Peonies are perennial flowers that, once established, will beautify your garden for years to come. Gardeners and non-gardeners alike value peonies for their large, extremely fragrant blooms. Peonies come in several varieties and colors and need minimal care. These flowers tend not to like hot summers but can tolerate cold winter conditions.
Peonies are native to Asia and came to the Western world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Peonies have been used as both an ornamental and medicinal plant. In China, the peony is known as the "king of flowers," likely because these flowers can grow for decades in the same place.
There are two types of peonies: garden or herbaceous, and tree. The garden variety can grow up to 4 feet tall and lives best in USDA zones 3 through 8. The tree variety of peony can grow up to 6 feet tall and has a woody, tree-like stem. The tree peony is hardy in the same USDA zones as the garden peony, but it may need extra care to make it through particularly cold winters. Common peony colors are red, white, pink and yellow. Peonies are grouped by the shape of their bloom, from single to double blooms. Some of the most common varieties include 'Sarah Bernhardt' and 'Satin Rouge.'
Peonies like full sun and well-drained soil. In areas with particularly hot summers, peonies might benefit from being sheltered by partial shade. Peonies are grown by their root, as opposed to from a seed or a bulb. Peony root balls are best planted in fall. Although the tops of peonies die off in cold winters, the roots and ball continue to live. Once established, peonies will thrive for years. However, it may take a few growing seasons for a peony bush to fully flower.
Stake peonies to keep them from toppling. They also need fertilizing each spring with compost, and regular weeding and mulching. Coverage with a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch the first year of planting, and then a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch in the following winters will help protect the roots.
Peonies make a fragrant and showy addition to any bouquet. Cut peonies about 12 inches from the bloom right before the flower is set to open. Cut only about one-third of the flowers to keep the peony healthy.