Quick facts and care essentials
• Zones 1-11, 14-16, 32-45
• Full sun; partial shade in hot-summer climates
• Regular watering
Peony flowers are exquisite: large, showy, silky, single or double, available in colors ranging from white and pale cream through pink, red, and even pure yellow. Individual blossoms are as large as 6 to 8 inches across; many are fragrant. Bloom time comes from late spring to early summer; for the longest display, plant varieties with early, midseason, and late bloom. The plant itself is a shrubby, 2- to 4-foot clump of lush dark green foliage, with each 8- to 10-inch leaf divided into elliptical leaflets. In many areas, leaves turn golden yellow in autumn before the plants die back.
The bush-form ("herbaceous") peonies just described are all cultivars of P. lactiflora; hundreds are available. Most need winter chill to bloom well. In milder climates, gardeners will usually have better luck with the Japanese cultivars, a popular group that blooms successfully in warm-winter areas.
Peonies are extremely long lived: choose a permanent site where they won't have to compete with other plants, and you'll be rewarded with years of bloom. Give rich, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil. Plant the tubers in fall, setting them 2 inches deep in the coldest zones, 1 inch deep in warmer areas (don't plant too deeply; if you do, the peonies won't bloom). Mulch the planting area the first year after the ground has frozen. Plants may not bloom the first year.