The peony is an increasingly popular choice for both gardeners and flower lovers. Thanks to their showy blooms, more and more people are looking to add peonies to their garden. While these attractive blooms may look delicate and high maintenance, peonies are actually amongst the easiest flowers that you can grow. Further adding to the interest, as you will discover during the course of this article, is the fact that there are numerous peony varieties in a range of shapes, sizes and colors. Some are even fragrant.
During the course of this article, as well as listing some of the most reliable peony varieties, we will also provide you with some basic care information. This will help to ensure that your showy blooms will be at their best throughout the flowering period.
The peonies showy blooms are an increasingly popular addition to the flower garden.
Explaining the Different Types of Peonies
There are many different types of peonies. To help you choose ones that suit your taste and growing conditions they are often divided up into smaller groups.
Herbaceous or bush peonies tend to die down to the ground in winter, returning again the following spring. These are usually long lasting, low maintenance plants. Many herbaceous peony varieties are also deer-resistant.
Bush peonies die back during the fall and winter months.
Herbaceous peonies are divided into lactiflora cultivars, these are the most commonly found, and hybrids. Hybrid varieties are the product of crossing two or more different peony varieties. Often hybrids flower earlier than other types of peonies but produce only one flower per stem.
So called because of their woody stems, tree peonies lose their foliage during the fall. Unlike bush varieties the stems remain in place. Typically flowering before bush peonies, tree peony varieties are popular for their large flowers. Perennial plants, this variety is typically sold by the color of its flowers. Because tree peonies tend to emerge early in the spring they can fall victim to late season frosts.
Tree peonies flower earlier than other varieties.
Itoh or intersectional peonies are a cross between tree and herbaceous peonies. A hybrid, they come in a range of different colors. Similar to herbaceous plants, intersectional peonies usually die back during the winter months. Itoh peonies have a round, bushy growth habit. They are typically shorter than bush peonies. Itohs, such as Bartzella, are strong and reliable specimens. This resilience means that they are an increasingly popular choice amongst gardeners.
Peonies can be categorized by the shape that their flowers form.
You can also divide peonies into groups depending on the appearance of their flowers. Here the classification is determined by how the petals are arranged around the center of the flower. This arrangement determines the overall shape of the flower.
The most common groupings are:
- Single peonies, these typically consist of a single row of broad open petals that surround an open center which is filled with stamens and carpels. Singles come in a range of different colors.
- Semi-double peonies have several rows of petals which surround the center of the flower. This gives the bloom an attractive, layered look. When fully open the anthers, which bear pollen, and stamen are visible. Semi-double varieties also have guard petals which can sometimes be a different color to the other petals.
- Japanese Peonies, like semi-doubles, have a layered look. The large center can make the petals appear smaller than other types of peonies. The anemone type of Japanese peonies can have small, curved petals.
- Full-Double Peonies typically have several layers of petals without a visible center. In Full-Double flowering varieties the carpels and stamens are not visible because they develop into petals, often looking similar in appearance to the guard petals.
- Bomb Peonies are similar in appearance to full double peonies. The round or globe shaped flowers appear to be all petal meaning that Bombs have no visible crown. The round shape of the flower gives the plants a neat, sculpted appearance.
20 Different Peony Varieties
The different peony varieties listed below are all attractive specimens that exhibit some of these flowering plants best qualities. The majority of peonies happily grow in USDA Zones 3 to 7. Additionally, many cultivars can, with a little care, also be encouraged to flower in Zone 8. When planted in full sun and well draining soil, peonies are a striking, low maintenance addition to the flower garden.
An early single flowering variety, America is prized for its scarlet red flowers. Mildly fragrant the flowers, complete with fluffy yellow stamens sit on strong stems above lush, deep green foliage. Flowering well into midseason, America does best in full sun and well draining soil. In the right environment the plant can reach up to 42 inches tall. America’s upright growth habit and attractive flowers, coupled with a vigorous growth habit have helped to make it a garden favorite.
Single flowering flowers can be fragrant and attractive.
2 Green Halo
Despite the name this is actually one of the white flowering peony varieties on our list. While the petals of Green Halo are white they appear to emerge from a green, central nest. This gives the flower the appearance of having a green halo, hence its name. Reaching around 30 inches in height, Green Halo is an early to mid season flowering variety which, thanks to its unusual flowering habit, is a stand out addition to the garden.
Bratzella is a hybrid peony. The result of crossing a tree and herbaceous peony, Bartzella was first developed in the 1980s. Producing bright yellow ruffled flowers with a fragrant lemon scent, Bartzella is a midseason flowering variety which is capable of reaching around 40 inches tall if planted in full sun and well draining soil. The golden yellow flowers of Bartzella are a striking addition to the mixed flower bed.
Yellow flowering varieties add warmth to a flower bed.
