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Peonies: An All-Time Favorite

Maria is a master gardener, master of public health, grantwriter, artist, photographer, editor, & proofreader. She lives in coastal Alabama.

The Peony Is Known as "The Queen of All Flowers"

The Peony Is Known as "The Queen of All Flowers"

Gardeners, Artists, and Photographers Love Peonies

The herbaceous peony is a favorite of many gardeners, photographers, and artists. These large, fragrant, and fluffy blossoms have been sketched, painted, photographed, and even embroidered for centuries. The feathered edges of the petals and their delicate appearance, combined with a remarkable variety of lovely colors to choose from make them irresistible. The fact that peonies are perennials makes them even better because every few years they can be divided to make more.

Once they are well established, they pretty much take care of themselves. The types with larger flowers, though exquisite, can be top-heavy and often need to be staked. The peony makes a delightful flower for cutting. The season for peonies is short, usually no more than two weeks, but they are so beautiful it's worth having some in your garden.

The first peony to open at our former home in Zone 7b. Its bud is shown below.

The first peony to open at our former home in Zone 7b. Its bud is shown below.

What Are the Needs of the Peony?

Herbaceous peonies need rich, well-drained soil, with a pH ranging from 6.5–7.5, and a sunny location. They are cold hardy in Zones 2–8, so I am grateful to live in Zone 8b—a little farther south, and I couldn't grow them. If your peonies are not blooming well, or at all, some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are they in too much shade?
  • Are they planted too deep?
  • Do they have good drainage? (They hate wet feet.)
  • Are they overcrowded?
  • Have you applied the correct fertilizer? (They like lots of potassium, so choose a granular [slow-release] product with a high middle number, such as 5-10-10.)
  • Have you applied too much nitrogen? (This will produce lush leaves, but not flowers.)
  • Are there insects on them?
  • What is the pH level of the soil?
This is an old photo from our former home in Zone 7B. It was the first one that spring in 2010.

This is an old photo from our former home in Zone 7B. It was the first one that spring in 2010.

Types of Peonies

There are 3 types of peonies: herbaceous (the bushes we are all familiar with), tree peonies, and Itoh (hybrid, a.k.a., intersectional type). This article is primarily about the herbaceous type.

  • The herbaceous peony needs full sun, and will bloom around Memorial Day in most climates.
  • The tree peony prefers light shade during the heat of the day, and in most climates should bloom around Mothers' Day.
  • The hybrid (intersectional) peony is showy, and one benefit of it is that it does not need to be staked. However, I prefer the blossoms of the more recognizable herbaceous peony.

While the herbaceous type grows in Zones 2–8, the tree and hybrid types do well in Zones 4–9.

Even the Buds Are Beautiful

Here you can see where the ants have eaten away some of the thick green casing, allowing the flower to emerge.

Here you can see where the ants have eaten away some of the thick green casing, allowing the flower to emerge.

Watching and Waiting

Every spring, peony enthusiasts watch and wait for the first buds to appear. We watch as they grow larger and larger, then as the ants slowly eat the sweet but tough green covering that protects the tiny but maturing flower petals inside. We continue to watch and wait as more and more color is exposed.

Not to worry, those ants will not harm the flowers. They are seeking the sweet liquid in that outer covering, and if they aren't present to eat it, the buds will not be able to open.

This peony just emerged from the ground about a week ago. This photo was taken May 4, 2021. Soon it will have huge buds the produce those gorgeous flowers.

This peony just emerged from the ground about a week ago. This photo was taken May 4, 2021. Soon it will have huge buds the produce those gorgeous flowers.

What Are Their Enemies, and What Can You Do About Them?

Fortunately, peonies are resistant to deer and rabbits. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to botrytis blight, which is a fungus that can cause rot of young shoots and unsightly spots on leaves. This blight will prevent flower buds from developing.

All plants need air circulation, and peonies are no different. Maintaining good air circulation among the branches and leaves will help prevent fungal diseases. This can be done by removing any branches that are growing back toward the center of the plant, causing crowding. Also, it is important that they are not crowded by surrounding plants.

The new flower just beginning to open.

The new flower just beginning to open.

What Colors are Available?

There is a wide range of colors from white and pink, to red, coral, maroon and even yellow. The color of many peony flowers will evolve as they open, making for interesting visits to your garden throughout the day. White can begin to show pink or red streaks. Pale pink can become bright pink, or develop bright pink streaks.

Peonies Make Great Cut Flowers

Even a single stem is appreciated.

Even a single stem is appreciated.

How is "Peony" Pronounced?

Well, it depends on where you're from. In the south of the U.S., it's "pea-own-ee". In the north of the U.S. and in the UK, it's "pea-o-nee". Whatever you call them, we can all agree they are gorgeous, and are definitely the Queen of All Flowers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on May 08, 2021:

Oh, I hope so, too. Good luck with them. I know they'll be beautiful, and you will enjoy them.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 07, 2021:

I love peonies and I always had them in the homes I've lived in. I will try to have it in my condo balcony. I hope they'll do well.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on May 04, 2021:

They really are. Thank you for reading my article and for your comment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 04, 2021:

We used to grow peonies when we lived in Wisconsin. They are such lovely plants with such beautiful blossoms.

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