When does a peony behave like a shrub? That’s not a riddle, and the answer is when it is a tree peony—a gorgeous shrub-like peony that blooms about two weeks earlier than regular peonies. If you look around gardens in the southern half of Minnesota, you may see them blooming now.
Tree peonies are a woody shrub with fern-like foliage and bright blooms that occur in mid-spring — mid to late May in Minnesota. Native to China, Paeonia suffruticosa are slow growing shrubs that will reach 3 to 4 feet in height in northern climates. Unlike herbaceous peonies, they do not die back in fall. Their blooms are striking — and a well-established tree peony may have 20, 30, 40 or even more blooms. When the blooms fade, the foliage and stout form of the shrub make it a steady presence in the garden. Put them in mid to back of the border with shorter perennials in front of them.
Tree peonies like nearly full sun—4 to 6 hours a day. Dappled sun also works well. Plant them in somewhat protected locations to prevent wind from blowing away the delicate blooms. Well-drained soil and regular applications of fertilizer or compost will keep your peony blooming and growing. Some experts recommend up to three applications of fertilizer a year— in early spring, just after blooming and a light application in fall.
Tree peonies are originally mountain plants, so they do not like to be in a wet location. Once established, they can tolerate a fairly dry site.
Tree peonies are somewhat slow to get established. Typically, expect to wait up to three years for blooms, but once they get going the shrubs will be covered with them. While you are waiting, enjoy the lovely foliage and beautiful shape of a tree peony.
Many tree peonies have dark pink to red blooms. However, you can also find plants with white, yellow and blush blooms as well. Check with a local garden center to see what they have to offer. You may want to order the tree peonies as bare-roots for planting in the fall. Here’s a great video with instructions on how to plant tree peonies.