4 Coral Charm
One of the more unique peony varieties on our list, Coral Charm is popular for its salmon colored flowers. A semi-double flowering variety, Coral Charm was first developed in the 1960s. The cultivars distinctive flowers, which help the plant to stand out amongst other peony varieties or in mixed flower beds, has helped to make this a popular choice. Coral Charm is a midseason flowering variety that can reach around 40 inches tall.
5 Raspberry Sunday
Due to its distinctive patterning, Raspberry Sundae, which is prized for its creamy-pink flowers, is one of the most unique peony varieties. As the flowers form, the rounded petals appear to explode from a central cup of pale-pink petals. Typically reaching 3 ft tall, Raspberry Sunday is a midseason flowering variety which provides attractive floral interest.
The creamy-pink blooms of Raspberry Sundae add midseason floral interest.
6 Burning Bright
A bright, pink-red flowering variety, the rich color of the flowers helps Burning Bright to stand out when planted alongside other peony varieties or flowering plants. Adding further interest, when the flowers of Burning Bright are fully open a bright yellow center is visible.
A reliable, easy to care for option, Burning Bright is a midseason flowering plant that usually grows to about 34 inches tall. This height enables the bright flowers to stand tall over other bedding plants and flowers when planted in a mixed flower bed.
7 Big Ben
Another of the fragrant peony varieties on our list, Big Ben is an easy to grow heirloom cultivar which is popular for its large, rose-red flowers. Flowering early in the season, Big Ben typically reaches 4 ft in height. One of the most vigorous peony varieties currently available, Big Ben is a reliable choice for most planting situations. Big Ben returns year after year if planted in a sunny, well draining favorable position.
Large ruffled blooms provide both texture and interest.
8 Spider Green
One of the newer peony varieties, Spider Green is a distinctive addition to any flower bed or cut flower garden. Flowering during midseason the intricate spider-like flowers have an attractive yellow center. This is surrounded by white leaves with a lime-green tint. One of the most fascinating peony varieties, the strong stems of the Spider Green cultivar hold up well in difficult weather and exposed conditions. Spider Green plants can reach 26 inches tall in ideal conditions.
9 Krinkled White
Ideal for USDA Zones 3 to 8, Krinkled White is a reliable option for growers in southern areas because it requires less exposure to cold weather than other peony varieties. First developed in the 1920s this midseason flowering plant remains popular today thanks to its pure white petals. A bright yellow center adds a pop of color and further interest to Krinkled White’s large, white flowers.
The pure white petals of Krinkled White.
10 Paula Fay
Paula Fay is a vigorous growing variety which, despite only being unveiled in the 1960s, has quickly become a firm garden favorite. A mid-season flowering variety, the semi-double red-pink flowers are the main attraction of Paula Fay. Reaching around 3 ft in ideal conditions, Paula Fay is also one of the most reliable peony varieties on our list.
11 Do Tell
Do Tell is one of the most attractive, light pink flowering peony varieties on our list. A reliable specimen, Do Tell is a great choice if you want to highlight other flowers or add fragrance to the garden. The Japanese forming flowers, meaning that Do Tell flowers have wide petals on the outside and a group of finer petaloids in the center, are both bright and eye-catching. Flowering during midseason, Do Tell plants can reach up to 36 inches tall if planted in well draining soil and full sun.
The flowers of Japanese peonies have a distinctive arrangement of different shaped petals.
12 Better Times
One of the pink flowering peony varieties on our list, Better Times was first developed in the 1940s. Best planted in full sun, where the stems can reach up to 38 inches in height, like many other peonies, Better Times prefers to be planted in well draining soil. A late flowering type, the showy flowers of Better Times are ideal for cut flower gardens as well as ornamental flower beds.
13 Fern Leaf Peony
Part of the attraction of Fern Leaf peonies is, as the name suggests, the delicate, dark green fern-like foliage that the plant produces. Adding texture to the flowerbed, the distinctive foliage helps Fern Leaf peonies to retain interest long after the red double flowers have faded. An early season flowering variety, reaching around 28 inches in height, Fern Leaf is a great choice if you are looking for peony varieties that provide long lasting interest.
The distinctive foliage of the Fern Leaf.
14 Sarah Bernhardt
One of the largest peony varieties on our list, Sarah Bernhardt is a fragrant heirloom flower which dates from the early 1900s. Since its arrival on the market the light pink flowers and sweet fragrance have remained a favorite amongst gardeners and peony lovers alike. A late season flowering variety, Sarah Bernhardt peonies can reach up to 3 ft tall if planted in a sunny, well draining position.
15 Gay Paree
Dating from the 1930s the eye catching Gay Paree is popular for its bright raspberry-pink flowers which have a contrasting ivory-white center. A midseason flowering cultivar, Gay Paree’s colorful blooms help it to stand out in even the most crowded of flower beds. Gay Paree is also a popular choice for cut flower displays and floral bouquets. Gay Paree plants typically measure 34 inches tall when in flower.
