Chinese Peony – Growth Guide & Plant Care

Chinese peonies — otherwise known as Paeonia lactiflora or the Garden peony — are hardy plants that are easy to care for. 

They’re best known for their large, bowl-shaped flowers that are fragrant and even known to attract butterflies.

Native to Central Asia, they’re now a popular plant in most gardens…

They’ll bloom year after year if you provide them with the proper care.

How Do You Take Care of a Chinese Peony?

Chinese peonies are relatively easy to care for, whether they’re being grown in your garden or in pots. Pay attention and give your penoies the proper temperature sunlight, water, and soil, and you’re sure to be rewarded with successful blooms.  

Let’s dive into how to do just that.

1. Temperature

Since Chinese peonies are a type of perennial plant, they need winters cold enough to cause dormancy. This means that for 2-3 months, the temperature needs to be between 33 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit in order to bloom. 

Chinese peonies do not do well in humidity or hot weather. Their ability to thrive in colder environments makes them a popular variety up North… 

In fact, certain varieties can even survive temperatures as cold enough as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Sunlight

Sunlight is needed, but an excess can cause the leaves to burn. If you’re planting Chinese peonies in warmer climates, you may need to ensure that they have partial shade.

Chinese peonies bloom best with at least 6 hours of daily sunlight.     

3. Water

The amount of water that your Chinese peonies will need depends on the region you’re located in. 

If your home experiences regular rainfall, you may not need to provide them with additional water.

(Typically, 1 inch of water a week is enough).

Even though Chinese peonies are resistant to dry weather, you need to make sure the soil is moist enough during spring and fall. 

You can place your finger in the soil gently to test if the first 2 to 4 inches are dry or moist. If it’s dry, make sure you’re watering the soil deep enough to nourish the roots.

4. Soil

Make sure your Chines peony’s soil is well-fertilized and well-drained. When these 2 requirements are met, you can plant your peonies in a variety of different soil types.

Neutral soil is best, but the peonies can withstand slightly acidic or sticky soil.

Make note of whether you’re planting your Chinese peonies in clay or sandy soil. Add organic matter if your soil is high in either of these — and remember, sandy soil will require more watering than clay soil.

Types of Chinese Peonies

There are many varieties of Chinese peonies, hundreds even, as the flower has been cultivated for centuries. Here are 5 of the most common varieties:

  1. P. lactiflora “Shirley Temple”
  2. P. lactiflora “Bowl of Beauty”
  3. P. lactiflora “Sarah Bernardt”
  4. P. lactiflora “Karl Rosenfield”
  5. P. lactiflora “Sea Shell”

All of these different types have different bloom times, which may influence your decision the next time you’re going peony shopping.

How to Get Chinese Peonies to Bloom

You can expect your Chinese peonies to bloom in late spring / early summer. Set your flowers up for success by following the guidance above.

Chinese peonies may not bloom the first year, or second, around — but don’t give up hope! By year 3, your patience should be rewarded with beautiful blooms.

Planting too deep in the soil might hinder blooming, so make sure they’re planted shallow enough — no more than 2 inches deep. This will ensure they receive a proper winter chill during their dormant period.

If you want to encourage your peonies to continue blooming, do not harvest more than ⅓ of your flowers.

Common Problems with the Chinese Peony

Hopefully, your experience with your Chinese peonies is painless — they’re very resilient plants.

However, if you do have any issues, they may be one of the following:

  • Botrytis blight: If there are wilted or brown/black patches on leaves, your peonies might be affected by Botrytis blight, sometimes referred to as grey mold.
  • Southern blight: Southern blight is one form of fungal disease that can affect your plant, also known as white mold or crown rot. If you notice wilted foliage or decoloration, act fast, because your plant may die from this.   
  • Herbicide damage: If you’re using herbicides in your garden, your plant may become damaged. This will appear in the form of stunted growth or discolored leaves.

You may notice ants around your Chinese peonies, but not to worry, they’re harmless.

They’re just attracted to the flower’s nectar.

What Does the Peony Symbolize in Chinese Culture?

The peony is a well-regarded flower in Chinese culture — it’s actually the country’s unofficial national flower.

 In China, these flowers are considered “the king of flowers” and they are often associated with prosperity and happiness. In Imperial China, peonies were sewn into the clothes of the imperial family.

Due to their big petals, they also can symbolize romance and love.

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Written By Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is a Master Gardener who edits and writes content for websites and magazines. Over the past two decades, she has been writing for The Doorstep about houseplants and indoor gardening. Since she started writing about plants, Sarah has been collecting rare and tropical plants. The Berkshire Botanical Garden awarded Sarah a certificate in horticulture in 2017.

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