Paeonia lactiflora, commonly known as common garden peony or Chinese peony, is an erect, clump-forming, shrub-like, herbaceous perennial that typically grows to 20-30” tall on stems tinged with red. It is classified as a late-blooming species, featuring flowers in mid- to late spring and continuing attractive foliage throughout the summer and early fall. Stems die to the ground after frost. This species is native to central Asia, ranging from eastern Siberia to Mongolia to eastern Tibet to northern China. It has been grown in China since the 7th century for appreciation of its ornamental flowers. It was introduced into North America in the 1800s. Dark green compound leaves 8-12” long have 9 elliptic leaflets with irregular margins. Leaves may turn rusty orange in fall. Cup or bowl shaped flowers (3-5” across) with 8-10 white, pink or crimson petals typically feature a conspicuous center boss of yellow stamens. Flowers of most cultivars are fragrant. Fruits consist of horizontally spreading follicles that split open at maturity. Plants have thickened tuberous roots. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Growing Instructions for the Chinese Peony
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year. The seeds have a hard seed coat that has to be treated, or scarified, in order for water to enter the seeds so that they can sprout. 1. Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat. The seeds can be sanded with sandpaper, a nail file or an emery board. 2. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. 3. Warm stratify the seeds for 3 months. 4. Cold stratify the seeds. Put the seeds in a ziplock bag. 4. Put the bag in the refrigerator and leave it there for 3 months. 4. Sow the seeds 3/8 of an inch deep. 5. Water the seeds. The seeds may take 4-12 weeks to germinate.
- Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Put the seeds on the soil.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the seeds.
- Place the pots in an area with warm temperatures in full sun or part shade.
- When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.