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tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

Posted by Lsythes NYzone5-6 (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 6, 05 at 7:36

Hi all,

Still a newbie here and to gardening, as I will be for a while. My husband and I closed on a house in mid August with gardens sorely neglected but full of wonderful potential. I've been doing a lot of reading on prepping perrenials for winter. Here's my question-- I'm almost positive we have herbaceous and not tree peonies, and this will probably seem like a foolish question to you peony experts, but how can I know for sure? I know you are absolutely not supposed to cut back tree peonies (at least that is what I read), but if there are herbaceous, I really want to cut them back. They are about 3ft high, green leaves (that are browning a bit and have had some critters chewing on them). The reason I'm wondering is b/c I thought that herb. peonies mostly had to be staked or they would flop, and these seems pretty strong, but everything is still green. So, can you help me out? Thanks so much!! Laura


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

The foliage looks like this one. This is an herb. peony, yes? Thanks!!

Here is a link that might be useful: a peony forum picture


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RE: tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

Tree peonies have trunks :) Seriously, a tree peony has a woody structure like a small tree that remains over the winter and then grows new leaves next spring. Almost always there will be a single woody trunk emerging from the ground which will branch at quite a low level. Occasionally you may get multiple trunks, either from the tree peony branching below ground level, or from root suckers.

A herbaceous peony is herbaceous :) Can you tell I'm on a roll today? Herbaecous means that it dies down to the ground in the winter, then grows brand new stalks and leaves next spring. The typical habit is lots of individual stalks will grow out of the ground from a central crown.


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RE: tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

Many of the herbaceous don't flop. The ones that flop are normally the double late season flowers that were developed for the cut flower trade. If you have an period of very strong winds you may need to stake the stems of the others.

Tree peonies have at this time of the year a woody stem that goes into the ground topped by soft stems and green foliage. Look at the base of the peony to see. Some of the tree peonies, Alice Harding, are very short so there may not be much top growth.


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RE: tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

Thank you so much! It is safe for me to cut back. :) Mine are herbaceous. I can't wait to find out the color. :)

I'm noticing as I cut back that the leaves in the middle are yellowed. I don't see any fungus on any of them, though. Should I treat this now or wait till spring? Any idea what it is? Thanks again for all your help. :)


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RE: tree vs herbaceous peonies--how can I tell the difference?

Peonies like other plants develope fall colour. In fact I have some that have developed burgundy or gold foliage in the fall. The yellow is probably a natural seasonal change but if you think you should then use a fungicide late winter early spring. For now cut the foliage back. I leave a stem about 2-3 inches above the soil on the nonproven theory that water can seep into lower cut stems and perhaps do damage during the freeze thaw action of the winter.


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