Peonies In My Garden

Ilona Erwin

Paeonia Are Fragrant and Longlived

peony in bud

Peony bud

I grow the herbaceous type of peony, both the types with single and double blooms. I love their fragrance and the delicate satin texture of their petals. They have good looking foliage on round bush-like plants, and for lots of people they say “Spring has truly arrived”. Their blooms are so full and opulent, alone in a vase they are magnificent, mixed with other flowers they hold center stage. They are definitely one of the divas of the garden.

Peonies are a mainstay in the flower border, but used in other ways in landscapes, too. They make neat looking, if seasonal, hedges; accents at doorways or gates; are useful for cut flowers from the cutting garden.

How To Plant Peonies

…and Feed Them

We usually think of peonies during their bloom season, which is late May and early June, but the late summer/early autumn is the proper time to plant them and (if you absolutely have to) divide the and move them.

How To Transplant Peonies

It is important to prepare the soil well for your peony bed– which might stay in the same place and bloom for longer than you! Dig down a depth of about a foot and a half, mix in plenty of leaf mold or compost, along with a trowel of bone meal or superphosphate for each plant. Add some to the general area around each plant, too. Eventual roots will reach into their full grown span, at least 3 feet in diameter.

Peonies like to eat, so feed them well.

A bit of wood ash in the vicinity doesn’t hurt either- they don’t like things too far into pH acid balance. A few peony pointers: plant with “eyes” pointing up, and don’t cover too deeply- two inches should about do it- protect during their first year, but don’t smother them. Keep new plantings moist- as with all freshly transplanted plants.

Peonies like and need sunshine, aren’t fond of competition for food and moisture, so are not good in places where tree roots encroach.

Peonies In The Garden

peonies with Hansa rose

Bowl of Beauty Peony, Hansa Rose, and Dames Rocket

They are important plants in the perennial borders during the early summer, and are friends with German irises and roses, which have similar growing needs and were found in Grandmother’s garden borders. In fact, pioneers often took their peony roots west with them. It was a touch of home.

Mary Dodge Woodward of North Dakota, wrote lovingly in her diary in 1888, “My red, old-fashioned peonies have stuck their pink noses out of the ground. I covered them up last night. I have watched them ever since I was a little girl: in Vermont, in Wisconsin, and now in Dakota Territory where they still thrive. Anything that can live in this cold country should be reverenced. The rose-colored one and the white one are not up yet. I shall see them later” -from some fascinating history of Midwestern women.

My own peonies are “Fairies Petticoat“, “White Wings“, the old “Festiva Maxima“, one given me that might be “Kansas” or something similar, “Pillow Talk”, and ‘Bowl of Beauty’, pictured above.

Peonies don’t come in a wide range of colors, and have two types commonly found in the garden, and five bloom forms (Double, Double ‘Bomb’, Semi-double, Single, and Japanese). Their color ranges from a very deep, bright pink, to pinks of subtle tints to white. Occasionally there are deep red shades.

They should be a centerpiece of an All Pink Garden.

The two types of peonies usually grown are the “herbaceous” and the “tree” peonies. Read more about the taxonomy of Paeonia.

The herbaceous peonies, whose foliage dies to the ground each fall are the ones I have always been most familiar with, both as a gardener and growing up. It seemed like every old fashioned garden had at least one peony to bloom each spring. They were always the fully double types that, laden with raindrops, would bow to the ground.


last sunray
a single white peony
lights the dark
~White Crow Haiku

As a child, one would be fascinated by the busy ants that invariably would congregate on the buds. Ants aren’t a problem, they are merely attracted to the buds of certain varieties.

They are hardy from USDA Zones 2 through 7 or 8.

Be sure to clear away leaves after the killing frosts, since they can harbor disease. The plants are very cold hardy and don’t need mulching or the cover of leaves.


Growing Peonies

Previously published in Ilona’s Garden Journal.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.