When in bloom, mature tree peonies - Paeonia suffruticosa, are arguably some of the most beautiful and picturesque of all flowering plants. However the common name of tree peony is a little misleading as they are not in fact trees, but are instead deciduous shrubs.  They are also known by the less common yet perhaps more appropriate name of 'Moutan Peony'.

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Tree peonies can be grown in any moist, but well-drained garden soil in full sun or semi-shade. However they will perform best in neutral, humus-rich soils, tolerating slightly acid or slightly alkaline conditions. Chose a site that is shaded from early morning sun as this will reduce frost damage in the spring. Before planting, dig the ground to at least one spit deep and dig in plenty of well-rotted farm or garden manure.

They are best planted between September and March during mild conditions. Remember that tree peonies are propagated vegetatively by grafting the material of selected cultivars onto rootstocks, so when planting make sure that the union on the stock and scion is approximately 3 inches below the soil surface level. Hoe bone-meal into the soil surface according to manufacturer's directions, taking care not to damage any roots that may be just below the surface.

Mulch annually with well-rotted farm or garden manure in April, especially if the soil is light, chalky or sandy. Water freely during periods of dry weather, and avoid disturbing the plants unless it is absolutely necessary as this can cause your tree peony to stop blooming.

No pruning is required except to deadhead the flowers as they fade or to cut out dead, diseased or dying wood.

Native to both western China and southeast Tibet, they have proven themselves to be surprisingly robust despite their papery flamboyant blooms and architectural foliage. While many species of tree peony are fully winter hardy the young growth will generally start to appear before the end of the spring frosts which leaves them susceptible to cold damage. It is therefore sensible to provide artificial protection at this time such as horticultural fleece or a sacking screen erected on a bamboo tripod. Once the new growth has hardened off, or the threat of late frosts have passed all protection may be removed.

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