Peonies are a short-blooming perennial that can add a great diversity of color and blooms to your landscape. Peonies have been grown for over 2,000 years and a single plant can last up to 100 years. There are four types of peonies: woodland, tree, herbaceous and intersectional (a hybrid between tree and herbaceous).
The more traditional peony seen in home gardens is the herbaceous. Herbaceous peonies bloom for about 7 to 10 days in the spring to early summer. Once done blooming, the foliage remains throughout the summer
Herbaceous peonies die back to the ground in the winter and each spring produce new shoots. They can be grown through numerous climate zones and do best in zones 4, 5 and 6. However, with careful selection of site and type, peonies can be grown successfully in the our hardiness plant zone, which is 7b.
The key to getting peonies to bloom in our area is to select a variety that is an early bloomer. Early bloomers are a good choice because they will bloom before it gets too hot. One suggestion is to look at when the plant was hybridized – there is more experience and success with older varieties.
Peonies have three general flower types. Singles have a single row of petals around a central cluster of stamens, similar to a daisy. Double peonies or bomb peonies have many rows of petals like a rose. The semi-double falls in between singles and doubles. For our area, the singles and semi-doubles are the best bet for successful blooms. According to Bill Funkhouser, assistant director of horticulture at Wayside Gardens in South Carolina, singles that do well in the south include Krinkled White, Scarlet O’Hara and America. Semi-doubles that grow well include the Pink Hawaiian Coral and Fairy’s Petticoat.
Peonies don’t like to be transplanted once they are planted so pick the location carefully. Peonies need at least five hours of sun a day and need well-drained soil. In the South, peonies will bloom longer and be more robust if they receive some shade during the hottest part of the day. Good air circulation is also need for this plant to thrive and prevent fungal disease,such as botrytis.
Planting is best done in the fall. Dig the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches; make the hole as wide as the depth. Peonies grow about 2 ½ feet tall and need 4 feet between plants. In the bottom of the hole place compost or manure then cover with soil; add bonemeal and then additional soil, packing it down to a cone shape. Place the peony root on top of the packed down soil. The depth of the eyes is critical, only one inch below the surface. A new planting will need a good soaking every two to three weeks. The soil needs to dry out between watering otherwise root rot can occur.
Your peony will take about three years to fully establish. During the first year the roots are established, the second year shoots and the third year blooms. After this they are fairly maintenance free, an occasional side dressing of compost and bonemeal in the fall will keep them healthy. If the blooms are too floppy in the spring, cages can be set up when the shoots start up.