Springtime brings an abundance of beauty and color in the floral world, but few can compare to the peony.  Native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America, the peony has been venerated by poets and gardeners alike for thousands of years.

On the whole, peonies are very hearty plants, often thriving and blooming for over 100 years.  The peony comes in three varieties: Herbaceous, Intersectional and Tree. Herbaceous peonies die back in the winter and reemerge in the spring. They grow between 2 -4 feet tall and are usually just as wide. The blooms on herbaceous peonies range from 2” – 10” in diameter in colors ranging from white to pink to red.

The Intersectional variety is a cross between the herbaceous and the tree peony and exhibits the leaf forms of the tree peony but dies back in the winter. They grow about 3’ tall and wide and have a longer blooming period than either the herbaceous or tree peonies.  The Intersectional varieties also offer more bloom color options including yellows and golds. 

The tree peony is a deciduous shrub and loses its leaves in the fall, but its woody stems remain intact throughout the winter.   The tree peony can grow anywhere from 4’ to 10’ tall and will do best in an area with dappled sunlight.  All types of peonies grow  in USDA zones 3-8, though the tree peonies will also grow in Zone 9, and herbaceous peonies do better in colder climates.

Some key points to consider when planting, dividing and transplanting peonies:
  • Peonies prefer soil with a neutral pH balance that drains well. If your soil is heavy or sandy, mix in some compost or bonemeal.
  • Space peonies 3-4 feet apart to allow for good air circulation.
  • For Herbaceous and Intersectional varieties, choose a location that gets lots of sun. While some peonies can get by with a half day of sun, all will bloom and grow better with full sun. The tree peony needs dappled light for long life.
  • When planting peonies, never place the peony eyes (buds)  lower than 2” below the soil line. This will ensure best blooming.
  • Help the stems of the peony by providing support through the use of peony rings. If you place them early enough in Spring, the peonies will grow through them and will help them to remain upright as they grow and bloom.
  • Don’t kill the ants! The ants you see crawling over your peony buds are just there for the nectar and actually help rid your plant of other pests that would otherwise eat the buds.
  • Cut your peony to the ground in the fall to avoid overwintering disease.
  • Peonies, unlike other perennials, rarely need dividing, but if you want to share with a friend, don’t plan to divide it until the fall, and make sure you leave 3-5 eyes per clump.
  • Lastly, don’t forget that most peonies will not bloom for 1-3 years after planting or transplanting, so don’t give up on them. With a little time and the right conditions, you will have gorgeous blooms for years and years to come!