisted white petals flushed with green. It grows 30 inches tall and was released in 1999. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Karl Rosenfield' is still one of the most popular red peonies today and was first introduced in 1908. It offers double red blooms on a 32-inch-tall plant. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Festiva Maxima' is an heirloom from the 1850s that's still popular. It bears white flowers with tiny flecks of crimson and grows 3 feet tall. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Krinkled White' is an early bloomer. Its large single flowers are pure white, ruffled along the edges, with a central boss of bright yellow stamens. It grows to be about 36 inches tall and between 24 and 36 inches wide. This heirloom variety was released in 1928. Zones 4-8
Paeonia tenuifolia has cupped rich red single 3-inch flowers in early to midspring. Its deep green foliage is fernlike, with many segments. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Paula Fay' offers semidouble reddish-pink blooms on a plant that grows 35 inches tall. It was introduced in 1968. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Pillow Talk' is a midseason variety introduced in 1973 with fully double, soft pink flowers that should reach 28 to 30 inches in height and 30 to 36 inches in spread. Foliage is dark green. Zones 3-8
Paeonia 'Sarah Bernhardt' is an heirloom selection from 1906 with soft pink flowers and a lovely fragrance. It grows 3 feet tall. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Westerner' bears large pink flowers with yellow centers. It has strong stems and grows 34 inches tall. It was introduced in 1942. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Sea Shell' bears single pink flowers on long stems. It grows 37 inches tall and was introduced in 1937. Zones 3-7
Paeonia 'Sweet Marjorie' bears distinct blooms with twisted and curled pink blooms. It grows 32 inches tall and was introduced in 1999. Zones 3-7
Peony Companion Plants
With its loose, billowy panicles of tiny single or double pink or white flowers, baby's breath provides a lightness and airiness to flower gardens. The creeping forms drape beautifully over rock walls. After bloom time, shear the plants to deadhead and for neatness. Plants prefer sweet (alkaline) soils with full sun and excellent drainage.
Easy, always fresh, and always eye-catching, Shasta daisy is a longtime favorite. All cultivars produce white daisy flowers in various degrees of doubleness and size. The sturdy stems and long vase life make the flowers unbeatable for cutting. Shasta daisy thrives in well-drained, not overly rich soil. Taller sorts may need staking.
Look at the delicate little flax plant with its masses of open, silky flowers, often in purest blue, and it's hard to imagine that it can also produce tough linen fibers. Each bloom lasts but a day, but the plant stays in bloom for a while since it produces so many—not only in blue, but also clear yellow, depending on the variety. Flax must have a light, free-draining soil. Wet feet will kill it. Flax enjoys full sun but will tolerate light shade, especially in the Southern portion of the United States.
Garden Plans For Peonies
Create charm and curb appeal in your front yard with this lush, beautiful cottage garden plan.
Give your home a welcoming feel with an exuberant cottage garden in the front yard.