Tree Peony – Specialist Advice For Amateurs

pink peonies

Summary: This article, is for those who have never had any experience with the tree peony and wishes to plant a few roots without making too many mistakes in doing so.

First, you must remember that peony trees are a long time proposition.

We planted our first peonies in our yard over 40 years ago, they are still there and doing well. In fact, some of these old plants did better this year than ever before.

Select peony varieties you will enjoy for a long time. Plant in the right place, give them proper care and these same peonies will be blooming in your garden as long as you live.

Planting Tree Peonies

When planting peonies plant them in full sun, spaced four feet apart each way for best results. They can stand partial shade, but this is not ideal.

Be careful, in planting, not to set your plants too close to large trees as the roots of a tree run out in all directions (one and one-half times its height) and rob the soil of its food values.

Keep away from large shrubs such as bush honeysuckles and snowballs. After your peony plants grow and come into blooming, do not dig down into your plant to split off a toe to give to your fellow member. This is one of the worse things that can happen to your plant.

The best-sized root to plant is a division of a peony clump, about the size of the average man’s hand, having from three to five eyes. More eyes than five eyes do not add any value to the root.

Preparing The Ground

Have the ground well-prepared, and when ready to plant, take one root at a time, keeping all other roots covered.

Dig a hole about the size and depth of a half-bushel basket. Sift about an inch of rich, well-pulverized soil back into the hole and tramp this down hard. Sift onto this a handful of either bonemeal or superphosphate.

Japanese tree peonies

But better still, if you have a farmer friend, get him to bring you a couple of bushels of rich, well-rotted barnyard manure. Put in a two-inch layer of this, and tramp it down hard.

Sift onto this good soil, and keep it tramped hard until the hole is filled so that when you place the peony root in it, the crown of the plant is just two inches below the surface level. Fill in the soil, and tramp solid.

Keep soil stirred about the plant until the ground freezes, and then put on a mulch of straw or hay for the first Winter.

Planting Time

When is the best time to plant a peony tree?

After many long years of experience, we have found peonies can be planted any time from about August 6th up to the day the ground freezes.

All Winter, we should say in the South. Plants can be planted with equal success in the Spring if more carefully handled.

We’ve seen peonies handled in the Spring for more than 30 years with excellent results.

Roots dug in the Fall, can be held in perfect condition all Winter. In the Spring, they look as fresh as they were when dug from the field.

Peony Disease

The peony’s main disease is botrytis, a stem disease caused by wet, warm weather during the growing season.

The growing stems turn black and wilt. There are also some diseases of the foliage.

For these, the young growing shoots should be either dusted or sprayed with Bordeaux mix.

Start as soon as shoots are five to six inches high. Repeat at ten-day intervals until blossom buds show color and continue until after blooms have fallen, if wet weather follows.

Root rot, which sometimes gets into the peony, can be controlled by digging and dividing the roots, cleaning out the rot, and then immersing the roots for 30 minutes in a bath of lukewarm water to which a fungicide like captan has been added.

Then for the person who wishes to plant the newer sorts, new wonderful additions are always seen at the big shows.

History Of Tree Peonies

Many old, colonial gardens had a few huge bushes of the first tree peony, was brought from China. This was Paeonia moutan banksy, named for Sir Joseph Banks, director of Kew Gardens in 1787 when the plant was brought to him by a traveler who he had instructed to look out for it.

According to the story, Sir Joseph had been intrigued by the references of Marco Polo to “roses,” which were a foot in diameter and had no thorns. He had also seen paintings and embroideries in which the flowers were shown.

Peonies Come to America

The variety banksy was propagated in England, and plants reached this country shortly after 1800. It was a double, magenta-pink flower which faded at the edges. According to modern tastes, it was hardly a thing of much beauty, but it apparently had a great vogue. There can be no doubt of its vigor, as it survived in many gardens for a half century or a century.

Japanese Tree Peony Improvements

The Chinese tree peonies were taken to Japan apparently in the 8th century. It is not known exactly when the Japanese began to grow seedlings from them but, evidently, this has been going on for nearly a thousand years.

Under the skilled hands of Japanese gardeners a great color range has been developed – from pure white through pink, rose red, scarlet, crimson, maroon and purple.


A Professor Sargent brought named varieties from Japan in 1891. Shortly after that, commercial shipments began to arrive from the Yokohama Nursery Company and others.

The named peony varieties were grafted on the roots of the wild mountain peony which suckered badly, and often smothered out the fine variety. For that reason the plants soon lost popularity.

In gardens where they were planted, one may today sometimes find the purple stock coming up and flowering early in the season.

Tips To Improve Your Plant Care
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