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Herbaceous Peony: Growing, Caring, Planting, Dividing, Diseases and Pests...

Herbaceous peony.

Bright, bold colour stands out in any garden.

Herbaceous Peony Karl Rosenfield

Depending on the variety they will bloom in late spring to late summer.

I offer perennial peonies. They will die back to the ground in late fall, emerging with fresh growth in the spring.

They will get loaded with flowers that can brighten up the landscape. Some varieties can even live for up to 100 years!

They can be grown in large containers but do much better in the ground. They can be a little temperamental if you transplant or divided them anytime other then when they are dormant in the fall.

Peony Varieties

Herbaceous, tree, and Itoh peony types

There are 3 types of peonies according to their growing habit:

  • Bush (or herbaceous peony) - these are your typical peonies that everyone loves. They grow about 2-3' tall in colours of pink, red or white.
  • Tree - They are a slower grower but can get up to to about 7' tall and do not die back over the winter. The flowers are sometimes called dinner plate flowers and can get anywhere from 6-10" in diameter.
  • Itoh - a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies and can get about 50 flowers or more with yellow or goldish coloured flowers. They flower on sturdy stems and won't flop over like herbaceous peony types do. 

There are 6 different peony varieties according to their flowers:

Anemone Peony

Anemone Peony

Single Peony

Single Peony

Japanese Peony

Japanese Peony


Semi-double Peony

Double Peony

Double Peony

Bomb Peony

Bomb Peony

  • anemone - similar to the Japanese peony but with no pollen. The stamens are reconstructed into petals and they shouldn't need staking.
  • single - one or more rows of large petals surround the center of the flower. No staking should be necessary.
  • Japanese - the flowers are fancier then the double flowering peonies and the plant will more then double the size of regular plants.
  • semi-double - have more then one row of petals around the crown which can always been seen and the stems should be strong enough to support the flowers so you won't need to stake them.
  • double - in most cases the petals grow together to form a ball and the stamen can't be seen.
  • bomb - a large globe-shape of petals with no stamen.

How to Grow Peonies

Herbaceous peony are fast growing plant. They love full sun of at least 6 hours, the more sun the better, and they will attract a lot of pollinators to your garden. They also thrive in well draining soil.

After the flowers die off the glossy green leaves will turn a purplish to gold colour in the fall.

Ants on peonies are a good thing. They eat the nectar that develops on the flowers which won't hurt the plant. They also getting rid of any bad insects that might be trying to take over your peony flowers.

They are good for zone 3-8 USDA they are also deer and rabbit tolerant and pretty much pest and disease free.

How to Plant Peonies

how to plant herbaceous peonies

When planting herbaceous peonies you will want to choice a place where it will get good air circulation. They are prone to get gray mold, called botrytis and will need the air circulating through the plant. 

Plant them away from other trees and shrubs as they don't like to compete for water and nutrients.

When planting more then one herbaceous peony together, make sure you leave about 3-4 feet between each plant. This will give them enough room to grow and they will still have enough air circulation. 

Sheltering them from strong winds is best so the plant won't be torn apart from the wind.

The best time to Plant the roots is in fall, about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives them time to get established. Plant the roots about 2-3 inches below the soil but not any deeper. The roots need to freeze during winter to be able to come up fresh in the spring.

If buying a potted plant that is already growing, you can plant it any time.

When applying fertilizer, you will want something with low nitrogen. The numbers should be about 5-10-10.

How to Divide Herbaceous Peonies

Dividing herbaceous peonies is easy and should only be done in fall after the plant is dormant. 

  • Cut back the foliage to about 1 inch or so from the soil. 
  • Dig up the root ball and clean off as much dirt as you can.
  • Cut apart the mother root into sections of about 3-4 eyes.
  • Each section can now be planted but keep them about 3-4 feet apart to make sure there is good air circulation between them.

If you want to see how it's done watch this short video on dividing peonies from Better Homes and Garden. It's only 1 and a half minutes long but it shows you exactly how to do it.

Types of Herbaceous Peony Perennials

Peonies are roots with at least 3 eyes. They need to be planted 2 inches below the soil line.

Alertie Peony (Paeonia lactiflora 'Alertie')

Karl Rosenfield Peony (Paeonia lactiflora 'Karl Rosenfield')

Alertie Peony is a pink to light pink double flowering perennial with a sweetly fragrant smell.

It's early blooming and grows about 40 inches tall.



Festiva Maxima (Paeonia lactiflora 'Festiva Maxima')

Best Man Peony (Paeonia lactiflora 'Best Man')

Big, bold fragrant white flowers with a touch of bright red in the center.

It will grow to about 28-34 inches tall and blooms from late spring to early summer.

