Peonies are a springtime favorite. They emerge early, with beautiful mint green foliage and bright green-to-pink shoots that quickly set buds. The star of the show, of course, is the peony flower; from white, to yellow to pink to deep crimson, peony flowers are stunning, globe-like balls of color that last quite a long time and bloom all spring. Plus, it’s easy to grow peonies, they come back year after year, and there are tons of fabulous peony cultivars.
If you’re looking for a simple way to say “I love you” to mom this year and are fed up with flower bouquets that fade after a week, might we humbly recommend a peony for her garden? These plants are super hardy, and can survive almost anywhere. With their intoxicating aroma and lush colors, they make gorgeous cut flowers, and truly enrich your spring garden strolls.
Before we share a few of our favorite peony cultivars, it’s important to understand that peonies have two distinct growth habits: herbaceous and woody.
Herbaceous peonies are true perennials that fully die back each winter, and re-emerge in spring. They can continue to grow and blossom for fifty years or more, and become more impressive each year! Deadhead them regularly throughout the spring to promote regular blossoming, and cut them fully back down to soil level at the end of fall each year.
Peonies with a woody growth habit are commonly called tree peonies. Unlike their herbaceous cousins, tree peonies don’t die back to soil level each year, but rather the plant goes dormant much like a deciduous tree. The leaves will die back, leaving behind the woody stems. Tree peonies respond well to pruning, and you should aim for a broad, multi-stemmed shrub of 4-5′ in height. The best time to prune peonies is in the late fall or early spring while the plant is dormant.
Most all peonies prefer part to full sun and well draining soil. A chilly winter helps with bud formation, and these plants are very cold tolerant.
Our Favorite Peony Cultivars
Herbaceous Peony Cultivars
• Paeonia lactiflora: This herbaceous perennial is commonly called the Chinese peony or common garden peony. It is native to central and eastern Asia from eastern Tibet across northern China to eastern Siberia.
– ‘Doreen’ – Large yellow blossoms
– ‘Duchess of Nemours’ – Beautiful white blossoms
– ‘Coral Sunset’ – Specatacular coral-colored blossoms
Tree Peony Cultivars
• Paeonia suffruticosa: Also known as the Moutan or Chinese tree peony, this species of peony is native to China. Its flowers are very large compared to most other common plants.
– Various cultivars: enormous white, lilac, red, yellow, red blossoms
• Paeonia delavayi: Also known as the Yunnan Peony, this cultivar is quite rare. A low woody shrub, sometimes called Delavay’s tree peony, it is prized for its light green leaves and beautiful maroon blossoms.
• Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii: This rare peony species is also known as the Tibetan Wild Peony. It forms a large woody shrub over time, with tan stems. The flowers are a rich yellow, with deeper golden stamens. The foliage develops with pink leaf stems and this cultivar displays great fall color.
What are your favorite peony cultivars? How do these plants perform in your garden? Share with us in the comments.