Tree Peonies

Jun 3, 2017 | Love This!

Imagine: 

The early morning sun streamed into Karla’s yard as she stood with her morning coffee, contemplating the space around the patio. She wanted something in that bed that would celebrate her mother’s birthday every year.

“Mom was exuberant…maybe even a bit outrageous.” Karla thought. “She loved being the center of attention. She was very tall but still loved wearing high heels. Nothing pleased her more than wearing a pink ruffled dress or blouse, bright lipstick and large gold earrings.”

What May flowering plant would grow in a part-shade location and have the same excessive, lively spirit that her mother had?

Suddenly the perfect plant came to mind: tree peonies.

Name: Paeonia suffruticosa aka the tree peony

Type of Plant:  A slow growing shrub peony that grows best in part-sun or part shade. That’s right – a peony that does best in 3 to 4 hours of sun instead of the common peony’s requirement of 5 plus hours of dead-on sunlight.

In most parts of the Northeast these grow 4 to 6 feet tall and almost as wide. In other areas they can reach up to 10 feet tall.

We’re all very, very familiar with the herbaceous peony…a garden standard for years. But beyond this favorite perennial, there are other peonies – woodland peonies, and tree peonies, that also deserve attention. Today, we’re focusing on the tree peony, a plant that blooms before other peonies flower. This peony is a shrub that doesn’t die to the ground in the winter, but comes back from the old stalks to produce foliage and flowers the next year.

Why I love this: Three peony flowers are HUGE and outrageous. They come in assorted colors, from white to pink to burgundy and yellow. I also love the fact that tree peonies do best in part-shade! So those who have dappled sunlight, or early morning sunshine can enjoy these flowers.

I also love the fact that these flowers last for several days when cut. So even though they bloom early when we might not be outside to appreciate them for hours on end, we can pick them and have their beauty in a bottle or vase even if it’s damp and cool outdoors.

A Word to the Wise: Tree peonies aren’t fragrant, so be sure to continue to grow the garden peony for the perfume we all know and love.

While the word is out not to plant herbaceous garden peonies too deeply, tree peonies are just the opposite. The cultivars are often grafted onto other root stock and so planting them deeper, so that the graft is buried, encourages roots to form on the cultivar stem as well as the grafted stock. You want the graft to be a couple of inches below the soil surface.

The only pruning you’ll do on tree peonies is to remove deadwood and look for crossed, rubbing branches (removing one).  Mulch around plants to keep weeds away, amend soil from the top down, and keep soil evenly moist.

We inherited our tree peonies from my brother-in-law, so I don’t know which named cultivars we have. This almost-pink variety is one of my favorites, however.

These flowers last a few days when picked and put in a vase. So if the spring weather is going to be wet and cold, bring a piece of sunshine inside.

2 Comments

  1. Susan

    Hi C.L..!
    Looking for pruning info for tree peonies and saw your web site. Hope you, family and garden are healthy.
    Susan Manchester

    Reply
    • CL Fornari

      Susan – tree peonies get pruned like other shrubs: first remove deadwood, then look for any stems/branches that cross and remove one of them. Finally take off any stems that move into the center of the plant instead of away from the center. Then you’re done. Do this right after they flower for the least impact on next year’s blooming.

      Reply

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