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What is So Special About a Peony?

Updated: May 24, 2023

By: Amy Hilgert, Garden Account Manager

 

You've probably caught the sweet scent of peonies in bloom as you've walked through your neighborhood. Their stunning flowers are hard to miss! Peonies are one of the most requested perennials by our clients—and they are in high demand for good reasons.

Did you know that individual peony blooms can reach up to 10 inches wide depending on the variety? And they come in just about every color except blue.

In addition to their large, layered flowers and sweet fragrance, peonies have incredible staying power, as they can live for over 100 years! They also make excellent cut flowers that last a week or more in a vase. It's possible to refrigerate them, too, and keep the buds for up to three months—then enjoy them long after their natural blooming season.


No wonder peonies are a fan favorite, but there's also much more to them than you might realize. I did some digging to find out just what makes a peony so special and came up with some fascinating answers:

  • The peony is native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America. The Tang Dynasty of China began breeding peonies in the imperial courts in the 7th century BCE. Their popularity spread to Japan in the early 11th century and France and England in the 18th century. Then, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they began gaining popularity in the U.S. The peony even became the state flower of Indiana in 1957, replacing the zinnia for the honor.


  • The peony is named after Paeon, who was a student of the Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius. Greek mythology tells us that Paeon healed a wounded Zeus with a peony which made his teacher insanely jealous, and Asclepius wanted to kill Paeon. Zeus being grateful saved Paeon by turning him into a peony.  


  • Peonies represent romance and love and are considered a good omen for a happy marriage, which makes them a popular choice among brides. They're also the traditional flower for 12th wedding anniversaries and like lots of flowers, the meaning of peony blooms changes according to their color. Red peonies mean love, pink means good fortune, and prosperity while white signifies bashfulness.

  • Ants love peonies! They are attracted to the sweet nectar found inside peony buds so they climb inside which helps the flowers open (although peonies will open just fine on their own). Peonies don’t need ants, but the ants do not harm the plant in any way. If you cut the flowers and want to avoid bringing ants into your home, just give the blossoms a shake or dunk them in some cool water. If you plan to cut peonies, cut them at night when the ants are less active. 


  • Deer hate peonies and so do bunnies; Which makes us landscapers love them even more! Peonies are carefree plants that are rarely troubled by pests or disease. It takes at least two to three years for a young peony plant to get established, but once it has settled in, it will bloom reliably year after year.


  • Peonies do not do well in warmer climates. They need at least 400 hours of temps below 40 degrees to bloom in the spring. 

Peonies can’t store up energy for next year’s blooms without leaves. When cutting flowers, don’t remove more than half of the blooms and make sure to leave enough stem (with at least 3 or 4 leaves) on the plant.

Tip: Remove dead blooms in spring but wait to cut peony bushes to the ground until after the first frost.
  • Lighter pink peonies are more fragrant than the darker ones.



  • Like many sun-loving perennials, peonies are sun bathers and do require six hours of sun a day. Sunshine is essential to grow strong plants with plenty of blooms. Peonies become leggy, scraggily, and have little flower buds on them if they are in a shady area. Less light means fewer flowers.


So, I can certainly understand why peonies are perennial garden classics and why they are loved throughout the world for their extravagant, early summer blossoms. They are dependable, incredibly long-lived plants and will bloom for generations with little attention. As cut flowers, peonies have no rivals. Alone or in mixed bouquets, they have an elegant natural beauty and a delicate, unforgettable perfume.


Here at M.J. Design Associates, we love peonies! And if you decide to add some to your landscape or just want more…Please reach out to us, we have all of your peony needs covered!

 

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