Peonies have been a garden favorite for centuries. This can be both a blessing and a curse... With such an amazing selection of peonies available, how are you supposed to know which one is right for you and your garden?
Choosing the right Peony is important, because these resilient perennial plants can live for generations. Peonies are easy to care for, deer-resistant, and are generally free from disease.
There are several factors to consider when choosnig which type of peony is best for your property:
First, we'll help you understand the two types of peonies that we offer: Garden Peonies (also known as herbaceous perennial peonies) andItoh Hybrid Peonies.
Next, we'll discuss important natural factors, including location, climate, sunlight.
Then we cover bloom types, color, and bloom times.
Last but not least, we'll review propagation techniques and pricing.
By the time you've read this article, you'll be able to confidently shop for your next peony purchase.
Garden Peonies & Itoh Peonies: The Best Peonies Available to Home Gardeners
Garden Peonies need at least six hours of good, full sunlight to thrive. Once established, after about 2-3 years, they become incredibly easy to care for. Oftentimes, these soft-stemmed plants need to be staked or caged to keep them upright to support their heavy blossoms.
Itoh Peonies are the creation of Japanese plant hybridizer Toichi Itoh. His heart was set on seeing the large flowers of the upright Tree Peony (pictured above), growing atop the lush green foliage of a Garden Peony. Mr. Itoh worked tirelessly, and dedicated himself to over 2,000 attempts before his first successful cross. Sadly, it was a victory he never saw come into bloom - he passed away before those specimens flowered seven years later! Though he did not live to see the Itoh Peony's rise to success, we're luck to have many Itoh varieties to choose from today.
Natural Factors for Growing Peonies: Location, Climate, and Sunlight
Now that you know the differences between the two main Peonies, let’s approach your decision from a facts-only point of view.
Location and Climate: If you live in the deep south or the far north, temperatures and humidity may rule your Peony selection.
If you live in a northern location with a shorter, cooler garden season, you’ll do better with Garden Peonies. Garden Peonies are most popular in Zones 3 - 8, and may need a bit of extra care within the extreme edges of their range.
If you live in the deep south, one trick to getting them to behave just right, is to choose an early-blooming variety that will come into flower before the heat of summer hits.
Likewise, a late-blooming Garden Peony is bound to be more successful in the northernmost portions of zone 3, where temperatures will have warmed up enough for them to thrive at their peak bloom-time.
If you live in Zones 5 - 8, you can get great results from any Peony.
Available Sunlight: While Garden Peonies need full sunlight, Itohs prefer dappled sunlight and can even tolerate part-sun. As a general rule of thumb, the farther south you live, the more your garden is exposed to sun and humidity. In hotter, sunnier locations, you’ll need to give your peonies more space for increased air circulation and maybe a bit less sun than usual.
Peony Bloom Types, Colors, and Timing
Bloom Types: You could certainly choose your Peonies by blooms alone!
Garden Peonies have been bred to display differing types of blooms with varying degrees of fullness, from simple single, to full semi-double, to dramatically lush double petals.
Generally speaking, Garden Peonies are more compact and fragrant, and can appear very full and fluffy.
Itoh blooms are extra large, with more delicate-looking.
Color: if you have your heart set on a certain color, you may find that you’ll have more options when shopping one type over another.
Garden Peonies are generally known for pretty pinks and rich reds.
Itoh Peonies come in gorgeous yellows and golds, which is a trickier color to find in herbaceous Garden Peonies.
Bloom Time: Different types of Peonies flower at different times, and you may have an opinion about that! Some folks have a particular time of year or annual event in mind that they’d like their Peonies to bloom for. Depending upon your garden zone (and season fluctuations), you can usually nail down when certain Peonies will flower.
The general rule of thumb is: Garden Peonies bloom in late spring/early summer...
While Itohs can bloom longer, from late spring into late summer.
