Selecting Peonies for Early, Mid, and Late Season Blooms
Peonies are one of America's best-loved perennials. Luckily, they’re also one of the easiest to grow. These robust, shrub-like plants bloom for generations with virtually no attention. They tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, are rarely bothered by deer or other pests and look attractive from spring through fall.
Of course the best thing about peonies is their amazing flowers -- blousy blooms as big as your hand with petals like brushed silk. With their soft texture and romantic colors, it's no surprise they're such a popular choice for bridal bouquets.
The only complaint one could ever have with peonies is that they only flower for a few weeks. Wouldn't it be great if you could enjoy these gorgeous blooms for a month or more? Well you can, and here’s how.
There are actually three types of peonies: tree, herbaceous and intersectional. Each type flowers at a slightly different time, and within each type there are early, mid and late bloomers. To extend the season, all you need to do is select your new peony plants based on their bloom time -- as well as their appearance!
Tree peonies have woody stems like a shrub and can reach 5 feet tall. They are the first peonies to bloom each spring and start opening at about the same time as late season tulips. The flowers are much larger than standard peonies (up to 10” across) and they come in a wider range of colors, including cream, yellow, gold, coral, lavender, pink and deep red. The white peony shown at left is Paeonia suffruiticosa 'Renkaku'.
Herbaceous peonies are the old-fashioned “bush” peonies that die back to the ground every winter. Plant heights range from 24 to 36” tall, and flowers styles are classified as single, semi-double, double, anemone and bomb (examples shown at left). Herbaceous peonies start blooming in early summer at approximately the same time as lilacs and continue for several weeks.
Intersectional peonies are also known as "Itohs" for the breeder who introduced them. They are hybrids created by crossing an herbaceous peony with a tree peony. Itohs die back to the ground like herbaceous peonies. This makes Itohs hardier than tree peonies, yet their flowers are as just as large and are available in a similar range of colors. The foliage of Itohs resembles that of a tree peony and the stems are extremely strong, so they're excellent cut flowers. A mature plant can produce as many as 50 blossoms. The Itoh variety shown at left is Bartzella.
To learn more about planting peonies, read our Growing Guide for Peonies.
Below is a list of popular herbaceous peonies sorted by bloom time. When shopping for tree and intersectional peonies, look for the same early-mid-late designations.
Early Season Bloomers:
Peony Black Beauty
Peony Purple Spider
Peony Festiva Maxima
Peony Buckeye Belle
Peony Coral Charm
Mid Season Bloomers:
Peony Lady Alexandra Duff
Peony Bunker Hill
Peony Duchess de Nemours
Peony Lady Liberty
Peony Red Supreme
Late Season Bloomers:
Peony Bowl of Beauty
Peony Felix Crousse
Peony Sarah Bernhardt
Peony Dinner Plate