Peonies are beautiful puffy flowers that look great growing in the garden but are also perfect in a springtime bouquet. With enough space, they’re surprisingly easy to grow, and doing so will reward you with years worth of flowers to brighten up your home. Here are some tips on peony care - both in the garden and in the vase.
A Brief History of the Peony
Peonies are native to Europe, Asia, and North-West America and there are currently around 30 known varieties. These range from bushes to trees or ones known as Itoh, which are a combination of both.
Bush peonies (also known as herbaceous) usually grow up to 1 metre tall and 1 metre wide. Tree peonies can reach more than 2 metres tall with a spread of around 1.5 metres. Itoh peonies are similar in size to herbaceous peonies but follow the growth pattern of tree peonies.
Peonies are perennial but herbaceous and Itoh peonies die back every year. That said, they can grow and flower in the same place for more than 50 years! Tree peonies, like other trees, don’t die back and can grow up to 15cm a year.
Peonies have various kinds of flowers ranging from a single ring of petals to multiple layers. Tree peonies have much larger flowers and their foliage is a deeper green. Flower colours include white, yellow, coral, red, and maroon, but can change daily as the blooms open.
Peonies in Flower Language
Peonies have different meanings depending on where in the world you live. In the West, for example, peonies symbolise bashfulness, and the Victorians even believed that if you left dying flowers on the bush you’d be cursed with bad luck.
In China and Japan, however, peonies symbolise everything from wealth and prosperity to bravery and honour. Peonies are popular during Chinese New Year, and for a long time were only used by Emperors.
The modern symbolism of peonies revolves around good luck, love, honour, and passion. Pink peonies are common in wedding bouquets because they symbolise good luck, while red peonies stand for passion and respect. Whichever colour you choose, you can be sure they’ll be looked upon positively!
Peony Care Tips
Generally speaking, peonies are fairly hardy and resilient plants that require minimal care. But if you want to do as little as possible, herbaceous peonies would be the better choice because you never even need to prune them.
Regardless of the type you choose, here are some peony care tips:
Plant bare-root peonies in the autumn before the first frost (make sure not to plant too deep).
Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with their eyes (next year’s buds) facing up.
Plant somewhere that gets 5-6 hours of full sun, ideally with some shade in the afternoon.
Peonies have deep root systems so will do much better planted away from other big plants that will compete for space and nutrients.
Mix in lots of well-rotted compost when first planting.
Tree peonies need to be pruned annually after their fifth year to keep them healthy.
Herbaceous and Itoh peonies should be cut back at the end of each season.
Be sure to give the plant plenty of support because the blooms are heavy.
Only water if you go more than two weeks without rain.
Care After Cutting
Caring for cut peonies is easy, and with the following tips they’ll last more than two weeks in a vase.
Remove any leaves that will sit below the surface of the water.
Add a small amount of all-purpose plant food to the water.
Change the water every 3-4 days.
If cutting your own peonies, do so before the blooms open. This way, you’ll get more from them.
The right time is known as the marshmallow stage. The blooms have some colour, aren’t open, and are soft and squishy like a marshmallow.
Keep the vase away from bright sunlight because this will make the flowers wilt.
Ideally, cut flowers in the morning when they’re full of moisture.
Final Words: Picking the Right Peonies
One of the best things about peonies is that you have quite a range of choice. Having either trees or herbaceous plants gives you scope for adding variety to your garden. Providing you follow the tips above, whichever you choose will look great both outdoors and in your home!