Peonies are a hardy, well-loved perennial plant with dark green leaves and big blossoms. While they come in many different colors, pink are a special favorite, ranging from the palest of pinks to the brightest. Peonies are prized for their fragrant, large blossoms and because they are easy to maintain. Once you plant a peony, you will enjoy it for years to come--they can live to be 50 years old or more
The botanical name for the herbaceous peony is Paeonia lactiflor. Herbaceous peonies grow to be 2 to 4 feet tall; the blossoms can be up to 6 inches wide. Peonies can have one of five types of flower: single, Japanese, anemone, semi-double and double. Paeonia suffruticosa is the botanical name for the tree peony. Tree peonies grow to be about 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Some peonies are so pale, they look almost white, but when you look closely, you notice a blush of pink. Other peonies are light pink, while still others are blue-pink. The brightest pink peonies are a deep maroon color.
Peonies are known to have grown in Asia more than 2,500 years ago, according to Purdue University. They were first brought to the United States in the early 1800s. In Luoyang, China, where the peony has been cultivated for centuries, the peony was named the city flower in 1982. And Indiana named the peony its state flower in 1957.
Peonies need six to eight hours of sunshine daily to produce flowers. It's important to prepare the soil carefully before planting a peony bush. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service recommends you prepare the soil in the spring and allow it to settle until fall, which is when peonies should be planted. To prepare the soil for planting, dig down 1 to 3 feet deep and mix in organic material such as peat, manure or compost. The uppermost "eyes," or small, pink bullet-shaped nodes, should be 1 to 2 inches below the topsoil. Water peonies thoroughly after planting.
While peonies are a low-maintenance plant, they do have certain requirements. Peonies need to be fertilized in the spring with a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 (equal parts nitrogen, potassium and potash), and then watered thoroughly to help the plant absorb the fertilizer. The foliage should be left standing until late September or October because the plant needs its greenery to make food. For the peony's first few winters, mulching protects against overexposure to cold temperatures. Peonies do not produce many flowers the first spring after planting.
While peonies are hardy plants, they are susceptible to several diseases. Botrytis blight, caused by a fungus, can appear in during cool, wet summers. Black soft buds and soft tissue under the bud are a sign of this blight. Even more serious is the Phytophthora blight. Signs of this disease are black leathery spots on the bud, along with stems that dry up and turn brown, or plants that rot from the ground up. To deal with these blights, remove the diseased leaves and then cut the plant to the ground and destroy the foliage after the first frost.