Peony Propagation Techniques and Pricing
As you begin shopping for Peonies, you’re sure to notice that prices can be significantly different.
Itohs typically cost 4 – 5 times more than Garden Peonies. Like many people, you may be happy to pay more for the larger blooms, sturdier form, and extended bloom season that other Peonies offer.
If price is a deal breaker for you, stick with Garden Peonies.
It’s always nice to know why the pricing is so very different – and in this case, it’s all about propagation techniques.
Itoh Peonies are propagated (reproduced) in two different ways: either naturally, using bare root cuttings from an existing plant, or, in a labortaory, using tissue-culture techniques.
Natural cuttings are much healthier, quicker-to-flower, and are easier to grow. This more care-intensive process is valuable for the resilience of your plant.
Laboratory grown tissue-cultured Itohs can be less expensive up front, however, they have are known for being more difficult to manage and slower to bloom.
American Meadows sources only bare root cuttings to ensure the highest quality mature peonies. Bare roots are a great choice as they generally grow more vigorously than pre-started peonies.
Learn tips & technqiues for planting peonies, how to grow peonies throughout the season, and how to care for peonies at the end of the season.
'Sarah Bernhardt' is a beloved Peony with large double flowers in fresh, pastel pink. Introduced in 1906, this longtime favorite blooms dependably year after year and presents a healthy amount of emerald green foliage to add interest to the garden throughout the season. Also known for its fragrance, 'Sarah Bernhardt' makes a great cut flower - try it in arrangements or float it all by itself in a simple bowl. Like all peonies, this one is deer resistant, cold hardy and extremely long-lived. (Paeonia lactiflora)
‘Festiva Maxima’ has been a garden favorite for more than 150 years! Large white flowers, handsome foliage, and enchanting fragrance are the hallmarks of this beloved early-season peony. Burgundy spring foliage and yellow fall color add to the charm of ‘Festiva Maxima’. Makes a stunning specimen in the early summer garden. Strong stems are excellent for cutting. (Paeonia lactiflora)
Three American Peony Society 'Gold Medal' winners make up this champion collection of the best-of-the-best peonies! 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' has pastel pink petals and a frilly gold center, 'Coral Sunset' flowers in a saturated rosy-orange, and 'Canary Brilliants' Itoh peony brings semi-double blooms of creamy yellow to the garden. All are fragrant and deer resistant.
Peony Coral Sunset buds open up in early spring as deep, rose-coral and slowly fade to yellow as the season progresses. The semi-double blooms are fabulously-fragrant and make gorgeous spring bouquets. (Paeonia lactiflora)
'Scarlet Heaven' Itoh Peony has striking, deep scarlet-red petals that surround golden yellow centers on enormous single flowers. The 7 to 9 inch blooms arrive in late spring and are lightly fragrant. Cold hardy and resistant to disease, 'Scarlet Heaven' does not require staking and is resistant to both deer and rabbits. (Paeonia Itoh)
'Bartzella' Itoh Peony brings a rare presentation to the peony world, with charming yellow blooms streaked crimson red at center. Each unusual bloom carries a sweet, citrusy fragrance and measures up to 8 inches across. Flowering in late spring, 'Bartzella' is both deer and rabbit-resistant and lasts for an impressive time when cut for arrangements. (Paeonia Itoh)
Canary Brilliants Itoh Peony has creamy yellow double blooms with delicate rose centers. Lightly fragrant, this Itoh peony can have 30-50 blooms per season once established. Perfect in sun or part shade our exclusive cultivar will wow everyone who sees it! (Paeonia Itoh)
'First Arrival' Itoh Peony is early to bloom, showering the garden with large, 8 inch, rose-scented flowers in mid spring. Pink-lavender semidouble blossoms are stained a cranberry purple at the base of each petal and surround perfect golden centers. Sweetly fragrant with dark green foliage, 'First Arrival' produces masses of excellent cut flowers. Easy to grow and deer resistant. (Paeonia Itoh)