Department of Horticulture New York State Horticulture Study Guide for Youth 4-H Logo


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Cornell University

Peonia lactiflora

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What about it?

This is a tuberous rooted perennial that grows from 2 to 4 feet tall. It was named lactiflom for its milk-white flowers, but now comes in shades of red and pink. The peony will blossom around late May/ early June. The blossoms are as large as baseballs and have a wonderful aroma. There are four different flower types: single, Japanese, anemone, and double.

What is it used for?

Peonies grow well in clusters and are usually seen in backyards and gardens. Their long stems make them suitable for cuttings. They are also commonly used as a backbone border plant. Peonies have handsome reddish shoots that appear in early spring and provide a good quality summer foliage.

Where does it grow? How do we grow it?

Peonies need well-drained and fertile soil. More importantly, they need a permanent site and one with plenty of 'root room," i.e., deep soil. You can expect a cluster of peonies to flower well for 15-20 years without division. Divide existing clumps in September to created new plants. Divisions should be spaced 3 feet apart with the "eyes," or growing points, no more than 1 inch below soil level. These plants need full sun although the paler colors will do OK in partial shade. Be sure to provide good air circulation around the base of the plant to discourage any blights from settling there.

What are its primary problems?

Peonies are plagued by botrytis blight and phytophthora blight, both of which cause rotting and disruption of the flower. The plant may also experience some trouble with blooming. If a plant fails to bloom it may be due to:

  1. planting too deep
  2. too much shade
  3. developing shoots have been injured by frost,
  4. too much competition from other plants nearby,
  5. diseases.

How do we propagate it?

From seed, the plant will take 5 to 7 years to flower. Propagation by division should occur during early September, cut into sections with 3-5 eyes.

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Copyright, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University.