Peony (Paeonia sp.)

Quick Facts

  • Peonies are long-lived perennials that grow reliably year-after-year
  • Large, fragrant blooms are produced in late spring
  • Grow in the back of the perennial border where the dark green foliage can serve as a backdrop for other perennials

Common Name(s): peony

Scientific Name: Paeonia

image of peony ‘Emma Khlem’
Peony ‘Emma Khlem’

Family: Paeoniaceae

Size: 2.5’ to 3’ tall and wide

Hardiness: zones 3-8

Leaves: glossy divided leaves have oval, to lanceolate leaflets 3” to 8” long.

Leaf Color:  dark green

Flowers:  Many flower types, species has ruffled petals in whites, pinks, and reds that surround a tuft of yellow stamens. Flower types include Single, Japanese, Anemone, Semi-Double, Double, and Bomb-Double.  Flowers open in May (usually Memorial Day) but bloom time can vary slightly (by a few weeks) depending on cultivar.

Fruit: a capsule

Habit: rounded shrub

Stem: herbaceous

Nativity: China, Burma, Japan

Insects & Disease Issues: Few issues.  Sometimes leaf blotch, powdery mildew, Botrytis blight and Phytophthora blight.  Ants on blooms are not a problem.

image of peony summer foliage
Summer Foliage on Peony

Culture and Uses:

These long-lived plants are best planted and left alone.  Grow in full sun or part sun in well drained, fertile, moist soils.  Deadhead flowers after bloom in late May.  Remove foliage in the fall at ground level.  Plants are beautiful in spring but hold little other interest throughout the year, except some marginal yellow fall color.  For this reason be sure to place in the perennial border where the flowers can be appreciated in spring and the dark green foliage can be used as a backdrop for other plants the rest of the year.  When peonies do not bloom it is either because they are too young or have recently been moved, they are planted at the wrong depth, they are in too much shade, or the flower buds where killed by a late frost. Most herbaceous peonies (the ones that die to the ground each year) are either selections or crosses of P. lactiflora, P. officinalis, P. japonica, or any of about 26 other species. 

Notable Cultivars & Related Species:

Dozens and dozens of cultivars—pick your favorite.

P. suffruticosa (tree peony) - these large shrub-like peonies have woody stems and flowers in red, pink, white, and yellow.  Reliably hardy to zone 5.

P. tenuifolia (fern-leaf peony) - finely divided, fern-like foliage, smaller habit, herbaceous, can be difficult to establish

Itoh peonies (intersectional) - a cross between herbaceeous and tree peonies, usually have large tree peony flowers on herbaceous stems.

image of Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’
Peony ‘Krinkled White’
image of paeonia 'nippon chief'
Peony 'Nippon Chief'
image of Paeonia ‘Peter Piper’
Peony ‘Peter Piper’
image of Paeonia ‘Snow Mountain’
Peony ‘Snow Mountain’
image of Paeonia 'Tango'
Peony 'Tango'
image of peony seed pods
Seed Pods of Peony
image of fernleaf peony Paeonia tenuifolia
Fernleaf Peony
Last reviewed:
December 2021

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on August 31, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.