Festiva Maxima


Sword Dance (Paeonia lactiflora 'Sword Dance')

Best Man Peony (Paeonia lactiflora 'Best Man')

Large bright red petals with an impressive yellow center.

Grows to about 2-3 feet tall in late spring to early summer.

Sword Dance


Bartzella itoh (Paeonia 'Bartzella')

Bartzella itoh peony (Paeonia 'Bartzella')

Low maintenance and a fast grower, Bartzella will hold it's yellow blooms high on sturdy stems.

They get around 50 bright yellow blooms during their bloom season.

It grows about 2.5-3' tall and dies back to the ground ever winter.



Herbaceous Peonies Not Blooming?

If your herbaceous peony isn’t flowering, there could be a lot of reasons for this

  • It’s still too young – could take up to 3 yrs before it will flower
  • If it’s planted to deep it won’t flower. 2-3 inches below the soil is right depth
  • If it freezes after the plant starts to emerge it can kill the buds before they open
  • If it’s too hot the peonies won’t flower
  • Peonies like full sun but if it’s planted in too much shade it won’t flower
  • Fertilizing with too much nitrogen will prevent them from flowering. It’s putting too much energy into growing more lush green foliage.

There are also diseases that will prevent your peony from flowering or kill your plant.

Here are some to watch for:

Herbaceous Peony Pests and Diseases


Botrytis Blight – (also called gray mould) Botrytis blight synonym are

  • Black/brown spots on the leaves
  • Cankers on the stems
  • Flower buds turn a brown colour and don’t open

If you spot this you need to remove any infected part of the herbaceous peony. That includes deadheading flowers and cleaning up any debris that is lying around.

Blotch – on herbaceous peonies it appears as

  • small red to purple spots on new leaves which grows into larger blotches
  • The underneath of the leaves will be a dull brown color
  • Reddish coloured lines coming from the blotches.

This happens in spring right before it starts to bloom and spreads to the entire plant.

It won’t kill the plant unless it happens every year. The plant will look unattractive for the rest of the growing season.

Powdery mildew on plants – this is easy to spot as it's whitish coloured fuzz on the leaves and stems of the plant. It won’t hurt the growth of the plant but it doesn’t look very nice.

Cutting back your infected plant parts and throwing them in the trash will help control it.

Viral diseases – These viruses are deadly to the herbaceous peony as there is no cure. The only thing you can do is dispose of the plant directly into the garbage.

The viruses include:

  • Ringspot virus also called Tobacco rattle virus or Mosaic is mottling of the leaves (having yellowish to green streaks through them)
  • Crown elongation on peonies have elongated crowns and weaker stems
  • Le Moine or Lemoine disease causes the roots to gnarl and distorted. The disease will cause the plant becomes stunted

It might be best to get someone who knows about these viruses to take a look at your plant before you depose of them. You will want to make sure it’s a virus your plant has and not something else that is curable.

Wilt and root rot – Herbaceous Peonies don’t like their roots to stay in water. If they stay wet to long the roots will rot which will cause the leaves to wilt and the plant will at some point die.

Foliar nematode – This disease will affect any part of the plant that is above the ground. The symptoms are:

  • It has jagged leaves with water soaked spots that look like bruising between the veins.
  • Leaves turn brown before turning black and falling off
  • Other symptoms include: 
  • stunting of plant and leaves
  • multicoloured
  • not flowering
  • a lot of leaves around the base of the plant
  • herbaceous peony dies

Keeping the leaves dry will help with containing foliar nematode.

Bud blast – if your peony gets stress it can cause bud blast. That is when you see the buds but they don’t open. If you can figure out what is causing them stress and fix the problem they should bloom next year.

Peony Pests

Ants – ants on herbaceous peonies won’t harm them and won't stop them from blooming. They are only eating the nectar that the plant produces.

Scale Insects – You can see them on the plant if you look close. Symptoms that your plant might have scale insects are:

  • The leaves will turn yellow and fall off
  • The plant won’t grow as fast as it should and gets stunted
  • Scale insects can carry viruses and spread them to other plants
  • Some species of scale insects produce honeydew (a sticky substance that attracts ants)

Thrips – Very tiny insects that are hard to see. It’s best to spot them on light coloured flowers.

Symptoms of thrips:

  • The flowers and leaves will lose their colour. Almost bleached looking.
  • The leaves will fall off
  • If there are too many on one plant they make the leaves look almost burnt

Mixing a couple drops of Dawn dish soap with water in a spray bottle will end scale insects and thrips on herbaceous peonies. You may need to apply it every 3 days for a couple weeks to make sure you kill the adults and larva.


Uses in Landscape

Herbaceous peony shrubs are perfect for lining your driveway or your front walkway. They can also make a great low hedge around your deck or patio area.

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