How to Grow Chinese Peonies (Paeonia lactiflora)

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Chinese Peonies (Paeonia lactiflora): Plant Care & Growing Guide

In areas where winters are cold enough to induce plant dormancy, no garden is complete without peonies. The most popular peony of all is the common garden peony, also called the Chinese peony. It has been cultivated for centuries and there are several thousand cultivars and hybrids.

The special thing about peonies is that their stems usually have a primary flower bud, which blooms first, followed by smaller side buds so you can enjoy their spectacular blooms for longer.

Peonies can take up to three years to establish and bloom, but your patience will be rewarded with a long-lasting perennial flower. Peonies are extremely long-lived: they can reach more than 100 years.

Botanical Name Paeonia lactiflora
Common NameChinese peony, common garden peony
Plant TypeHerbaceous perennial
Mature SizeTwo to three feet height, two to three feet width
Sun ExposureFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypeSandy, silt, loamy
Soil pH6.5 to 7
Bloom TimeLate spring to early summer
Flower ColorPink red, white
Hardiness Zones3-8
Native AreaChina, Siberia

How to Grow Chinese Peonies

When planting peonies, generous space and good air circulation are crucial because overcrowding encourages the spread of disease. Chinese peonies are planted like other peonies, which are described here.

Peony flowers are large and heavy, so they tend to fall off, especially after it rains. If you don't want to buy special peony rings, you can use wooden or light metal stakes and ropes to make your own stand.

The only other regular maintenance peonies require is foliage removal and thorough cleaning in the fall. During the growing season, for a cleaner appearance and to prevent the spread of disease, remove all infected leaves.


For best flowering, garden peonies need full sun, with at least six hours of sun. The only exception is warmer climates, where you can plant them in partial shade to protect them from the midday heat.


Peonies can grow in many different soils as long as the soil is fertile and well-drained. Avoid damp places where there are puddles of water. If the soil is sandy or loamy, add organic matter but not a fertilizer, as this can cause botrytis in plants. When adding additives to the soil, be sure to mix them well.


Chinese peonies generally do not require watering. Their water needs are greatest in spring and fall, so if dry conditions are experienced during these crucial months, keep the soil evenly moist by watering it slowly and deeply as needed.

Temperature and humidity

Peonies are perennials for cold climates. They need the winter cold to induce the dormancy of the plants.

They do not do well in high heat and humidity, especially during flowering. In warmer climates, an alternative solution is to select varieties that flower earlier, before the onset of the summer heat.


Chinese peonies generally don't need fertilizers unless the soil is nutrient-poor. Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as a bulb fertilizer, after flowering and again in late summer, around the plant's drip line.

Varieties of Chinese Peonies

Of the many different cultivars of Chinese peonies, these Paeonia lactiflora cultivars are some of the most popular:

  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernardt’, a fragrant late-season bloomer with rose-pink double flowers.
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Karl Rosenfield’, a crimson-colored mid-season bloomer with double flowers.
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Shirley Temple’, a fragrant, early bloomer with double, light-rose flowers that gradually fade to ivory.
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Bowl of Beauty’, a fragrant, early-season bloomer with single pink flowers and frilly off-white to yellow centers.
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Kansas’, a fragrant, early to mid-season bloomer with bright pink-red double flowers.
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’, a highly fragrant, early-season bloomer with double white flowers.

Growing Chinese Peonies in Containers

Because they are so tall and heavy on top, Chinese peonies tend to tip over when planted in containers. If you want to grow them this way, choose dwarf hybrids, also called patio peonies.

Common Pests/Diseases

The most common diseases that affect Chinese peonies are botrytis rust and other fungal diseases, especially in wet and cold spring climates. If you notice diseased, blackened, or wilted leaves or stems, remove them immediately to prevent the spread of disease. In the fall, cut the herbaceous stems a few inches and throw them away.

Downy mildew, which is also a fungus, appears as a white coating on leaves and stems, especially in hot, humid summers. It is ugly and does not harm plants. Also, in this case, a thorough fall cleaning helps prevent the plants from being infected again the following year.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Planting Flowers

Source: P. Allen Smith

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