U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My First And Only Tree Peony

Please click on the pictures to see them larger

A sea of wild peonies is one of my childhood memories. We were little, and the plants seemed to be very high. The flowers were white and pink. When I saw the first plant, I wanted to pick it up and take it home. Then, I saw another one and couldn' t
decide which one was better. Then, another and another. I was walking from flower to flower. It was a clear sunny day and the air was filled with an unbelievable aroma. When at last I lifted my head and looked around, I realized we were surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands, of peonies.
It was one of the small islands on the Bikin river in the Russian Far East. We went there by boat. My family had potatoes planted there. It's hard to believe, but in those days, people in rural areas used to start vegetable gardens wherever they could find a good size lot with nice soil. Remember, the land belonged to the people in the USSR! There was no private property. I am not sure you could do it now, but there we were - on our own, on some small island in the kingdom of wild peonies.

I love peonies since then. Those were herbaceous peonies - Paeonia lactiflora, a native of Siberia, called Chinese peony with the large, opulent flowers. Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) are deciduous shrubs. Their height is usually 3 or 4 feet, but some can grow as tall as 6 feet. The Chinese were the first to cultivate them. The results of their work are large double flowers on the plants which sometimes needed stalking. ( By the way, Tree Peony is regarded as the national flower of China.) The Japanese form of peony has lighter, simpler flowers. From the East, the peony was imported to Europe where new cultivars were created.
One lady at the NW Flower and Garden Show told me that the tree peony is a plant that many people would dig out when they move to a new place. A gift card from my husband speeded up my decision to acquire it. Here it is, 2007.

I was so concerned about finding the right place for it that it spent two winters in a pot while I was thinking. It didn't bloom last year. This spring, at last, I planted it in front of the house.

They don't recommend early morning sun for tree peony. I learned it late and this is exactly where I chose the spot for him - eastern exposure, morning sun. Well, maybe they are wrong, because it blooms right now and the blooms are wonderful.

It's recommended to remove all buds from the plant for the first two years to get better blooms. I never did it. My plant is more than two years old. It had just two buds (three buds in 2007 when I bought it). I am not patient and wanted to see them badly!

Peonies like full sun (light afternoon shade in warmer climates), rich, neutral well-drained soil and are hardy from zones 3 to 8. They also say that peonies will grow in part shade and in many different types of soil if you never let them dry or get waterlogged.

It's recommended to plant them with a handful of blood and bone and mulch every fall with garden compost mixed with blood and bone.
Tree peony doesn't like wind and needs good air circulation.

Tree peonies need to be planted 5"-6" below the soil according to some books, while others say to plant them 3-4" below the grafted portion (3" if they are container grown). Grafted plants (I understand this is what we buy from nurseries) may send up suckers of herbaceous peony that need to be removed. Such suckers have greener leaves and aren't as finely cut as tree peony leaves).
Pruning is recommended to be done in February if needed. Dead or diseased wood should be cut back to a new bud, or down to soil level. They say that the old plants respond well to pruning. Take one main stem a year down to a live bud about a foot above the soil.

These factors can contribute to a plant not producing any blooms:
- A plant is too young
- Spot is too shady or overcrowded
- Too deeply planted
- Plant was exposed to late freeze
- Too much nitrogen or too little phosphorus or potassium
- Disease.
As for desease and pests, A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants says the peony is prone to Verticillium wilt, ringspot virus, tip blight, stem rot, Botrytis blight, leaf blotch, Japanese beetle and nematodes. Peony Wilt is a fungal disease which can be controlled with good hygiene and air circulation around the plants.

Mature plants don't like to be disturbed. If needed, transplant them in the fall. Experts advise dividing mature peonies rather than transplanting them intact. A plant that is not divided may not bloom for several years! Let the plant die back in the fall, don't cut the foliage and cut the stems back to the ground after the first hard frost.
Peonies need a good cold period of dormancy.

Many parts of the plant - roots, bark, seeds and flowers, are said to have medicinal properties.In the Russian Far East, roots have been wildly used by native people to treat many diseases. Pharmacy-bought peony tincture is used to treat sleeplessness, headache, neurasthenia.

The pictures of this plant in May 2010 are here: Tree Peony Blooming


  1. That peony is truly a beautiful specimen. Thanks for the info as I plan to transplant them from my mom's to my house. Now I know how to do that.

  2. What a great post. I've grown them but the taller forms get badly battered by the winds over here. But what blooms. Wild Paeonies - something to dream about.

  3. Another great post. I especially love your opening scene, very evocative.

    In France where my parents are lots of families who live in flats in towns, but have areas they cultivate up in the hills around. They can't just pick anywhere, but even so it seems intriguing to English eyes, so used to the demand for privacy and personal space around your house.

  4. That tree peony is beautiful, I think you have great style in the way you layout your flowers.

  5. What a lovely post, I love your enthusiasm. And your description of your childhood memories is so beautiful - a vanished world.

