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Peony season arrives early this year

Through the Garden Gate: Get out and see the spectacular show that peonies put on.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

June 7, 2024

3 Min Read
peonies in different shades of pink
SHORT SEASON: Peonies only bloom for about seven to 10 days, so enjoy them while you can. Photos by Fran O’Leary

My all-time favorite flowers are peonies. I make no secret of that. I have three huge peony bushes in my flower garden, and I’m making plans to add a couple more.

I love most flowers, including roses, irises, petunias, calibrachoa, geraniums, purple cone flowers, verbena, hardy amaryllis, foxglove, hollyhocks, sedum, daylilies, snapdragons, lilies of the valley, and black-eyed Susans, to name a few. But my absolute favorite are peonies.

What’s not to love about peonies? They are big, colorful, beautiful and easily the star of the show in any garden. They are as easy to grow as they are to look at.

Something for everyone

There are 33 species of peonies. There are six flower types to choose from: anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double and bomb. Colors range from white to pink, peach, yellow, magenta, deep reds and even bicolors.

In the Upper Midwest, peonies bloom from late May throughout the month of June, depending on where you live. Due to the mild winter and warm spring that Wisconsin and many Midwestern states experienced this year, peony season where I live arrived about 10 days early on June 2. The beautiful blooms on each plant only last about seven to 10 days, so enjoy them while you can.

peonies in a vase

Blooming is the most stressful time for peonies. After they finish blooming, it’s time to deadhead them and remove the dead blooms. This prevents peonies from getting a fungal disease. Soon after deadheading is complete, peonies will begin setting flowers in July and August for next year, so water them a couple of times a week if the weather turns hot or dry this summer.

Transplant in September

Peonies can be divided and transplanted in September. They should be planted about six weeks before the first frost. When selecting a spot for peonies to grow, make sure they will get lots of light. Six to eight hours of full sun is best, but they will still grow well in a location with morning sun and light afternoon shade. Peonies will not bloom in full shade.

Peonies need well-drained, neutral soil away from tree roots. They will grow to cover an area about 3 feet in diameter, so give them plenty of space. Once planted, peonies can remain undisturbed for many years, as long as they are flowering well. Planting depth is important. If planted too deep, they won’t bloom.

Even when they are not in bloom, their dark green, glossy foliage and shrub-like appearance make peonies the focal points in any garden. Peony plants are virtually pest-free — deer and rabbits don’t like their bitter taste.

Many nurseries and peony farms offer early-, midseason- and late-blooming varieties, making it possible to stretch the peony season over several weeks. Peonies take up to three years to become established and bloom, but once they settle in, you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms and foliage for decades to come. In fact, peonies are known to live for more than 100 years, outliving the gardeners who planted them!

Sisson Peony Garden in Rosendale, Wis.

Visit a peony garden

If you are looking to visit a peony garden, check out the Sission Peony Garden in Rosendale, Wis., at 206 N. Main St. (Highway 26). Rosendale is located 10 miles west of Fond du Lac where Highway 23 and Highway 26 intersect. The garden is open to visitors for viewing while peonies are blooming, free of charge. Peonies at Sisson Peony Garden should continue blooming through June 14.

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About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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