Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tree Peonies

What is it that focuses your attention on the gentle curves of a white flower? Is it the lack of colour that accentuates the shape and the translucence of a white petal? Whatever the reason, there is something magical about the soft lines of a white peony in flower. 

Years ago I saw the most exquisite white Tree Peony at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton and I promised myself that, if I ever saw a similar peony for sale, I would buy it on the spot. 

By chance, I finally came across a single white Tree Peony last week. Fall is actually the best time to buy and plant any type of peony, but I was so taken with this beauty, I decided to overlook the season and the considerable expense (almost $50), and purchase it.

Fresh growth on my Tree Peony is carried on stems that are a soft magenta color.

Newly emerging green foliage is edged with a deep rose colour.

I have lots of experience growing herbaceous peonies, but none with Tree Peonies. Some research was therefore in order. I gave my peony a drink and left it on a garden bench in the sun, while I went inside to look up some basic facts.

I grabbed a coffee and sat down to read the plant tag as the first order of business. The first words on the label were a warning:

Before you plant

If you don't have a chance to plant your peony immediately after you purchase it, make sure it is in a lightly shaded spot out of the sun's direct rays while it waits to find a home in your garden. Don't allow it to dry out. Keep the soil in the pot moist.

Oops! I ran out to rescue my peony from the sunny bench where I had left it.

Tree Peonies are actually a woody shrub. 

They come in colours beyond white: pink, red, coral, purple, yellow and blends of different colours. Tree Peonies grow slowly. It may take 5-10 years for them to reach their mature size.

Choosing a Site

Peonies of all types dislike being moved. Choosing the right spot for my new peony, therefore, required some careful consideration. Too much sun and the flower petals might fade. Too much shade and the peony would have weak, slow growth. Peonies also like some protection from the wind. 

And on top of all that, you need to keep in mind that a Tree Peony will require lots of room to grow. They can reach 4-7 feet in height and 4-5 feet wide! An ideal spot would be a sheltered location with morning sun and a little bit of dappled shade during the hottest hours of the day. what area of my garden was there morning sun and light afternoon shade?

When best to plant a Tree Peony

The best time to plant any type of Peony is in the fall, but nurseries, like the one where I bought mine, often sell them in the spring.

Planting Preparations

Planting depths vary depending on the root type. Grafted tree peonies should be planted so that the graft is four to six inches below the soil. Tree peonies grown on their own roots should be planted so that the point at which the stems emerge from the root is 2" below the surface of the soil. Tree Peonies in a pot, like the one I bought, should be planted so that the soil in the planting hole is level with the soil in the pot. 

Planting a Potted Tree Peony:

Tree Peonies tolerate a variety of soil conditions but prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil with good drainage. You should dig a planting hole that is a least twice the size of the pot in width and depth. Place some dirt back in the bottom of the hole. This will allow your peony's roots to grow out into loose soil. Take your peony out of its pot and place it in the planting hole. It is recommended to amend your planting soil with some compost and a handful of bone meal. Backfill level to the pot's soil. Mulch the plant to help keep down weeds and to allow your peony to retain moisture. Water well.


Once established Peonies are pretty drought tolerant, but during the first growing season, it is important not to let your peony get too dry. When you notice your new Tree Peony could use some moisture, water it deeply. Try to avoid getting water on the foliage as it will encourage fungus.

Ongoing Maintenance

You can expect your Tree Peony to take 2 or even 3 years to settle in and bloom profusely. Remember these woody shrubs may take as long as 5 to 10 years to reach their full size. If this seems like a long time to wait, take comfort in the fact that peonies can live for 100 years or more


Try to avoid moving a peony as the plant will grow slowly while the roots re-establish themselves. If you must move a Tree Peony, move it in the fall

Begin at least 18" from the base of your peony, and work in a circle, loosening the soil with a large garden fork. Lift and secure the root ball with a piece of burlap. Cut off any remaining leaves, being careful not to cut any of the woody stems which will be responsible for next year's flowers. Move the peony to its new location, remove the burlap and replant your peony. Water well. 

