The Q&A Archives: Peonies in Mill Valley CA.?

Question: I live in Mill Valley CA. which is 5 min. North of the Golden Gate Bridge. I was wondering what types of Peonies (other than tree peonies) would grow well here (if at all), what type of soil, and what type of location in a yard would be appropriate? Our winters can go below freezing and we also get periods of frost on the roofs and grass usually 5 to 6 times a year. The plum trees on our property usually flower in early Feb. Growing up in Montreal I have beautiful memories of gorgeous peonies and would like to have them grow on my property out here.

Thanks for your help

Answer: Your desire to grow peonies is understandable - they are truly gorgeous flowers. The peony (genus Paeonia), requires a long and pronounced winter chill to grow and bloom. Peonies are also sensitive to having their roots disturbed once they become established in the garden. So, even if you bought peonies, planted them, and then dug them up and placed them in the refrigerator for a few months each year, they'd only sulk and refuse to perform.

You might have some luck with tree peonies (P. suffruticosa), a shrub from China that grows to about 6 feet high with yellow or salmon colored flowers, or P. lutea, which grows 3-6 feet tall with large yellow flowers. This one's from Tibet. Both of these varieties will grow and bloom without the deep chill required of their Japanese cousins.

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