Tree Peony - Everything You Need to Know

Tree Peony – Everything You Need to Know

by

Tyler C Rich
August 14, 2021
89 Views

Create a brilliantly flaming garden with the tree peony.

It will be romantic with all those round-faced pink, orange, white, and other colorful flowers, including a vibrant crimson. The sheer vibrance of the tree peony with its lovely, crinkled petals is nothing short of spectacular.

The tree peony comes in all kinds of bright and exciting colors. Some are white, while some don a dark purple-maroon hue to give your garden the look and the fragrance of springtime.

Their varieties are endless, to the extent that selecting the proper tree peony for your garden can be quite confusing.

What is a Tree Peony?

Unlike their name, tree peonies are not trees but deciduous sub-shrubs with big, incredibly attractive flowers. They are perennial, often blooming in late spring through to summer.

The tree peony has an extremely short season, blooming sometime in May and June. This blooming period changes depending on how you care for your plants and where you live.

However, you have a pretty good reason why the tree peony should be at the top of your priority list. The sheer extent of the varieties of this shrub makes it an excellent addition when you want a garden that is rich in color.

Their foliage is also alluring, dark green with blue-green under leaves, which create a wonderful display. You’re sure to love these winter darlings, and they fit right into small or large gardens.

Again, unlike other peony species, which die back to the ground in fall, the tree peony goes through the winter.

Precisely, although their foliage changes in autumn, their woody stems remain intact above ground in the harsh winter weather. They will then bloom again when in season.

The tree peony is basically a native Chinese herb. But you can plant them in your garden as ornamentals thanks to those spectacular fragrant flowers.

The medicinal value of the tree peony is not only prevalent in China. Some gardeners in the West still plant them to use as herbs. If you’ve ever encountered the herbaceous peony, the tree peony is a close relative, which is why it may look familiar to you.

However, the tree peony tends to reach up to five feet tall and wide. This level of growth is evident in maturity at around ten years.

One attractive aspect of the tree peony that attracts many gardeners is that they are highly prized. Growing a tree peony in your garden is also a rewarding experience.

Another intriguing aspect of the tree peony is that they don’t attract ants.

They lack sweet and honeydew sap, so they don’t attract this insect. Sometimes a gardener’s worst experience comes from ants attacking your plants, but this is one problem you won’t have with this shrub.

If you enjoy cut flowers, the tree peony makes for one of the best options for your garden. Observe tree peonies in early summer or late spring, and you’ll notice their stunning flowers. If you buy a specific variety, you can also enjoy double forms.

In case you’re wondering how to start growing the tree peony, this guide will take you through the process of cultivating these stunning shrubs.  

Before You Get Started

Before You Get Started

You should understand that the tree peony has been a favorite plant for many gardeners throughout the centuries. However, peonies can either be a blessing or a curse. It all trickles down to the variety you choose for your garden.

Having already established how beautiful and breath-taking the tree peony is, it may be challenging to select one or several from the multiple varieties available.

How do you decide which type of tree peony is fit for your garden?

And, more importantly, what are the growing conditions suitable for these Chinese blooms?

Firstly, most gardeners select their variety based on the color and shape of the flower.

As mentioned earlier, there is a whole rainbow of colors to choose from. They range from rose to violet to magenta to red to dazzling shades and mixtures of various hues.

You can select the tree peony based on flower shapes too. There are round-faced or bowl-shaped flowers with single, semi-double or double petals in a row.

Here is a summary of three issues to consider when choosing the proper tree peony for your garden:

  • Consider the natural factors that affect growth, region, climate, and availability of sunlight. For example, are you creating an indoor garden or outdoor garden? Does your area experience frequent cloud cover? You need to consider these issues before settling for a specific variety of the tree peony.
  • The second consideration is the bloom type and color that interests you the most. In this line, consider bloom times for a variety of tree peonies. Bloom time is also a prime consideration because of the time of the year you wish to see your peonies grow.
  • Pricing: Some peonies cost more than others. Choose a variety that suits your pocket because once you buy one tree peony, you are likely to want to add to your collection.

Again, it all starts and ends with personal preferences. As for the perfect growing conditions, the tree peony thrives in climates with hot summers and cold winters. This brings us to our next phase about how and when to plant the flowers.

Planting

Planting peonies is not rocket science; however, you still need to be extra careful with your planting methods. Therefore, before going into detail, it’s essential to understand when to plant the tree peony.

One thing you should know is that many varieties of peonies don’t respond well to transplanting. Therefore, choosing the right time to plant and preparing the site is vital to ensure successful growth.

Here are few tips on when to plant the tree peony:

  • Utilize the fall season to start planting tree peonies.
  • The fall season is the right time for moving or transplanting mature peonies. However, ensure that you make a transfer when the plant is dormant.
  • Ensure that your tree peonies are in the ground approximately seven weeks before the ground becomes frozen.
  • Peonies planted during spring generally lag in their growth, but some gardeners still choose to plant the tree peony in springtime. However, if you are transplanting, try to avoid spring.    

Choosing and preparation of an appropriate site

The tree peony doesn’t demand too much maintenance. Nonetheless, proper planting is vital for the smooth growth of your plants.

The tree peony thrives well in Europe, the Eastern, Mid-Western, and Western United States. Generally, they do well in continental-like climates, which experience hot summers and cool winters.

Another consideration is to ensure that the site has a shelter for protecting your plants against strong winds. You can use several stakes to hold the blooming flowers up to offer your tree peony additional protection from the weather.

These ornamental shrubs do well when you plant them in an area that receives partial sunlight and shade or the shaded regions of your garden.

