Tree (woody) / Intersectional (Itoh) / regular garden peonies:
We all are familiar with pink, red, and white peonies growing in grandma’s house or across the street. These peonies are very hardy. They die to the ground for the winter and come back, even fuller, in spring. These are herbaceous peonies. Plant 1-2″ below the soil surface, in a sunny, well-draining (no water logging) location.
Woody, or tree, peonies are shrubby plants. They don’t completely die back for the winter, but leave woody stems. Flower size is often up to 8″, sometimes even bigger. They come in yellow, orange, white, purplish, red-and-white, and may have a very dark center. Woody peonies often grow to 3-4 feet at maturity (10 years), although some varieties may be 2 ft tall or grow to 7 ft or more.
Intersectional peonies, also known as Itoh peonies is something in-between. They grow to 2-3 ft and come in yellow, lilac’y, copper, and other unusual colours. Foliage of intersectional peonies dies back for the winter, leaving just a small woody stem about 2″-4″ high.
Planting: spring or fall? Peonies like to be planted in fall. They grow their thin feeder roots better in cool weather. Then they have more strength for the next year. Woody peonies need about 3 years to get established. “First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap”. You may get blooms the first spring after planting or, very likely, the second spring. However, it’s only by the third year that the woody peony is nicely established and full of blooms. Herbaceous and Itoh peonies may give a bloom or two the first spring, too, but if not, give them some time. Once the root establishes, the flowers will follow.
Halifax Perennials specializes in rare peonies. In the spring of 2021 we offer a few rare varieties that will be available only in spring. To help spring-planted peonies succeed, choose a planting site with morning sun and afternoon shade. That way the foliage will be receiving enough sunlight, but the roots won’t be overheated. (For fall-planted peonies, any sunny location is great: east, west, south). Remember to water your newly planted peonies for the first year, unless there was enough rain.
Peony planting depth: Herbaceous and intersectional peonies should be planted 1-2 inches deep (2″ in the Northern areas); planting them deeper will prevent them from blooming. Woody (tree) peonies that are grafted need to be planted deeper. The graft union (the place where the thicker, herbaceous root joins with the thinner, woody branch(es) of the tree peony) needs to be at least 4″ under the surface. In colder areas (Prairies) dig them in 6″ below the surface.