My garden diary says that tree peonies bloom here around the last week of April, but several of mine bloomed March 31 this year. These show stoppers are 'OMG' unbelievably beautiful with HUGE flowers! Every garden needs several.
Tree peonies are quite different from herbaceous peonies. The latter blooms about a month later, dies back to the ground every fall, and has smaller flowers.
Tree peonies are woody-stemmed slender shrubs which will grow to their mature size of 3 to 4 ft tall in eight years, with 6 to 9 inch wide flowers (dramatically enormous). Never hard prune a tree peony (unless you want to remove dead wood or to shape it) because it is a 'woody' and will take forever to grow back.
The large blossoms of tree peonies have a color ranging from chalky white to alluring pale yellow, golden yellow, coral, lavender, pink, raspberry, red, and extremely dark crimson; many have pleasing color combinations. All are very floriferous with excellent flower carriage, while others add fragrance and/or diffused maroon flares to the show.
The petals on a tree peony blossom can be alluringly ruffled, crimped, fluted, cupped, veined, twisted, fluffy, tousled, blushed, notched, velvety or almost transparent; some resemble crushed silk. All make wonderful cut flowers to take indoors.
Tree peonies are also different from the herbaceous type in that they appreciate light shade from a scorching mid-day sun. They like alkaline (bone meal, pH 7.0+) soil which is well drained, friable and organic. Incorporate a slow-release, high phosphorous fertilizer into the soil when planting and as yearly maintenance, and provide sufficient moisture. Tree peonies are hardy from zones 4 to 8; our area is zone 7b.
Best to purchase container-grown three- to four-year-old plants—in bud, which will flower this April. By buying mature tree peonies, you get instant gratification from a plant that understands its mission in life is to please you with gorgeous flowers—NOW. View some really lovely tree peonies at www.SongSparrow.com. Ratchet up your gardening drama with this spectacular "show stopper"!
This piece was originally published on March 8, 2011.
Nancy Burns is a certified Master Gardener, Belle Haven Garden Club President for the past six years, co-author of two award-winning gardening books, member of the Landscape Designers' Group and the Landscape Design Council as well as being completely fascinated with plants, gardening and their surrounding landscape design.