However, they prefer complete aeration, so consider situating them in open spaces with free-flowing air.

You should note that the tree peony does not do well when competing with other plants for nutrients.

Therefore, avoid planting them too close to shrubs or other trees. This mistake slows the growth of the tree peony, and in worst cases, they may wither and die.

The tree peony also tends to prefer fertile, well-drained soil. It also prefers soil that has a neutral pH level. A neutral soil pH should range from 6.5 to 7.4. I recommend 6.5 for outstanding results from your tree peony.

After outlining this plant’s soil preferences, it’s time to move on with the planting process.

Planting Process

  • Identify a slightly shady zone
  • Dig a 12-inch wide and deep hole. Then, you can add organic manure.
  • Put in the seedling, ensuring it’s deep enough. Most tree peonies are often grafted. In such an instance, make sure to bury the graft union at least 3.5 inches underground.
  • A deeper planting depth is recommended for pot-grown, root ball, or containerized specimens. (Graft union at least 6 inches below ground).
  • Deep planting encourages deep root formation.
  • Water the new plant, but remember NOT to overwater the tree peony.

Ongoing Care

Plant growth depends on the level of care you invest in your garden.

Regular tending to your plants will produce excellent results, and although the tree peony does not need much maintenance, you must take care of their needs.

Caring for the tree peony is a reasonably straightforward process compared to herbaceous peonies. However, unlike other peonies, you should not cut back the tree peony during autumn.

I’ve seen some gardeners ruining their plants by pruning, cutting back to shape, and removing damaged wood from the tree peony. This is one big mistake that gardeners must always avoid.

Here’s a simple routine for you that should be pretty easy to follow in caring for the tree peony.

Watering

Regular watering in the first year is necessary for the tree peony to establish itself properly. After that, the tree peony tends to demonstrate good growth, especially if you plant in spring or later in the season.

However, be careful not to overwater this shrub as they will suffer. Watering needs decrease progressively after the first year. You can use watering timers together with other irrigation systems for efficient watering of your tree peony.

When deciding on the watering options to use, consider the fact that tree peonies are highly susceptible to fungal diseases.

So, the best watering method should target its roots. A soaker hose does an incredible job when you need to provide water directly to the roots of your plants.

You can use other alternative watering options that work best for you.

Feeding     

Tree peonies need to feed regularly. As heavy feeders, they require adequate top dressing from early autumn. They love food sources that are high in potash, such as bone meal or rose fertilizer.

Topdressing with generous amounts of potash-rich content encourages flower development. The tree peony is also an iron-thirsty plant, so consider annual feeding with iron sulfate. Bone meal during spring also does magic for the tree peony’s growth.

Applying a general-purpose fertilizer every spring at 70gm per 3.3 feet is also ideal.

Mulch to maintain humidity and smother weeds. For healthy foliage, feed your plants with iron-rich feeds such as Vitax Seaweed and Sequestered Iron.

Deadheading and Caring For Older Plants

Like many flowering plants, the peony tree glamour is seasonal. Tree peony flowers start dying towards the start of fall. Use secateurs to remove dead blooms to keep the plant vibrant.

Tree peonies live for a long time and grow to a sizeable height. However, if you don’t maintain, your plants will gradually develop into larger clumps or sprout too many stems.

The tree peony needs regular pruning and thinning to keep them arrested.

Pruning

Vigorous and old stems need to be removed using pruners. The good news is, tree peonies require little pruning, especially in their early years.

Nonetheless, you need to prune off dead shoots late in winter to give way for healthy buds next season.

Also, you should prune leggy and unruly stems in autumn by a third to stimulate bushier growth.

Overall, aim for a broad, multi-stemmed plant of between 49 to 57 inches in height through regular pruning.

As mentioned earlier, don’t do any pruning during autumn. It’s safe for the rest of the year but avoid tampering with the tree peony in the fall months.

Propagating

You can propagate your plants using the layering process. However, it’s painstakingly long as it takes about three years for the stem to grow a sufficient independent root system.

Grafting from home is an option, but this may yield poor results if you aren’t a specialist.

You can also harvest seeds from the seed pods when they split in late summer and autumn. Sow the seeds using seed compost at a depth of one inch deep in a container.

The seeds need exposure to two chilly seasons with one warm period in between for the roots to sprout.

However, the stem and leaves only appear after the second winter. Therefore, it may be five years before you notice the first tree peony bloom appearing.

Therefore, the best option is to buy an already grafted seedling from a specialist nursery around you.

Conclusion

The tree peony is the perfect choice for your garden if you’re passionate about flowers. Their gracious foliage and soft, fragrant blooms are sure to bring you joy every spring.

The sweet scent of the bloom will not only bring your home to life with cut flowers but also attract butterflies and other insects outdoors.  

With proper growth and care, you will enjoy the benefits of planting the tree peony in your garden.

Not only does the tree peony produce beautiful blooms, but they are also edible.

You can add some blooms to summer salads or use them as a garnish in lemonade or iced tea, making the tree peony even more appealing.

Resources:

Tyler C Rich

Tyler C Rich is the founder and chief editor at TopsyGardening.com. An experienced gardener and a professionally trained agriculture development expert, Rich has worked in the gardening and landscaping industry for more than a few decades. Although he has retired, his spark for developing the best urban and indoor gardens has not faded a bit. He uses TopsyGardening.com as a platform to come across enthusiastic gardeners and share the unique insights he has acquired through years of experience. Rich is interested in aquaponics and technology apart from conventional gardening techniques.