Unfortunately, it may several years for the peony to recover.


Peonies don't need to be coddled, but they do benefit from regular applications of fertilizer and a top dressing of mulch. Mulch not only also serves to retain soil moisture, it helps to protect your peony through the winter.

In doing my research, I found recommendations that beginning in early spring of a peony's second year, it is a good idea to apply a fertilizer high in potash to encourage flowers to develop. A second and third application of a complete or organic fertilizer should be added after your peony finishes blooming and in mid to late fall. I think I will adopt this routine for all my peonies.


Prune a Tree Peony in early spring just as the buds are swelling. Begin by removing any dead wood. Prune back to a live bud or just above ground level. Here is a handy link to a video on pruning a Tree Peony:

Pests and Diseases

Good news! Deer and rabbits won't nibble on a Tree Peony. The only problem you might encounter is peony wilt or Botrytis, which appears in early spring just before Tree Peonies flower. If any stems collapse or spots appear on the leaves, remove them to help stop the spread of the infection. Fungal spores can overwinter on old foliage, so a fall cleanup of all old peony foliage is an important practice to adopt.

If I pick the right site and take good care of it, my Tree Peony should well outlive me.  And I should be able to look forward to years and years of beautiful white flowers.

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  1. Sheer beauty! I love that pure white colour and would really like a tree peony in my new garden. But buying a mature one is an expensive investment and I am not sure I have the patience to wait 10 years for any flowers! But boy are the beautiful, congratulations on yours :-)

    1. You shouldn't have to wait quite that long for flowers Helene. Flowers may appear in the first couple of years, but the Tree Peony won't reach its full mature size for 5-10 years.

  2. So much great information Jennifer! My brother has a tree peony that I have admired ever since he planted it! Yours is beautiful! It makes the most amazing addition to your garden! Nicole xo

  3. Beautiful white flowers!

  4. Great post about the Tree Peonies. You bought a lovely white one, but very expensive. I have two Tree Peonies, a white and a red one, they are flowering right at this moment, may be I put them on the blog one of these weeks. These two are already for years in my garden, my experience is that when they survive the first two years, they will remain and grow on. I have to say I tried another two tree peonies which died in the first year.
    Wish you a lot of success!

    1. Good to know that first couple of years getting established in a garden are critical to the Tree Peony's survival. Thank you for sharing your experience Janneke.

  5. The White tree peony is sublime. I have a yellow one which I had to move last year it is growing well - it did flower last year but went over very quickly. - mine is about 4ft high at the moment and doesn't receive any special treatment. A friend of mine moved her ordinary peony and it didn't seem to mind at all perhaps it is a myth that they don't like to be moved.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and that of your friend. Perhaps it is a myth that they dislike being moved.

  6. That one is a stunner! I don't have any peonies in my garden. I've always liked them but haven't added them to our garden yet. I like the idea of the tree peony and there are some varieties that grow in my area. Thank you for pushing me in this direction!

  7. Marvelous Peonies! Like delicate silk paper. They are my favourite flowers and I can hardly wait for them to bloom in my garden. Great captures!

  8. I was admiring a tree peony in a garden just a few days ago! It certainly made me want one, and now your post has increased the desire. Your photos are fabulous. Thanks for the great info!

  9. This is an amazing white bloom! Your photos are stunning of all the different textures and details of peonies. I feel just a little nervous of my peonies now .. I need to take better care of them I think! Thank you for detailing all the information on growing these beautiful flowers. Did you know there is a Peony Festival in Oshawa on June 13 & 14? I only recently found out about this, and wonder what it will be like. If you google 'peony festival oshawa' you will get all the details.

    1. Thanks Wendy for letting me know about the Peony festival in Oshawa. I think there is one in Peterborough as well. I'd love to attend both if I can manage it.

  10. Your new tree peony is so gorgeous! I have just one, a red one and so far it is only about 4ft high and not very wide yet, even though it must be over 10 yrs old. The flowers are beautiful, and your white one has such beautiful blooms!

