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Peony vs. Hydrangea (Differences and Landscaping)

The Peony and the hydrangea are great options if you want your garden dripping with flowers. There’s one perfect for just about any climate and location with dozens of different kinds.

But how do you choose? What distinguishes these spectacular bloomers?

Hydrangeas are large, sprawling shrubs that bear clusters of tiny individual flowers. They can withstand the cold of winter and thrive in the afternoon shade. In contrast, peonies are compact shrub that bears large, fragrant flowers singly. They die back in the winter but thrive in full sun for the rest of the year.

Hydrangea Outlasts Peony

The hydrangea is the undisputed queen of flowering plants.

They have a long flowering period, with a healthy, well-supported Hydrangea producing blooms until late spring (or even early summer).

Their blooming time is an actual color marathon.

In addition to their beauty, hydrangea flowers also last a long time. The flowers maintain their petals and papery, dry texture, making them perfect for dried arrangements even as they age.

They can handle strong winds, rainstorms, and other bad weather if left in the bush. For a good reason, they’ve remained a consistent crowd pleaser.

On the other hand, peonies only bloom for a limited time. Late spring or early summer is when you can expect to see these beautiful flowers in full bloom, and their fragrance will fill the air for an entire week.

The flowers are delicate, withering and losing their leaves in strong winds and heavy rain.

Their charm is fleeting, so enjoy it while you can because it is a soothing treat.

Flower Size And Shape

There are many individual flowers on a hydrangea plant, but the whole flower cluster is known as an inflorescence.

They bunch up in clumps at the tips of stems and get the endearing name “mopheads” for their hefty appearance.

Individually, the flowers may be small, but when grouped, they can create stunning displays.

The mopheads of even the most compact varieties can be so large and magnificent that they cause the entire supporting branch to sag.

The Peony represents the polar opposite. While they, too, produce heavy, luxurious displays, each flower is unique.

Some Peony varieties can deliver flowers as large as 8 inches across, and their bright, blousy blooms are dense with petals.

But each blossom is a unique work of art, formidable in its own right.

When The Peony Dies, The Hydrangeas Shine

Hydrangeas can survive even the harshest winters. They are very resistant to cold, and it takes quite a while for them to slow down.

They are hardy enough to be planted in US Hardiness Zone 3 with a thick layer of mulch (Amazon link) for protection from the cold of winter.

They always keep their heads up no matter what the weather is like. As soon as spring arrives, they’ll shrug off the chill and welcome it with open arms.

Peonies are not as hardy. They suffer significantly in the winter and should be pruned to the ground before winter arrives.

They are susceptible to various fungal diseases if left unattended, so fall trimming is recommended.

Allow them to feel the first frost, then remove the damaged tissue.

This aids them in entering a state of dormancy that protects them from harm while also providing stimulating rejuvenation for the coming year.

Peonies Are More Fragrant

Nothing compares to the intoxicating aroma of a freshly bloomed Peony; their flowers have a distinctive, heady fragrance.

The entire garden can be perfumed with peonies’ delicate, sweet scent if you plant them in a bed.

The smell varies from rich and delightful to more reminiscent of rose in some varieties to a more refreshing citrus scent in others. However, hydrangeas don’t have a powerful aroma.

They put more effort into growing magnificent blooms that stand out visually and last longer than they do in producing a fragrant aroma.

As a result, their scent is subtle and hard to detect unless you get close to the plant.

Hydrangea Can Change Colors

The amount of aluminum in the soil determines the color of a Hydrangea’s blooms. Acidic soil encourages plant uptake of aluminum, which causes blue coloration in flowers.

But if there isn’t enough aluminum in the soil or too alkaline, the hydrangea will bloom in pink instead.

Sometimes the weather is mixed, and the flowers will be purple or mauve. (Source: University of Georgia)

With suitable soil amendments, a gardener can change the color of the blooms on a hydrangea to whatever they like.

The same plant can produce both pink and blue flowers with some effort.

  • Hydrangeas have blue flowers when the pH of the soil is below 5.5. Adding aluminum sulfate to the soil can make it more acidic.
  • When grown in neutral soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, hydrangeas bloom in shades of purple.
  • In alkaline soil with a PH above 6.5, hydrangeas bloom pink. Garden lime reduces soil acidity.

Once you’ve selected a particular variety of peonies, you can count on getting a consistent display of that color from early spring through early summer.

Their hues may range from pure white to soft pink to deep scarlet and burgundy, but you can expect to get exactly what you see.

There are no hidden surprises, and the flower color will always be the same every year.

Hydrangeas are much more magical. If the soil is suitable, a single hydrangea plant can make flowers that range in color from light pink and red to deep royal blue.

Light Requirements

A Hydrangea enjoys dappled shade with limited time in the sun if planted in the correct location.

They thrive in the soft morning light and require protection from the harsh afternoon sun.

