Peonies in our local gardens? And the Verdict is . . . By Ron Vanderhoff

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Peonies in our local gardens? And the Verdict is . . . By Ron Vanderhoff

Serious gardeners love a challenge, especially when it comes to zones, frost, temperatures and all that boring technical stuff. Tell a serious plant lover that you can’t grow one and they’ll buy two. Tell them it’s too tropical or too temperate and they’ll test it. Tell them it’s too difficult to grow and they’ll dream about it all night long. Gardeners love to push the envelope.

Peonies growing and blooming in Southern California is precisely one of these local challenges. Just this week I received reports from Kathleen and Katharine, two women who accepted the peony challenge. To my surprise both reported success with a series of peonies called Itoh Hybrids.

Kathleen moved to north San Diego County several years ago from colder climates. She missed peonies terribly.

‘Yumi’, ‘Takara’, and ‘Misaka’ Itoh Peonies

“On a whim last year I decided that I really wanted to have one of the new Itoh Peonies, just to enjoy its beautiful blooms,” Kathleen said.

Getting a newly acquired peony to bloom the first year isn’t all that surprising, since they are brought here from colder climates, where they’ve already been exposed to a cold winter. But Kathleen’s peony didn’t behave as expected. Once it was out of bloom, Kathleen forgot about if and stuck in under the shade of a tree fern.

“I completely neglected it by letting it sit in water,” Kathleen continued. “I finally remembered the poor plant a few weeks ago when I noticed some new growth.  Quickly I moved it into a little sunshine and last week………BUDS!!!”

A re-blooming peony only a mile and a half from the ocean, with no winter chill and no special care, just lots of water? Hmmm, that’s not supposed to be possible.

Then I heard from Katharine, who has been growing peonies for five years in her garden in Glendora. During that time she has amassed quite a collection, probably over 25 plants, enjoying their blooms all the way into mid June.

“I have discovered that the Itoh peonies are very vigorous early blooming varieties,” Katharine said. She babies her peonies with mulch, fertilizer and weed control. She reports no pest or snail problems on any of her plants.

Katharine said that, after this spring, she has learned that she probably doesn’t need to coddle her peonies quite so much. Katharine explained her reasons.

“One day, I asked my gardener to plant a Camellia and I forgot that the Itoh Peony was sleeping underneath the location we were going to spruce up,” she said. “The dormant plant was dug up by accident. He didn’t know what it was and the cheese curd looking root ball laid out on the grass for a couple of weeks. Finally, I picked it up the mass, planted it in a plastic container and sat it on my driveway. It loved the warmth of the concrete and is blooming even earlier than last year.”

Katharine grows her Itoh Peonies in full sun with some morning shade on the North side of her house. “The plants really like my heavy clay soil, but seemingly like the richly fragrant potting soil as well,” she said.

Perhaps not coincidentally, these peony success stories both involve a particular series known as Itoh Peonies. Named for Toichi Itoh, the first hybridizer to successfully cross a tree Peony with an herbaceous Peony, these peonies are prized for their huge, beautiful blooms and lush green foliage. Itoh Peonies grow with a domed, vigorous habit and produce large double flowers with disease-resistant, lacy, dark green foliage. They grow to about three feet tall and wide and, like all peonies, get even better with age. Itoh Peonies also have an extended blooming period due to their ability to produce both primary and secondary buds.

A Peony connoisseur, Katharine says that with traditional Peonies the flowers are top heavy and flop, but with Itoh Peonies their stems are much stronger.

“They hold beautifully on the stem,” she said. “I found the Itoh Peony an exceptional cut flower. It makes an awesome spring party favor inside a round globe vase, so people can admire its beauty through the glass.  You can get monster blooms and they don’t bloom all at one time, so you can stretch those favors. It’s definitely a party icebreaker. I still get comments about last year’s hostess gift. My guests somehow forget the pricey bottle of wine, but nobody forgets the pretty flower in the vase.”