  11. Absolutely beautiful. Two things have stopped me from adding one to my garden. First, I have never seen one blooming here. Not in gardens and not even in the botanical garden. Second, the price. You don't find these at bargain prices at a box store. They are very pricey at the boutique garden centers. That would be OK if it was certain to survive, bloom and thrive but who knows.

  12. Those blooms look glorious. I've always loved the peony and the wonderful array of colours they come in.

    It took me time to realise that the plants do need time to get properly established, but once they are ... the reward is immense.

    Do hope your week is going well

    All the best Jan

  13. I did enjoy finding out a little more about the tree peony, I've never grown one but would love too, my neighbour has a gorgeous red one. Yours is utterly heavenly! xxx

  14. I've always wondered about these, but never really seen them. They look much more like a regular peony than I expected. Just gorgeous.

  15. Thank you for all the information :) I don't own a Tree Peony and unfortunately don't have room for it in my current garden. The one you've photographed here is superb.

  16. I love your white Tree Peony tree - it is like a blushing bride.
    I have four trees, a soft lemon double, a pink like a ballet tutu, a species bright yellow Ludlowii, and a deep blood red species Paeonia delavayi. I have given several of the Ludlowii away to friends as their seeds are always producing new plants, and all of them have flowered.

  17. Oh my goodness that is beautiful. I'm enraptured by it's beauty, no wonder you made that promise to yourself. Do you remember when the fern leafed peonies came out? They were out of this world expensive..come to think of it, they probably still are, lol.

    Some wonderful tips on how to grow them, and thank you for that. I have a few herbacious sadly in a very hot and dry spot that the previous owners planted. And each year it has less blooms, so I think I should move it this fall...but to where? It starts off with a lot of buds but only a few actually open...any suggestions on what I am doing wrong.


    1. You're right Jen, fern leafed peonies are still pricy. I've wanted one of them for a while.

      Sounds like your peonies are getting enough sun (they won't bloom well in shade), but perhaps the soil is poor, and who knows, since you didn't plant it yourself, perhaps it was planted too deeply.
      I do think it might be a good idea to move them in the fall. When you replant them, make sure that the buds on the tubers are at soil level. Choose a sunny spot out of the wind. They like rich, free draining soil.
      In the short run, give it some liquid fertilizer that will penetrate down to the roots no matter how deep they are. This may help the buds to open. (It could be that the plant has enough energy to make buds, but not enough for them to develop.) An application of compost and a top dressing of mulch may help the plant with the dryness.

  18. This is a truely beautiful tree!

  19. Hello Jennifer girl !
    I did have a giggle over your seed packet problem, I do hope it works out for you !
    Feeling overwhelmed as soon as I open my eyes in the morning because I know I have so much to get done in the gardens ,, so I totally understand that !
    This is a gorgeous white peony tree ... I love white ! .. but my peony Tree is Kinshi in a soft yellow and seems to be happy because she is back full blast ... but ? my oak leaf hydrangea called Munchkin is not looking alive yet ....I will try and be patient for a bit but things are not looking good for it or I ! ... I think I lost my Canada Lily from the fence people too ... I worked on that plant over 13 years and that really freaks me out .... oh well, what can you do eh >buy another plant did you say ? LOL
    Take care
    Girl !!
    Joy : )

  20. Wonderful tree peony Jennifer!
    I tried to grow them too and bought 2 years ago Chinese tree peony. It wintered well the first year but didn't bloom and the second winter it didn't survive. Now I can just enjoy your tree peony, it's so white and fresh!

  21. I saw a peony very similar to this one at a nursery and it was absolutely gorgeous. Glad that you found one for your garden. It is great you did your homework prior to planting. I always do the same thing but I am not sure if I'm as successful as you are.

  22. A real beauty and sadly I have to move my tree is only about 2 feet tall and about 6 years old, but it needs room to grow...thanks for all the great info.


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