Peonies are stunningly beautiful, and many of us would love to grow them. Past experiences or stories of failures have us intimated and feeling like we cannot grow peonies. 

Peonies are not necessarily more difficult to grow, but they do require specific conditions to thrive and bloom. Like tulips, peonies need cold soil temperatures during the winter to bloom, some needing more than others.  Here we need to do our homework to know what varieties will perform well here in the South. With this in mind planting peonies along the foundation of our house can be problematic since heat from our home can warm the nearby soil.

Additionally, peonies require at least 5 hours of direct sunlight to flower.  Lots of morning sun and dappled afternoon sun is ideal.  Not being quite as adaptable to soil conditions as some other perennials, we want to make sure our peonies are planted in a fairly well draining soil.  Dig a significant size hole and amend the soil well with compost or Mr. Natural’s Complete Landscape Mix.

Most peonies are herbaceous meaning they die back to the ground each fall, and then come to life again in the spring.  They usually have lush green foliage, and bloom prolifically.  Often due to the abundance of blooms these peonies require staking or cages to hold them upright.

Tree peonies are small shrubs having woody stems. Their blooms are often larger reaching 8” or more in diameter, and do not require staking. 

Itoh (intersectional) peonies are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies. Combing characteristics of both, Itohs bloom prolifically with large blooms like the tree peonies.  They too seldom need staking.

With some forethought we can extend the bloom season of our peony garden by combining early, mid and late season flowering varieties. (See chart below).  If you are looking for inspiration, or are imagining a small spring-blooming garden for your peonies here are some companion plants to consider. Lilacs, japanese iris, dianthus, shasta daisies, blue salvias and gardenias.  Let’s set aside our intimidations this spring and give peonies a try.


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