Tree Peony Information

Where should I plant my tree peony?
Bai Yuan Hong Xia

Tree peonies are extremely hardy and will survive almost anywhere, in both sun and shade. They prefer an airy, reasonably open situation as air movement around the plant helps prevent fungal diseases like peony wilt. However, avoid a completely exposed situation where flower petals could blow away quickly and shorten the life of the flowers. These plants begin to grow very early in the year and young developing buds can be damaged by frost if exposed to early morning sunshine. Ideally, plant your tree peony where this can't happen, i.e. a north, south or west facing aspect.


Cai Hui

Generally speaking tree peonies prefer a fertile yet well drained soil. Fair amounts of organic matter are especially useful. They favor a neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Clay, chalk or sand is fine as long as they don't become too dry in the summer or very wet in the winter.


Yao Huang

Dig a large planting hole, incorporating some bone meal and a fair amount of well-rotted garden compost and manure. We do not recommend peat as a planting medium because of its acidity. Plant bare rooted tree peonies deeply. If your plant is grafted the graft union should be at least 3.5 inches below the soil. This will encourage the tree peony (scion) to make its own roots and basal shoots. Some varieties are propagated by division and don't have a graft union and deep planting encourages new growth from beneath the soil. Pot grown, rootballed or containerized specimens of all types should be planted slightly deeper than the soil level in the pot. Water them well after planting and during the following summer. For pot grown roots, incorporate more compost each year as summer water and winter rain wash out the nutrients.


Special Note for local customers who purchase peonies in our 5-gallon nursery pots:

Do not remove the plant from its container until the fall when the plant is dormant. Roots do not like to be disturbed during a growth cycle. As these pots are black, they will absorb the summer sunrays and the roots will heat up. To protect your roots and keep the pots from drying out too quickly, if you intend to plant them in the ground eventually, dig your hole now and place the pot into the hole to insulate the pot from summer heat. If you intend to eventually put the plant in a larger pot, select your pot now and fill it half way full of soil, put your potted plant in the larger pot and fill around this pot with additional soil. Remove the plants from their 5-gallon containers in the fall and replant in the ground or larger container. Our plants need to be removed from their original containers by the Sept following your purchase and placed in a permanent growing environment either in the ground or in a much larger container.


Subsequent Cultivation
High Noon

Usually a tree peony will grow away producing large handsome leaves and often some new shoots from the base. However, the main stem may not produce a shoot from the tip. Depending on the size of the plant you buy, flowering can happen any time from the first year to 4 years from planting. Sometimes a newly planted tree peony will appear to make little growth, if any, in its first season but all its activity happens underground. Providing the foliage looks reasonably healthy, don't panic. This may just be a 'settling in' period. Occasionally the main stem may die back a little. Although this might be worrying, wait until the next spring when vigorous growth should resume from the lower part of the stem or even from below soil level. If your plant is grafted, look out for suckers from herbaceous or tree rootstock and cut these off at ground level. The foliage is quite different from that of the grafted tree peony. Wait until you are sure these suckers are from the rootstock before removing them, as your tree peony will also produce basal shoots and these are what you want.


Er Qiao

Tree peonies are heavy feeders but dislike large doses of fast acting nitrogenous fertilizers. They respond well to a generous, early autumn top dressing of blood, fish and bone, a slow release organic fertilizer. Its high potash content encourages flowers to develop. A light sprinkling of a general fertilizer can be applied in the spring if you wish but certainly not necessary.



Tree peonies respond well to pruning. You should aim for a broad, multi-stemmed shrub of up to 4-5' in height, which will not need staking. Chinese and American types have a naturally branching habit and will need less regular pruning than the Japanese and French types. In February, just as the growth buds are swelling, trim off all the dead wood. You will often find that the new shoots are coming from lower down the stem, leaving a small dead spur. Whole branches will sometimes die. These should be pruned back to a live bud, or to just above ground level. With a young plant, only remove dead wood during the first two years to help get the plant established. Don't be tempted to prune. After this if your plant forms a good shape, no regular pruning is needed. However, if your plant has few stems and is poorly shaped, then prune hard. You may see buds at the base of the stem or shoots coming from below the soil. Prune back to these or down to 6" or less from the ground. Even if you can't see any basal buds, adventitious ones will form. The best time to prune is early spring, although this may mean that you sacrifice some flowers in the coming year. You can prune directly after flowering but re-growth is slower. If you have, or inherit, an older tree peony, which has never been pruned, it can be transformed and rejuvenated by applying this technique. It is best to prune just one main stem each year, cutting it down to about 15 cms. It takes courage to do this, but is usually successful.


Moving a Tree Peony
Kamata Nishiki

There's no need to worry about moving even a large, mature tree peony. Just move it during late autumn as you would any other woody deciduous shrub.


Tree Peonies in Pots

Tree peonies can be grown successfully for several years in a large container (at least 12 diameter) and make very fine pot plants. When planting, it is important to use a soil-based compost. Your plant should be grown outdoors during the summer, autumn and winter. In the spring, when the flower buds swell, you could move it into a cool conservatory to enjoy the blooms but be sure to return the plant outside when the flowers fall. Tree peonies must be outside in winter, as cold temperatures are needed to form the flower buds.


Peony Wilt
Guan Shi Mo Yu

Tree peonies rarely suffer problems from pests and are unpalatable to rabbits and deer. The only disease you are likely to encounter is peony wilt. This may appear in early spring, usually before flowering. Soft brown lesions develop at the base of new shoots and buds. These wilt and become covered with a characteristic gray bloom. As soon as any damage is seen trim back the affected shoots to healthy wood. Spray the whole plant with a systemic fungicide containing carbendazim. This should be repeated at 10-day intervals until no further damage can be seen. The fungal spores of peony wilt can over winter on old foliage so it's important to pick up and burn old leaves in the autumn. With deep planting, good hygiene and regular observation, although peony wilt may appear occasionally, it rarely causes serious damage to a mature plant.


Peonies and Freezing Temperatures
Hua Hu Die

As I am a grower in Northern California, I do not have any experience in growing peonies where the ground freezes. I would like to share tips on growing tree peonies in the east provided by a wonderful customer in New Jersey :
"I live in NJ so it will be getting into freezing temps at night in the fall. This is what I do. We probably won't have a hard freeze until Dec. What I mean by that is day and night temps in the freezing. Even with this cold/freezing temps I plant my Peonies deeply making sure that the soil is packed around the roots. Plant them, and water them thoroughly, cover with 1 inch of wood mulch and walk away. When the temp is freezing both day and night early Dec, I cover the Peonies with straw/hay to act as some winter protection. Also if you get really cold blowy winter weather you could cover the Peonies with a burlap bag to make sure the end buds don't die back. I found that the weather here in NJ doesn’t kill the peonies but I had so much die back due to winds. The burlap keeps the end buds nice. In March remove the burlap bags and your new babies should be fine."

Thank you, Adam Weiner!


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Chateau CharMarron Gardens

Marcia Reed
5335 Sierra Road
San Jose, Ca. 95132

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