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Pretty peonies

Tree variety is more like a shrub

Peonies are one of the most loved groups of flowering plants. They are also one of the most diverse due to hybridization that began hundreds of years ago and continues today. There are two main groups, herbaceous peonies and tree peonies. Herbaceous peonies are by far the more popular and readily available group, but the somewhat rare tree peonies won my heart a long time ago.

Tree peonies are not a tree at all, but really a shrub-like peony because they have woody stems that do not die to the ground each winter. They grow typically about 3 to 4 feet wide and tall and do not require any support. While herbaceous peonies require full sun, tree peonies prefer to grow in part shade. Known to be easy to grow and nearly pest-free, this very low-maintenance plant is a show stopper when in full bloom.

Tree peonies bloom in April and May throughout Kentucky, but the foliage remains beautiful and lush throughout the growing season. The flowers can be 6 to 8 inches across and are available in red, pink, purple white and yellow. The unknown hybrid, pictured above, grows in my garden and each year as it begins to bloom, I find myself smiling and grateful to have planted it six years ago.

Tree peonies are best left undisturbed, once planted, so select the site carefully. Transplanting established plants is notoriously unsuccessful. It takes a few years for them to get established, but once they are, they will produce lots of flowers and are known to live long and beautiful lives. 

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207. 

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