A Guide to Pennsylvania’s Favorite Peonies

May 15, 2023

Peonies are a longtime favorite in the perennial garden and have a special history in Pennsylvania.


Few flowers can claim the gorgeous looks of peonies. They are a cherished perennial in the garden with magnificent, ruffled blossoms. In Pennsylvania, we’re lucky to have local varieties, known as Styer’s peonies, which have been bred for their exceptional beauty and suitability to our climate. Here’s a guide to getting to know these flowers and how to grow them! 


Where Do Peonies Come From? 

Native to Europe and Asia, peonies have been cultivated for thousands of years in both the East and West. Their name comes from the Greek god Paean, the divinity of healing and medicine. In mythology, he is known for using a peony to heal a wound of Zeus.   


Primex Garden Center-Pennsylvania-Guide to Pennsylvanias Favorite Peonies-red peony

Why Do People Love Peonies? 

In modern times, the large, ruffled petals of peonies bring unmatched beauty to the garden. They often feature pink blossoms, but you’ll also find them in white, yellow, orange, and red shades. Their sweet-smelling fragrance is a treat during their bloom, which occurs in late spring or early summer, depending on the variety. They are also long-living perennials, thriving quite easily for 100 years.  


The Styers Peony: A Pennsylvania Story  

Besides being a garden staple, peonies make beautiful cut flowers. In 1920, a Pennsylvania botanist and farmer named J. Franklin Styer became a pioneer in the business of cut peonies flower. Along with starting a large peony farm, he bred his own varieties to sell in the booming flower market in New York City. His breeds became known as Styer Peonies. 


Are Peonies Easy to Grow? 

Yes, peonies are a perennial that any beginner gardener can grow. If you plant them in the right location and take care of a few seasonal tasks, they’ll thrive for many decades. Here are growing tips for success: 


1. Choose the Right Location: Peonies need full sun, at least 6-8 hours daily, and thrive in rich, well-draining soil. Their heavy blooms are susceptible to falling over, so shelter from wind is another asset for peonies. They don’t take well to transplanting, so pick your initial spot wisely. 


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2. Caging and Supporting Peonies: Marco Polo once said peony blossoms are as large as cabbages. He was exaggerating, but the fact remains that they have big flowers. In comparison, the thin stems are not strong enough to support the heavy blooms. To keep them upright, placing a cage around the peonies in the early spring is necessary so they’ll be well supported as they grow and bloom. 

3. Growth and Care: Work in some compost or well-rotted manure when planting to enrich their soil. Once per year, top dress with compost to maintain soil fertility.

4. Deadheading and Cutting Back: Deadhead the peonies once the blossoms start to fall off. Cut them back to the first or second leaf so the stems aren’t sticking up. In the fall, prune them back to the ground to discourage fungal growth of the dead leaves and stems over winter. 


How to Make Cut Flowers from Peonies 

Peonies make gorgeous cut flowers. Cutting them at the right time is the key to enjoying them in a vase. Wait until the closed buds are soft or on the verge of opening. Cut them at a diagonal and remove any unwanted leaves. They will last for 4-6 days after blooming in a vase. If you don’t want to use them immediately, you can wrap them in plastic and store them in the fridge until you want to use them.  


What’s So Special About Styer’s Peonies?

Over the past hundred years, the Styer’s farm has bred peonies for fragrance, an abundance of flowers, size, color, and resilience against disease. This makes them some of the most beautiful and well-adapted peonies for Pennsylvania.  


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What Are the Different Kinds of Peonies in Pennsylvania? 

There are about 30 species of wild peonies and many more varieties of cultivars. In the garden, most peonies fall into one of three categories: 

  • Herbaceous Peony: These are the classic perennials you imagine when you hear the word peony. They have a mounded habit and herbaceous stalks and die back to the ground in the winter. Usually, they bloom for 2-3 weeks, depending on the variety. 
  • Tree Peony: Tree peonies have the same beautiful blossoms and similar bloom length as herbaceous peonies, but they are woody plants. In other words, the stems remain standing during the winter. Even though they’re called “trees,” they only reach upwards of 3-4 feet in height, forming a rounded shrub. 
  • Itoh Peony: Itoh peonies are a hybrid between tree and herbaceous peonies. They have stronger stems, which don’t need caging like their herbaceous cousins, but unlike tree peonies, Itohs die back to the ground each winter. They grow about the same size as herbaceous peonies and have a slightly longer bloom period. 


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FAQ: Help, My Peonies Have Ants on Them!

If you see ants crawling up the stalks to the flower buds, don’t be alarmed. That’s a normal and natural part of growing peonies. Peonies and ants are longtime friends and have a mutually beneficial relationship. The peonies provide nectar to the ants, and in turn, the ants protect the blossoms from other insects and pests. If you want to use those buds for cut flowers, wash off the ants before bringing them inside. 


If you’re growing peonies in Pennsylvania, we’ve got a huge selection to kickstart your summer garden!