Bi-colored flowers are particularly attractive.
16 Pillow Talk
A fragrant, large pink flowering variety, Pillow Talk is a great addition to the garden. Flowering from mid to late season the double pink flowers are lightly bi-colored adding further interest to this attractive plant. Reaching around 32 inches tall, like many peony varieties, Pillow Talk is also suitable for a container garden. Just make sure that you plant this cultivar in fresh potting soil that drains well. As well as being a good container plant, Pillow Talk’s strong stems mean that it is also a good addition to the cut flower garden.
17 Bowl of Beauty
Another of the heirloom varieties on our list, Bowl of Beauty is a striking plant that dates from the 1940s. An early season flowering variety, during the spring months the stems of Bowl of Beauty support cup-like pink flowers with a cream center. One of the smaller peony varieties on our list, Bowl of Beauty reaches around 26 inches in height when fully grown.
Open cup-like flowers help to make this a striking addition to the flower bed. Source:
18 Sweet Marjorie
A dark pink flowering variety, Sweet Marjorie is one of the newer cactus-style peony varieties that are now available. The cut or twisted dramatic pink flowers emerge from early spring to early summer, sitting on 32 inch stems. Like other peony varieties it is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 7.
19 Coral Supreme
Another coral flowering variety, Coral Supreme produces attractive, semi-double flowers that are rich in color. The strong stems, reaching up to 36 inches tall, stand up well when exposed to difficult weather conditions. A resilient specimen, Coral Supreme is a colorful, reliable plant that typically flowers from early to midseason.
Coral Supreme is popular for its large, rich flowers.
20 Festiva Maxima
Another of the white flowering peony varieties on our list, the petals of the Festiva Maxima flower are attractively speckled with red spots. Reaching around 3 ft in height these are reliable, early season flowering peonies. An heirloom variety, Festiva Maxima dates from the 1850s but its attractive, patterned flowers have helped it to remain popular to this day. Like a number of other peonies listed here, Festiva Maxima is also a good cut flower.
Hints of color add further interest.
Caring for Peonies
Whichever of the peony varieties listed above you decided to grow, care and maintenance is largely easy.
Best planted in well draining soil, flowering is more profuse if these flowers are planted in full sun.
Before planting, enrich the soil with compost or well-rotted organic matter. This helps to improve drainage and general soil quality. Enriching the soil prior to planting also helps the plants to settle more quickly after planting by providing them with a nutritional boost.
If you are planting more than one peony, be careful to correctly space the plants out. This helps to maintain airflow around the plants and also prevents more vigorous specimens from smothering slow growing plants. How far apart you space your plants can vary depending on the variety you are growing. The exact spacing is usually printed on the information label that comes with the plant.
Taller varieties are best supported with a trellis or Bamboo Stake. This is particularly useful if you are planting in an exposed position. Staking helps the stems to maintain an upright growth habit which can be difficult when the plants are in full bloom and the stems become top heavy.
Once established peonies are surprisingly drought tolerant. Despite this resilience the plants still require watering during dry spells.
If planted in healthy soil you need only fertilize the plants once a year. As new growth emerges in the spring, apply a dose of balanced plant food. This encourages new, healthy growth. Liquid or water soluble fertilizers are easily incorporated into growing routines. If you are looking for an organic way to feed your plants, why not try making your own liquid plant food?
Usually grown as perennial plants, as they mature, peonies require dividing. The clearest sign that it is time to divide your peony is when you notice that flowering is not as abundant as in previous years. Divisions are best made in the fall. To divide peonies, carefully dig up the plant before using a sharp knife, such as a Fiskars Garden Hori Knife, to divide the bulb into sections. Each section should be free from signs of disease and have 3 to 5 eyes on it. Healthy sections can be replanted roughly 1 inch deep and about 3 ft apart.
During the winter months, particularly in colder areas, you may need to mulch the soil above and around the peony to protect it from harsh weather. You can also cover the soil with a horticultural fleece. Many, such as the Agfabric Frost Blanket are permeable solutions. This means that the blanket protects the soil and plant from exposure to cold temperatures and potentially harmful freeze and thaw cycles whilst still allowing light and moisture to permeate the soil.
All peony varieties are largely resilient plants, particularly if planted correctly. However, even when correctly cared for, diseases such as botrytis blight or leaf blotch may still develop. Should a fungal disease develop, cut away the affected area and dispose of it correctly. Do not place infected foliage on the compost heap. In severe cases the entire plant may need to be destroyed.
If you want to learn more about growing and caring for peonies, our in depth care guide has all the information that you need.
Peonies are showy flowers that are easy to care for.
Despite their showy blooms, peonies are surprisingly easy to grow. While they may not be the longest lasting flower, the peony remains an attractive addition to the garden. Whichever variety or varieties you decide to cultivate, the showy blooms of the peony are a great way to add interest to the garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.