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Peonies 101

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2010

While the beauty and elegance of peonies could seem intimidating to a novice gardener, caring for them is much simpler than you might think.

"Peonies are easy!" says Kathleen Gagan, owner of Peony's Envy in Bernardsville, New Jersey. "They're disease-resistant, so they don't need pesticides, and once established, they don't need a lot of water.

The key is patience -- peonies can take a few years to settle in once planted, but they'll live for hundreds of years. Think of it as a long-term relationship.

Growing Tips
Peonies grow from zones 3 to 8, and while herbaceous peonies crave lots of sunshine, tree peonies like dappled shade. The best time to plant is generally the first week of April.

When selecting herbaceous peony roots to plant, look for healthy, fleshy firm roots (like firm carrots) and abundant eyes. As you plant, it's important to position the eyes of the root at the right depth. This varies by zone -- in general you'll want the eyes closer to the surface the warmer your climate.

Tree peonies are difficult to find, but if you can get them they're worth the investment. To plant, find where the root and stem meet, and plant 1 inch deeper. The trees can grow 7 to 8 feet tall over their lifetime -- and keep in mind that they can live hundreds of years!

Refrigerator Storage
Peonies make great cut flowers, and they're easy to store in your fridge for later use. Simply cut them before they're open, when they're tight and still hard like marbles. Then, wrap them in newspaper, place rubber bands on the ends, and store them on their sides in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can store them upright in flower sleeves and a little bit of water.

Peony Forms
Peonies come in eight forms, or shapes. No matter your growing environment or flower preference, there is a peony to suit any style.

Anemone

This early-blooming peony makes a great garden plant. It's low-growing -- around 2 inches tall -- and usually doesn't require staking.

Single

Revered for their prolific blooming, these peonies look like big daisies. They do well with a bit of shade in the afternoon to protect the flowers from the heat of the midday sun. Singles are a lighter flower form, so they usually don't need staking.

Lotus

This is another heavy-blooming plant. Its flowers feature two or three layers of guard petals and need to be protected from the hot afternoon sun. There is no need to stake the plants.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums are many-petaled flowers, with 5-10 layers of guard petals that get smaller as they approach the center. They prefer full sunshine.

Rose

Rose peonies feature a strong rose-like scent and lots of petals. Their petals are larger near the outside of the flower. These blooms are beautiful as cut flowers.

Golden Circle

This striking variety is Martha's favorite peony form. They have big, full flowers with wonderful blooms.

Crown

With their large, wide outer guard petals and tight, curly center petals, these peonies are shaped like ice cream scoops. When fully open, the guard petals fold all the way back and the flowers look like big balls in the garden.

Hundred Proliferate

These flowers contain the most petals out of any peony form -- at least 100 each. They are so full that you can hardly see the distinction between guard petals and center petals. They're widely known as the best form for cut flowers

Resources
Individual peony photos courtesy of Peony's Envy.

Comments (6)

  • kargrego 28 May, 2010

    I thought on the show this morning Kathleen said "Freezer" ..... so maybe both freezer and fridge work for this?
    I believe to move a peony would be best done in the Fall.

  • tnnanajudy 2 May, 2010

    I thought my Mom would , cut stems and dip in wax and then into a plastic bag in to the freezer to save for memorial day . Is this not right? Thank you tnnanajudy

  • frenchpress 25 Apr, 2010

    If I need to replant a peony, what is the best time of year to do so? Fall?

  • dabwly 23 Mar, 2010

    Will my tree peonies grow back if it had broken close to the ground? And say the husband cut it off? I have 3. First year the neighbor mowed them, 2nd year tree but no flowers, last year beautiful blooms, and then they were accidently broken off. Thanks!

  • dabwly 23 Mar, 2010

    Will my tree peonies grow back if it had broken close to the ground? And say the husband cut it off? I have 3. First year the neighbor mowed them, 2nd year tree but no flowers, last year beautiful blooms, and then they were accidently broken off. Thanks!

  • beamingforpeonies 17 Mar, 2010

    What happened to this part of your show in Alaska ? We missed it.