Peony, peony

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The genus of peonies (Paeonia) includes perennials, shrubs and shrubs. The perennial and shrub peonies, sometimes called tree peonies, have a comparably great importance in gardening. The formerly belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) genus today forms its own plant family, the peony family (Paeoniaceae). There are 32 species worldwide, all of which come from Europe and Asia, with the exception of two on the west coast of North America. As garden plants, peonies have been in cultivation for a very long time. The most important European species is the common or farmer's peony (Paeonia officinalis) native to southern European mountain regions, while in China the tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa hybrids) and precious peonies (Paeonia lactiflora hybrids) have shaped garden culture for 2000 years. Their origin comes from the local mountain forests and partly from steppe regions of the temperate and subtropical climatic zone.

Incidentally, the plants are named after the Greek goddess Paian. According to legend, he used the peony to heal the wounds of the god Pluton, whom Herakles had inflicted on him in the battle for the city of Pylos. The common peony used to be very important as a medicinal plant. Although it is slightly toxic in all parts of the plant, but was used among other things for the treatment of gout. Since their medical efficacy could not be proven, it has no meaning in today's medicine.


Perennial peonies grow horstig-upright and become knee-high depending on the species and variety. They form bulbous storage roots with wintering buds just below the surface.

sprouting peonies

In spring, perennial peonies emerge from bulbous roots

Shrub peonies form strikingly stout and slightly branched, upright shrubs. The largest varieties are usually from the group of so-called Rockii hybrids. They can be over two meters high and almost twice as wide in old age. The plants grow very slowly and have strikingly large buds, which drive out very early in the year.
A still quite young variety group of the Peonies are the so-called Intersectional Hybrids, also called Itoh hybrids. It is a cross between perennial and shrub peonies. They have herbaceous shoots, but grow stronger than the Lactiflora hybrids and have larger flowers.

Peony: Intersectional hybrids

The Intersectional Hybrids are a cross between perennial and shrub peonies


In the perennial peonies, the flowers are on quite strong stems, which are occupied up to unpaired with feathered, often quite tough alternate leaves. The young budding in the spring is usually marked dark red.

sprouting peonies

In spring, peonies are easily recognized by their mostly distinctive dark red shoot

The leaves of the shrub peonies are alternate, usually double pinnate and pale green to blue-green.


Perennial peonies bloom about a month before the real roses, so depending on the weather usually from late April, early May. The flower colors cover the entire spectrum from white to yellow and light pink to dark red and the shapes vary from simply cupped to densely filled. In some varieties, the stamens are converted into short petals, giving the flowers an anemone-like appearance.

Stuffed peony

unfilled peony

Peonies are available with both filled (left) and unfilled flowers (right)

The flowers of shrub peonies appear mostly from mid-May and are much larger than those of the perennial peonies: diameters of about 25 centimeters are not uncommon in the Rockii hybrids.


After flowering, peonies produce conspicuous, sometimes fuzzy hairy follicles in which the seeds hide. These can grow to over an inch.

Balg fruit peony

The seeds of the peonies hide in eye-catching spring fruits

Location and ground

Peonies prefer, in contrast to most other garden plants mineral, rather low humus soils. They like to grow on slightly heavier, loamy and evenly moist, well-drained substrates, but are quite adaptable unless the soil is too dry. The location should be full sun to partial shade. Strong root pressure from large trees, however, does not tolerate most species.


The common peony is one of the oldest garden plants in Europe and for centuries an integral part of the peasant and monastery gardens. Their filled varieties with pink or dark red flowers are already very old. The lactiflora hybrids, which have also been known for some centuries and imported from Asia, are ideal for sunny and partially shaded perennial beds.A classic combination often planted in English Cottage Garden are perennial peonies, magnificent cranesbill (Geranium x magnificum) and lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis).

Dream duo in the bed: peonies and cranesbill

Dream duo in the bed: peonies and cranesbill

The peony peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) comes from the Asian steppe and therefore feels very well in full sun, rather dry locations in the rock garden. Shrub peonies are best planted individually in the front yard or in the bed. If you have enough space, you can also plant group plantings. Incidentally, one can admire particularly beautiful shrub peonies in the Arboretum Ellerhoop in Schleswig-Holstein. The plants are effectively staged in an artificially created hilly landscape. Shrub peonies can also be well integrated in Japanese gardens. Fitting partners are, for example, the Fan Maple (Acer palmatum) and the Funkia (Hosta), with a bamboo grove as background.


There is an important principle in planting: Planting peonies flat, planting shrub peonies deeply. The reason: perennial peonies often only produce leaves and no flowers if they are too deep in the ground. Shrub peonies are grafted on root pieces of perennial peonies and must be planted deep enough so that the grafting site is approximately three fingers below the ground. It is important that the scion form its own roots, as it can not make a lasting connection with the perennial peony and sooner or later begins to take care of. It is also important that you leach humus rich soils with a lot of sand or clay granules. Also, do not choose a protected, warm location for shrub peonies. The bushes otherwise drift very early and are then late frosty.

Plant peony

Perennials Peonies should not be planted too deeply, otherwise they will not flower

To cut

Although well-rooted shrub peonies tolerate even stronger cutting measures down to the old wood, this is usually not necessary. The shrubs form a balanced crown with many flowers even without regular cut. In addition, shrub peonies are very durable: From China over 100 years old specimens are known. With perennial peonies you can remove the old stems in late winter.


Perennial peonies are also long-lived and do not over age. Therefore, the plants do not have to be rejuvenated by division. If you just let them grow, they get more and more beautiful from year to year. However, if you want to transplant a perennial peony, it is very important that you share the perennial. Undivided specimens grow badly at the new location and sometimes take years to look after themselves.

Further care tips

Shrub peonies are at risk of breaking in snowy winters. As a precaution, you should therefore tie the somewhat brittle, brittle shoots in the fall with a rope loosely. So they can support each other. A nitrogen-stressed fertilizer does not get peonies well, they are then often prone to fungal diseases. A potassium- and phosphate-based fertilizer of organic origin (no compost!) Delivered in early spring promotes vitality and budding for the coming year.


Perennial peonies can be multiplied by division. The different varieties of shrub peonies are grafted in the spring on root pieces of perennials and then potted. This so-called nurse refinement is usually done by so-called grafting into the gap and ensures the survival of the scion until it has formed its own roots.

Diseases and pests

On humus-rich soils, peonies often suffer from gray mold, as well as various leaf spot diseases. Occasionally, even growth caused by nematodes can occur if one has planted a newly divided peony again in the same place. This phenomenon is also called soil fatigue. If your short-flowering peony is populated by numerous ants, that's no cause for concern: the insects are only interested in the sugar juice, which plants often produce in such large quantities that the buds stick to it.

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