Peonies are one of the longest lived perennials that you can plant for your home landscape. Anecdotal evidence suggest that they can live for 3/4 of a century if not longer. Currently there are about 33 recognized species of peonies with only one maybe two native to North America. Most know only the herbaceous garden peony Paeonia officinalis and P. lactiflora. Most garden peonies come in various shades of pink, red, white, corals and blush. However, if you ask the any avid peony grower they morn for the elusive yellow peony.
Garden enthusiast then turned their attention to the tree peony. Tree peonies come in shades of orange, yellow, two-tones and more. A tree peony is different from their cousins because they have a persistent above ground stems, much like a woody shrub, that do not die back at the end of season. However, tree peonies can be a challenge to grow in colder regions.
In the early 1900’s plant breeders laughed at the idea of crossing the tree peony and the herbaceous peony. They were said to be too different to produce a successful cross. Persistence paid off for Dr. Toichi Itoh. Legend says he attempted over 1,000 times before he produce his first fertile cross and gave rise to the Itoh peony.
Itoh peonies, sometimes called intersectional hybrids, could be classed as the best of both worlds when it comes to this landscape staple. Itoh peonies retained their heritage colors from the tree peonies which include yellow, white, red, orange/copper and bicolors. However they die back to the ground like a herbaceous peony. This allow gardeners the ease of the garden peony but the exotic flowers of tree peonies.
Typically Itoh peonies will grow about three feet tall and same wide once mature. Once they are finished flowering you are left with a handsome dome shaped bush. Spent flowers should be removed at the end of the bloom cycle to keep the plant looking attractive. Like most peonies you should not cut back the foliage until after the first few killing frost or freezes. Better yet – wait until spring when new growth starts to remove the dead foliage. Winter weather is variable and the fallen foliage will add a layer of protection.
The only downside of this plant is the sticker price. You will pay a premium for a container grown Itoh peony. However, ask any plant collector, it is worth it.