  6. Beautiful flower and pictures Tatyana. I can't wait for my new one to bloom - hopefully I'll get to see it this year. We have another ready to burst open and about 3 others on the way too. They are so nice!

  7. I'm so glad other gardeners leave plants in containers while they are deciding where the best place to plant them is too!!! I feel guilty about that sometimes but now I know I'm not alone. I don't blame you for not pinching off the buds ~ I'd be impatient about wanting to see the blooms too. It's really pretty. I've never had a tree peony but they interest me a lot. We do get quite a bit of wind here tho so it doesn't sound like they'd like that. :-(

  8. So glad it bloomed for you. Sounds like you have it sited perfectly.

  9. I love the way you tie your blog into stories of your life. It's helps us to understand how others live without having to experience it or travel there.
    I almost bought a tree peony yesterday, and then I thought..where?..and decided I wasn't ready yet.

  10. Hi Tatyana, what a beautiful color your tree peony is! Mine are all in morning sun, and I have never pruned them. Maybe that is for flower show size blooms? They are certainly regal plants. So interesting about your family's island garden complete with wild peonies, what a delicious memory.

  11. Tatyana, such great information about an exceptional plant. The flower looks so exquisite (enlarged the picture),I can understand that you are absolutely wrapped about this plant. I guess,because it also played a part in your childhood. My mother had some dark red Peonies in her garden. I still can see them, her garden is long gone! Here in my subtropical garden they do not grow, like you said they need frost to flower well. Thank you for this lovely post it brought back memories.

  12. Tatyana,

    Tree peonies have long been on my Lust List -- but air circulation in the microgarden has been a problem for the common garden variety (they're felled by botrytis) so I'll just have to continue to admire them in other people's gardens. Great images to go along with your story. Lots of good info, too.

  13. Tatyana, your tree peony is just lovely.I just planted my first one, so it may be another year before it will bloom?Your certainly looks to be happy where it is.

  14. Heather, thanks! Will you show us them, please, when they will bloom?

    Thank you Hermes! We have strong winds here, too. Hopefully, the house will serve as some protection for this plant.

    Hi Emily and thanks!

    Thank you Cathy!

    Catmint, thanks! I am so glad I had a chance to live in several worlds, and one of them is, yes, vanished if you meant the USSR.

    Thank you Linda! I hope you show us your peonies in bloom, will you?!

    Kathleen, thank you! Yes, I always have several plants in the containers for a long time. It's interesting to watch how faster they grow after being planted in good soil.

    Tina, thank you! I read and liked your post on peonies.

    Thank you Mlc! Somehow, those memories just come to my mind when I am writing about certain plants. I didn't know I had so many of them!

    Thank you Frances! I realized not so long ago that I spent my childhood in the region where many popular plants come from. Siberian iris, Amur maple, etc. I'm so glad I saw them in the wild!

    Titania, thank you! You are so right - those gardens live in our memory!

    Helen, thank you! I think I know what you mean. In my previous garden in Kansas City, my herbaceous peony was all covered by brown spots. It'll be interesting to watch this one.

    Lona, thank you! Yours might bloom the next year, it depends on its age.

  15. Peonies have come a long way. They've been a favorite around here since before my time, almost every yard has some and buying one is out of the question when so many people are will to share (and need theirs divided)

  16. Thanks for all the great information on the Peonies! I have several in my yard. The ones in full sun are doing really well, but I also have 2 in part shade which blooms not as well. I should move the 2 that I have in part shade, but I haven't decided where to put them. What a dilema! -Jackie

  17. What a wonderful post! Ever since moving up here (the Pacific Northwest) I have wanted to grow a peony but have not tried as I am rather unsure about it. Your post has really inspired me to give it a go. Although now after reading this I am wondering if perhaps my garden is a bit too sunny as it receives full sun most of the day. Great for roses and veggies but maybe not for peonies?

  18. I don't know if my peony is going to bloom this year. Might be getting too much shade. Gorgeous blooms!

  19. Hi Tatyana

    You 'paint' a beautiful picture of the peonies from your childhood. I hope each year brings many blooms.

    They are popular here in France and tomorrow I plan to visit a garden that grows many.


  20. Nice pictures! I like Peonies, my neighbor in KY had bush close to the property line, so I got to enjoy it. It recieve morning sun and then shad and then afternoon sun.


  21. How did I never hear of these lovelies until this year? Yours is amazing! I would be impatient too. Doubt I have the right spot for it but I might give one a go at some point anyway - too hard to resist after seeing your and others' pics! I love what they look like coming out of the ground, so strange, like little aliens. What a lovely present!

  22. Tatyana, wonderful information on the tree peony! They are not a common plant since they are hard to come by, not to mention pricey. We are lucky to have them white one is blooming now and I just planted a light pink one and she has 3 new buds..yippee! A shame they do not bloom for long! Enjoy yours!


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