The genus peony (Paeonia) comprises shrubs, half shrubs and bushes. The perennial and shrub peonies, sometimes also called tree peonies, are of comparable importance in garden culture. the formerly to the Hahnenfußgewächsen (Ranunculaceae) counting type forms an independent plant-family, the peonies (Paeoniaceae), today. There are 32 species worldwide, all but two of which originate from Europe and Asia and are native to the west coast of North America. Peonies have long been cultivated as garden plants. The most important European species is the common or peasant peony (Paeonia officinalis) native to southern European mountain regions, while in China the tree peonies (Paeonia Suffruticosa hybrids) and noble peonies (Paeonia Lactiflora hybrids) have shaped garden culture for 2000 years. Their species originate from the mountain forests there and partly also from steppe regions of the temperate and subtropical climate zones.
The plants are named after the Greek physician Paian. According to legend, he healed the wounds of the god Pluton, which Heracles had inflicted on him in the battle for the city of Pylos, with the help of the peony. The common peony used to be of great importance as a medicinal plant. Although it is slightly toxic in all parts of the plant, it was used, among other things, to treat gout. Since its medical effectiveness could not be proven, it has no more meaning in the today’s medicine.
Perennial peonies grow horstily upright and, depending on the species and variety, become maximum knee high. They form tuberous storage roots with overwintering buds just below the surface.
Shrub peonies form conspicuously thick and slightly branched, upright shrubs. The largest varieties mostly originate from the group of so-called Rockii hybrids. They can be over two metres high and almost twice as wide in age. The plants grow quite slowly and have remarkably large buds, which sprout very early in the year.
The so-called intersectional hybrids, also called Itoh hybrids, are still a rather young group of peony varieties. It is a cross between shrub and pangled peonies. They have herbaceous shoots, but grow stronger than the Lactiflora hybrids and have larger flowers.
In the perennial peonies, the flowers sit on quite strong stems, which are occupied up to the top with unpaarig feathered, often quite coarse alternate leaves. The young shoots in spring are usually dark red in colour.
The leaves of the shrub peonies are alternate, mostly double pinnate and light green to blue-green.
Perennial peonies bloom about one month before the real roses, so depending on the weather they usually bloom from the end of April, beginning of May. The flower colours cover the entire spectrum from white to yellow and light pink to dark red and the shapes vary from simply bowl-shaped to densely filled. In some varieties the stamens are also transformed into short petals, giving the flowers an anemone-like appearance.
Peonies are available with both filled (left) and unfilled flowers (right).
The flowers of the shrub peonies usually appear from mid-May and are considerably larger than those of the perennial peonies: diameters of over 25 centimetres are not uncommon in Rockii hybrids.
After flowering, peonies form conspicuous, partly felt-hairy bellows fruits in which the seeds hide. These can grow to over one centimeter.
Location and soil
In contrast to most other garden plants, peonies prefer mineral soils with little humus. They like to grow on slightly heavier, loamy and evenly moist, permeable substrates, but are quite adaptable, provided the soil is not too dry. The location should be full sun to half shade. However, most species do not tolerate strong root pressure from large shrubs.
Use of the
The common peony is one of the oldest garden plants in Europe and has been an integral part of farm and monastery gardens for centuries. Even their stuffed varieties with pink or dark red flowers are very old. The Lactiflora hybrids, which have also been known from Asia for several centuries, are ideal for sunny and semi-shade shrub beds. A classic combination frequently planted in English cottage gardens are perennial peonies, gorgeous cranesbill (Geranium x magnificum) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis).
The peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) comes from the Asian steppe and therefore feels very comfortable even in full sunny, rather dry locations in the rock garden. Shrub peonies are best planted individually in the front garden or in the bed. If you have enough space, you can also plant group plants. Particularly magnificent shrub peonies can be admired in the Arboretum Ellerhoop in Schleswig-Holstein. The plants are effectively staged in an artificially created hilly landscape. Shrub peonies can also be well integrated into Japanese gardens. Suitable partners are for example the fan maple (Acer palmatum) and Funkien (Hosta), as background a bamboo grove offers itself.
There is an important basic rule for planting: Pentecostal thrushes should be planted flat, pentecostal thrushes should be planted deep. The reason: Perennial peonies often only form leaves and no flowers if they are too deep in the soil. Shrub peonies are grafted onto root pieces of the perennial peonies and must be planted deep enough so that the grafted area is approximately three fingers wide under the ground. It is important that the scion forms its own roots, as it cannot form a permanent bond with the psyllium and thus sooner or later begins to take care of itself. It is also important that you lose weight in humus-rich soils with plenty of sand or clay granulate. In the case of shrub peonies, do not choose an excessively sheltered, warm location. The bushes otherwise sprout very early and are then endangered by late frost.
Well-rooted shrub peonies also tolerate stronger pruning measures into the old wood, but this is usually not necessary. Even without regular pruning, the shrubs form a balanced crown with many flowers. In addition, shrub peonies are very long-lived: from China are over 100 years old specimens known. You can remove the old stalks of perennial peonies in late winter.
Perennial peonies are also long-lived and do not age. Therefore, the plants do not have to be rejuvenated by division. If they are simply allowed to grow, they become more magnificent from year to year. However, if you want to transplant a perennial peony, it is very important that you share the perennial. Undivided specimens do not grow well at the new location and sometimes spend years looking after them.
Further care tips
Shrub peonies are prone to breakage in snowy winters. As a precaution, you should therefore loosely tie the somewhat brittle, brittle shoots together with a rope in autumn. So they can support each other. A nitrogen-emphasised fertilisation is not good for peonies, which then often become susceptible to fungal diseases. A potassium and phosphate based fertilizer of organic origin (no compost!) administered in early spring promotes vitality and bud growth for the coming year.
In this video we show you how to fertilize peonies correctly. Credit: our store
Perennial peonies can be multiplied by division. The various varieties of shrub peonies are grafted onto root pieces of the shrubs in spring and then potted. This so-called nurse grafting usually takes place by so-called grafting into the gap and ensures the survival of the scion until it has formed its own roots.
Diseases and pests
On soil rich in humus, peonies often suffer from grey mould and various leaf spot diseases can also occur. Occasionally, nematode-induced caring growth may also occur if a freshly split peony has been planted in the same place again. This phenomenon is also known as ground fatigue. If your peony, which is about to flower, is populated by numerous ants, this is no cause for concern: the insects are only interested in the sugar juice, which the plants often produce in such large quantities that the buds stick.
Peonies in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.