Despite the name, tree peonies are actually small shrubs, rather than trees, producing gorgeous, goblet-shaped flowers in May and June.
Unlike herbaceous peonies, which die back each year, tree peonies are taller and retain a permanent framework all year round. Ideally plant your tree peonies in autumn in a partially to fully shaded spot, in moist, well-drained soil. Most soils are fine, apart from those that remain very wet in winter or are on the acidic side. Plant them slightly deeper than the soil level in their container when purchasing.
If you spot suckers appearing at the base of your tree peonies, cut these off as they’ll be growing from the rootstock and will differ in appearance to the rest of the plant.
Discover some of the best tree peonies to grow, below.
This gorgeous cultivar has purple-pink blooms with delicate black markings at the base of the petals, helping to draw the eye to the striking yellow centres. It looks fabulous surrounded by a carpet of forget-me-nots (Myosotis) or Chinese forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum). Height x Spread: 120cm x 90cm.
‘Shimane Sedai’ has beautiful, rose-coloured flowers with petals that ruffle slightly at the edges. When young, the blooms are semi-double, but as this peony matures, the flowers become progressively larger and more double. H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
‘Souvenir de Maxime Cornu’
This Japanese tree peony has blowsy peach-coloured flowers with frilly pink edges. Each flower has a warm yellow centre. Plants with purple flowers are the perfect match for this variety, so consider underplanting with dusky cranesbills (Geranium phaeum) and spring peas (Lathyrus vernus). H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii
The spectacular cut foliage of this variety provides a fresh, green backdrop for the bright yellow blooms. It’ll reach a greater size than most other tree peonies, so plant it somewhere where it’ll have plenty of room to expand. Large pods holding glossy black seeds follow on from the flowers. H x S: 3m x 2m.
‘Duchess of Kent’
‘Duchess of Kent’ is a vigorous, reliable variety with large, carmine-red, fully double blooms. Red stems and leaf stalks add to the interest, which adds interest when it’s not in flower. Flowers slightly later than most other tree peonies. H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
‘Duchess of Marlborough’
This renowned variety has been around for decades, and is still one of the best-loved for its huge, pale-pink flowers. The semi-double flowers are yellow in the centre. ‘Duchess of Marlborough’ looks beautiful planted alongside classic shrub roses. H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
‘Reine Elizabeth’ is an old variety of tree peony, with fully double China pink flowers, with a hint of orange warmth. Like most tree peonies with huge flowers, those of ‘Reine Elizabeth’ will benefit from protection from strong winds by being grown in a sheltered spot. H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
With vividly marked rose pink and hot pink petals, ‘Shimanishiki’ is one of the more striking tree peonies to grow and makes a fun cut flower. The blooms will vary in colour, with some displaying more of one or the other colour. H x S: 120cm x 90cm.
Feeding tree peonies
These hungry plants will benefit from the addition of a potash-rich fertiliser in autumn to boost flower production. Later on, in spring, you can apply an all-round granular fertiliser around the base the plant.