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Zones A1-A3, 1-11, 14-20, 32-45
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Paeonia lactiflora

Herbaceous Peony
Paeoniaceae
Perennials

PAEONIA

Though a few species peonies may be found through specialists’ catalogs and seed exchanges, most garden peonies are hybrids. The basic types are herbaceous and tree peonies, both descended from Chinese species. A new third category, the intersectional hybrids, combines the best traits of herbaceous and tree types. All peonies are extremely long-lived plants of significant size; they provide choice cut flowers and are a mainstay of big perennial borders.

Plant peonies in fall, either as bare-root plants or from nursery containers. Ideally, the planting site for peonies should be deeply dug at least several days before planting. Work in plenty of compost, especially in heavy soil, and incorporate a high-phosphorus fertilizer; then allow the soil to settle before planting.

Peonies of all types can be grown in large (18—24-in.) containers. Replant every third autumn in the same or a slightly larger pot, replacing most of the soil when you do.

Paeonia lactiflora
Paeonia lactiflora

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Paeonia lactiflora

Clumps grow 2—4 ft. tall and wide (or wider). Handsome leaves are divided and glossy. Large single or double flowers appear in May.

Flower colors range from pure white through cream to pink and red; some of the reds are very deep, with chocolate brown overtones. Depending on variety, blossoms range from 2 in. to as much as 10 in. across; many have a perfume similar to that of old-fashioned roses, though in some varieties the scent is either unimpressive or absent. In form, they fall into three basic categories: single or semidouble, with one or two rows of petals; Japanese, with a single row of petals and a large central mass of narrow petal-like segments called staminodes; and double, with full flowers composed of many petals. In hot-summer climates, choose early varieties such as singles, semidoubles, and Japanese varieties, whose blooms come on before the season heats up. Japanese sorts in particular do well in the warmest zones.

Herbaceous peonies, largely descendants of the perennial P. lactiflora, die to the ground in late fall.

Plant herbaceous peony roots with eyes 2 in. deep in cold climates, 1 in. deep in warmer regions (planting too deeply prevents flowering). Herbaceous peonies do best in pots that are wider than they are deep. In autumn, cut herbaceous peonies to the ground; as new growth emerges in spring, spray with copper fungicide.

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