Flower Facts // Peonies
Welcome Back Ladies & Gents!
It’s been a minute since my last post, but I’ve got lots of exciting content coming your way, starting with this post dedicated exclusively to everything you could possibly need to know about peonies. I’m hoping this will be the first in a bi-weekly or monthly series where we discuss a specific flower in each post. So, if there are any flowers that you guys are particularly interested in, let me know and I’ll get on it!
I wanted to start this series with peonies because not only are they absolutely beautiful, they are a flower that is currently in season and blooming around the city.
Just for interest’s sake, the Latin name of flowers in the peony genus is Paeonia. Coming from a biology and botany background, I like knowing the binomial Latin names!
Peonies can be divided into two different groups: herbaceous (Paeonia lactiflora) and tree (Paeonia suffruticosa) varieties. Herbaceous peonies are your typical garden variety peony; you probably have a couple bushes growing in your garden. They have glossy, dark green leaves that disappear with the first harsh frost and go dormant for the winter. Tree peonies are a shrub with woody stems that lose their leaves for the winter and produce new growth from buds on those stems come spring time. Tree peonies are also known to have massive flowers. There is also a variety of peonies called Itoh Hybrids, which are a cross between a tree and an herbaceous peony.
Peonies come in a variety of shades of white, cream, yellow, pink, peach and red. They can have multiple forms as well, ranging from a simple single form to double forms (known as bomb type) or an anemone-like form. Peonies also have a sweet fragrance that is similar to, but much more delicate than, lily-of-the-valley, and the strength of the scent varies with the variety.
In the Garden
If you’re planning on planting some peonies, they can be purchased as potted plants and planted in the spring, but you’ll get better results from bare-root stocks that are dug and shipped while dormant in the fall. Bare-root stocks should be planted as soon as you receive them in the mail, so they can start to get established before the ground freezes for the winter.
Peonies should be planted in an area with lots of sun, they need at least 6 hours of bright sunlight a day. While they prefer full sun, they will still grow in part sun or partial shade, but it will take longer for your plants to bloom and you may not get as high of a yield. Good drainage is another thing to keep in mind when deciding where to plant your new peonies: Standing water can cause root rot and disease. Peonies are especially susceptible to these issues.
Peonies are very hardy, long-lived perennials and will produce more and more flower stems each year. However, it can take three years for new plants to start flowering for the first time. Even if your new plants start to flower prior to the three-year mark, it is recommended that you wait to harvest from young plants until they are three years old to keep from stunting their future growth. Once they get to the flowering stage though, they need very little attention.
One thing you will have to do once your new peonies start to bloom and get bigger is stake them. Peonies have been traditionally bred to have bigger flowers making them very top heavy. Putting peony stakes or rings around your plants will prevent them from getting flattened after heavy rain storms.
When you finally get to harvest your new plants, make sure to leave about a third of the leaves on the stem to allow photosynthesis to feed the roots for the next year’s flowers.
From the Florist
Maybe you don’t have to space to plant oodles of peonies but still want to be able to enjoy these beauties at home. There are a few things to look for when purchasing your peonies from your local flower shop. If they’ll let you, give the buds a little squeeze; you want to look for buds that are in the “soft marshmallow stage”. The buds should be soft and slightly squishy like a fresh marshmallow. If the buds are too tight or hard, they won’t open as nicely. Buds that are in full bloom are good picks as well, they just won’t last as long since you don’t get to watch them open up.
After you have harvested your peonies or gotten them home from the flower shop, strip the bottom leaves and cut the stems at a sharp angle so your peonies can take up lots of water. Condition your flowers in warm water overnight to encourage the blooms to open. Make sure you keep an eye on the water level in your vase – peonies are thirsty flowers and will likely need a top up every day.
From bud to bloom, your peonies should be looking beautiful for over a week!
** All of the information and photos in the gallery above were sourced from this website.
*** All of the relevant information in this post was sourced from the books: Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai & The Flower Book by Rachel Siegfried