HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 7
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Near neutral
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Well-drained, average
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun, afternoon shade
ATTRIBUTES: Large flowers, neat mounding foliage; for beds, seasonal hedges
SEASON OF INTEREST: Blooms spring to early summer
FAVORITES: White 'Festiva Maxima', pink 'Sarah Bernhardt', red 'Felix Crousse'
QUIRKS: Plants need a period of winter chilling in order to produce Rower buds
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Astilbe, clematis, dianthus, iris, ornamental grasses, poppies, roses
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun to partial shade; well-drained, organic soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Heavy flowers can bend stems to the ground
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives for decades; rarely needed, but crowded plants can be divided
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: Plants 2-3 ft (0.6-1 m) tall and equally wide; flowers 4-10 in (10 2-25.4 cm) in diameter
Peony in the Landscape
No other perennial welcomes spring as sensationally as peonies do. These long-lived, care-free plants emerge from dormancy in late winter, and by spring their reddish spears grow rapidly into shrub-sized mounds of deep green foliage. Their buttonlike buds are deceptively small at first but soon swell and burst into single, semi-double, or double flowers up to 10 in (25.4 cm) in diameter, which remain in glory for a couple of weeks. During that time, peonies make impressive cut flowers, lasting 10 days in a vase if gathered while still in bud. After the flowers pass, the glossy, lobed leaves remains an asset all season.
Peonies can be interspersed among fellow perennials, such as iris and dianthus in a flower bed, and they also mesh well with roses, vines, and ornamental grasses. When grouped by themselves, they make a strong statement flanking a doorway, anchoring the foundation of a house, or forming a seasonal hedge.
A Garden Classic
Many of the most popular peonies grown today are old hybrids of Paeonia lactiflora, the Chinese peony.These fragrant, time-honored favorites bloom in white, pink, and red; some have cupped petals around fluffy golden centers, while others form pompons of ruffled petals. The finest white is 'Festiva Maxima', which issues globes of snowy petals streaked subtly with scarlet on the inside. 'Sarah Bernhardt' is a prized pink, with fluttery petals the color of apple blossoms, while
Planting and Growing Peony
Plant peonies in early fall so that the roots become established and the plants experience the period of cold essential for blooming in spring. Peonies often flourish for 75 years or more when grown in a hospitable site, and resent disturbance once they've found a home, so place them carefully. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained but moisture-retentive organic soil.
Proper planting depth is crucial: If peonies are planted too deep, they will grow but not bloom. In cold-winter climates, place the plant so that the dormant growing points, or "eyes," of the thick, tuberous roots are buried beneath 2 in (5.1 cm) of soil. However, in mild-winter areas, plant so that the eyes are barely covered with soil. When planting peonies in groups, space them 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) apart. Surround plants in spring with commercial wire peony hoops to support the flowers, which can weigh down the stems.
Peonies are untroubled by pests. The ants that often crawl over the blossoms do no harm; just shake them
off before bringing cut flowers into the house. Peonies can, however, contract the fungal disease botrytis. which browns buds and spots leaves. Spray plants with a copper-based fungicide as directed on the label before buds open. After a hard frost, cut foliage to the ground and dispose of it to get rid of fungal spores.