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Peony vs Hydrangea: Battle of Blooming

Peonies and hydrangeas are popular choices among gardeners globally, each offering unique blooming periods that enhance garden beauty.

Peonies typically flower from late spring to late summer, while hydrangeas bloom in mid-summer and continue until the first frost. This timing creates a seamless transition of color in the garden, as hydrangeas start flowering just as peonies are ending their bloom, ensuring continuous floral display.

For gardeners unable to plant both, deciding which to choose can be challenging due to their overlapping yet distinct flowering schedules.

Hydrangea Peony
Hardiness zone 3-9 3-9
Mature height 6-20 ft 4-7 ft
Mature width 8-15 ft 3 ft
Growth rate fast medium, fast
Light exposure full sun, partial shade full sun
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 6.0-7.0 6.5
Watering 2 time per week in a drought 1 time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects, mites insects, rabbits
Hydrangea vs Peony

Hydrangea and Peony

Their flowers are different

The distinctive floral characteristics of peonies and hydrangeas set them apart. Peony blooms are large and singular, typically measuring 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) across, and do not form in clusters. Their impressive size and abundant, large petals vary significantly depending on the cultivar.

In contrast, hydrangeas feature smaller, less striking individual flowers. Despite this, they grow in large clusters or inflorescences, creating an effect of substantial, 8-10 inch (20-25 cm) floral ‘pompoms.’ This clustering gives hydrangeas a fuller, more lush appearance.

Both peonies and hydrangeas have a similar count of either individual flowers or inflorescences, but the hydrangea’s clustered growth leads to a denser floral display. Deciding which plant is more aesthetically pleasing during bloom is subjective, making them equally appealing in their own ways.

Hydrangea blooms longer than a peony

Hydrangeas typically exhibit a longer blooming period than peonies. Peonies, blooming in late spring or early summer (May-June), have a flowering duration of about 7-10 days, depending on the variety. Herbaceous peonies have the longest bloom time then tree peonies. Peony flowers are also susceptible to weather conditions; heavy rain and wind can cause the petals to fall off, potentially shortening their bloom time to less than a week.

In contrast, hydrangeas start blooming in late spring and continue until mid-summer, providing flowers for about two months. Even after fading, the blooms can be left on the plant to add aesthetic value to the garden through winter.

Additionally, some hydrangeas, known as reblooming varieties, flower on both old and new wood. This means they bloom in spring on the previous year’s growth, then again on new growth from around July to September.

Proper care, including suitable light and water conditions and removing faded flowers, can extend the blooming period of hydrangeas, offering almost continuous flowers throughout the season. This extended blooming capability is not typical for peonies.

Peony is smaller

Peonies generally have a more compact growth compared to hydrangeas. While some peony varieties can grow up to 11 feet, most are smaller. Herbaceous peonies typically reach a height of 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) and a similar width. Tree peonies, which are more like woody shrubs than classic trees, grow to about 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) in height.

Hydrangeas, on the other hand, are not only taller but also broader than peonies. Certain varieties can be twice or even three times larger.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea, for instance, averages around five feet in both height and width, though this varies by variety. The Bigleaf Hydrangea can grow up to 6-7 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Among the largest varieties is the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, which can surpass 20 feet (6 m) in height and 15 feet (4.5 m) in width.

This size difference indicates that peonies are more suitable for compact spaces, such as flower beds near houses. Hydrangeas, requiring more room, are ideal for gardeners who wish to showcase their full splendor in larger areas.

Hydrangeas don’t die off for the winter

Hydrangeas, being woody plants, do not die back in winter. They are capable of withstanding heavy frosts and can thrive in colder climates, as low as hardiness zone 3. This characteristic allows them to maintain their structure throughout the year.

In contrast, most peonies are herbaceous, meaning their foliage and stems are not equipped to survive winter conditions. As a result, they die back in the fall and regrow in the spring.

However, tree peonies are an exception within the peony family. Similar to hydrangeas, tree peonies have woody stems that enable them to endure winter without losing their top part.

It’s important to note, though, that the variety of tree peonies is considerably less than that of herbaceous peonies, offering fewer options for those seeking winter-hardy peonies.

Peonies are more fragrant

When it comes to fragrance, peonies generally surpass hydrangeas. While some varieties of hydrangeas, like the Oakleaf and Paniculata, are considered to have a noticeable scent, hydrangeas overall emit a faint odor that is often not easily detected.

In contrast, peonies are known for their strong and delightful fragrance, which can be sensed from a significant distance. However, it’s worth noting that this scent is not long-lasting.

Among the peony varieties, white ones are typically the most fragrant. The ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ peony, for instance, is renowned for its snow-white petals and exquisite aroma, making it a standout choice for those seeking fragrant flowers.

Peonies need more sun

Peonies generally require more sunlight than hydrangeas to thrive. While hydrangeas need about 6 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal flowering, some species may need slightly more. They tend to flourish under the gentle morning sun, benefiting from afternoon shade to protect them from intense heat.

In contrast, peonies demand at least 8 hours of direct sunlight each day, with ideal conditions being an open space receiving 10-12 hours of sunlight. Insufficient sun exposure can lead to poor blooming and foliage development in peonies.

Read also: How Much Sun Do Hydrangeas Need?

Peonies and hydrangeas have different propagation methods

The propagation methods of peonies and hydrangeas significantly differ. Peonies are typically propagated by dividing the rhizome. This process involves separating a sufficiently large rhizome into two or more parts and then replanting them.

Notably, peonies do not propagate well from cuttings; attempts to root a peony branch are usually unsuccessful. However, tree peonies are an exception, as they can be propagated using cuttings.

In contrast, hydrangeas are most effectively propagated through cuttings. This method is both easy and quick, making it accessible for most gardeners. From a single hydrangea bush, it’s possible to create a dozen or more new plants. On the other hand, dividing a single peony typically yields up to 5 new plants, highlighting a difference in the efficiency of propagation between the two types of plants.

Hydrangeas are capable of changing the colors of their flowers

Hydrangeas are unique in their ability to change flower colors based on soil acidity. In neutral soils, which are the most common, certain hydrangeas produce purple flowers. For pink blooms, the soil needs to be alkaline, achievable by adding garden lime to increase soil alkalinity.

For a striking blue color, hydrangeas require acidic soil. This color change is facilitated by the plant’s absorption of aluminum, which can be encouraged by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil. Acidic soil conditions also help prevent chlorosis in these plants.

In contrast, peonies do not have the capability to change their flower color based on the soil’s growing conditions. Their bloom color remains consistent, regardless of the soil pH or composition.