Some species can handle higher levels of illumination, but they quickly overheat and suffer from heat stress. I explain heat-stressed Hydrangeas here.

Peonies, on the other hand, love the sun. In all climates except the hottest, they can handle as much light as you can give them and do their best with a full day of sun.

They need a clean bed that isn’t shaded by trees, bushes, or other garden structures.

If they don’t get enough sunlight, they will flower poorly or not in colder parts of the country and suffer even further south.

Growth Difference

Peonies are shrubs that can be as short as a foot or as tall as five feet.

Most varieties won’t get much taller than three or four feet, but they will have a lot of green leaves and bright flowers in a dense mass.

They take a year or two to reach full maturity and grow slowly.

However, hydrangeas are head and shoulders above them. Even though dwarf varieties may be able to fill a pot, most Hydrangeas get very tall if they aren’t trimmed.

Extreme heights of ten feet or more are possible in some species and often reach an equally impressive width. They grow to their full size and bloom profusely once they get there.

They are also typically less densely packed and have longer, more slim stems that sway gracefully under the weight of their many flowers.

Propagation Method

Peonies sprout from a fleshy tuber known as a rhizome. They are the best way to propagate mature plants and serve as a form of food storage for them.

While commercial tubers are popular, many enthusiasts prefer to gather tubers from older, more established Peonies.

A Hydrangea, on the other hand, is best propagated through cuttings.

While they can be propagated through division, cutting a stalk from a mature plant is far easier than allowing it to root in water or mixing seeds.

Bedding Requirements

The name hydrangea comes from the Greek word for water, hydros.

This is because they need a lot of water and grow best in light soils, drain well, and have a lot of good nutrients to support their fast growth.

In contrast, peonies thrive in heavier, clay-rich soil. While drainage is always essential, loamy soil is preferable for these long-lasting beauties.

They must be planted at least three feet apart from other plants because they cannot tolerate competition.

Peonies need a lot of light, but they must also be the only thing in the soil.

Even a loose covering of short grass can stop a peony from growing and flowering, especially when it is first planted.

Peony and Hydrangea Landscaping

My peonies and Hydrangea are mixed. Peonies bloom before hydrangeas, so you can enjoy both of them and keep your garden colorful.

Choosing between peonies and hydrangeas when designing your garden is hard because they each have a unique appeal.

The light requirements and growth patterns are the most important factors to consider when deciding between the two.

Moreover, you can’t just ignore the fact that they have different soil needs. Hydrangeas don’t like their feet to be wet, so that Peonies will do better in heavier soil.

If you need fast-growing, dependable cover, hydrangeas are a great choice.

They will enthusiastically fill in a bare patch of garden, rewarding you quickly with their exuberant flowers.

Hydrangeas always need more space and fewer plants that hang over them and block their style.

However, I would suggest planting them near walls or along fences. Their beautiful flower displays sometimes droop when it rains, so it’s good to have some support on hand.

However, peonies may be a better option if you want to plant something reliable and compact in a sunny spot.

Peonies have such show-stopping flowers that they can’t be beaten as a focal point in a casual cottage garden.

Planting them next to patios, decks, or other outdoor living spaces will also brighten those areas while providing a delightful aroma.

Peony vs. Hydrangea Overview

The table below compares and contrasts the peony and hydrangea’s main differences and distinguishing characteristics.

CriterionPeonyHydrangea
Botanical NamesPaeonia officinalisPaeonia suffruticosaHydrangea spp.
Plant TypeWoody shrub (bush) or herbaceous perennialDeciduous shrub
Mature HeightHerbaceous peonies reach 2-4 ft. (60-120 cm)Shrub peonies grow 4-7 ft. (122-213 cm) tall.6-20 ft. (180-610 cm)
Mature Width3-4 ft. (90-120 cm)6-15 ft. (180-460 cm)
USDA Hardiness Zones3-95-9 (3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a)
Growth RateBush: Slow to MediumHerb: Medium to FastFast
Light RequirementsFull sunPartial shade, full sun
Soil RequirementsWell-drained soilAny soil (clay, sand, loam) as long as it’s fertile and rich.
Soil pHSlightly acidic pH 6.5-7.0Any pH but it affects the color of the blooms
Watering Needs2x weekly during the growing season1-2x weekly during the growing season.
Flowering PeriodLate spring through late summerMid-summer through fall
Bloom ColorIt can be coral, deep purple, red, rose, pink, or whiteDepending on the species, it can be pale green, purple, red, maroon, pink, blue, or white.
ToxicityHighly toxic to animals; mildly toxic to humansToxic to both humans and pets
Common DiseasesBotrytis blight (gray mold), Phytophthora blight, leaf spot disease, Mosaic virusPowdery mildew, Botrytis blight, brown leaf spotting virus
Common PestsMostly antsSpider mites, Japanese beetles, black vine weevil, and aphids