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.