Will peonies grow and bloom in mild Southern California? Well the jury may still be out on that verdict, but to peony gardeners Kathleen and Katherine it is very much a reality.

If you want to take the peony challenge yourself, finding an Itoh Peony may be your first obstacle. Fortunately, a very limited supply of these peonies is available over the next couple of weeks at a handful of southern California nurseries.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar

By |2018-12-12T23:15:15+00:00April 6th, 2012|Floral, Gardening|27 Comments

About the Author:

Ron Vanderhoff is a lifelong Southern California gardener and the General Manager and Vice President of Roger’s Gardens. He is a local director of the California Native Plant Society and serves on a number of state and local advisory committees involving horticultural education and natural resource protection. He was a principal contributor to The Butterflies of Orange County and The Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains, as well as a special contributor to The Sunset Western Garden Book.


  1. Charlotte April 14, 2012 at 8:32 am - Reply

    In regards to your article on growing peonies in So. California by the two Katherines…Did they plant the tree peonies or bush peonies? My tree peonies do not seem to bloom consistently, and I’ve lost quite a few throughout the past few years. My bush peonies never seem to bloom. I live in Fountain Valley.

    • Ron Vanderhoff March 12, 2018 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Hi Charlotte,

      Do you know what the names are of the varieties of Peonies you are growing in Fountain Valley? In my experience you will not have flowers on normal hebaceous/bush peonies in your climate. Without a winter vernalization (very cold period) most peonies will not set flower buds and the plants will also loose their vigor and eventually succumb.Tree peonies might be slightly better, but not by much.

      Ron Vanderhoff
      Roger’s Gardens

  2. Ron Vanderhoff April 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Hi Charlotte,

    I’m the person that wrote this blog last year (it was in a few of the L.A. Times local newspapers as well).

    The plants mentioned in my post aren’t just any peony, but a particular group called ‘Itoh’ peonies. These are bush peonies, the most popular type and are big, beautiful plants with huge traditional, luscious peony flowers. Don’t confuse these with just buy any bush peony, which are almost guaranteed NOT to bloom in our mild climate – at least not after the second year.

    Last year ‘Itoh’ peonies made their debut in southern California and Roger’s Gardens was lucky enough to be one of the nurseries that carried them. Prior to last year some local trials were positive (including those mentioned in my blog post), nonetheless we were still a bit apprehensive here at Roger’s. We have heard many, many urban myths over the decades about peonies that bloom here in mild coastal Orange County. But almost always when we dig a bit deeper into these reports we find out something different. Now, with the ‘Itoh’s’ that may have changed.

    So, I wrote the blog above last spring, with cautious optimism. Now, a year later I am even more convinced about the success of the ‘Itoh’ varieties in our area. Two of our employees bought ‘Itoh’s’ last spring and with no unusual care, have them blooming gloriously again this year. We are also hearing reports from customers in Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, Laguna Niguel, Tustin, Huntington Beach, Lakewood, Long Beach and other local areas of plants currently in bud or bloom.

    Ron Vanderhoff
    Roger’s Gardens

  3. Cindy April 17, 2012 at 12:35 am - Reply

    Get ready for a story about these on Saturday.

  4. Ron Vanderhoff April 17, 2012 at 1:13 am - Reply

    Is that the world famous Cindy McNatt of The Orange County Register?

    “A story” huh? It must be her.

  5. Cat Rowe April 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Hi Ron ~

    Thank you for this interesting article.

    Are the Itoh’s available now at Roger’s?

    Thank you,

    • Ron Vanderhoff April 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      Oh yes Cat, of course. Don’t delay too long though. I know Cindy McNatt at the OC Register is writing an article about these an Saturday, so their might be a rush on them.

  6. Marie April 25, 2012 at 1:48 am - Reply

    I don’t know much about peonies, but I had purchased one as a root several years ago at Costco. It came up every year, but no flowers. In the winter when they are leafless, I had forgotten it totally. I planted a rose of all things on top of it. It didn’t seem to mind as every year it put out leaves. And the gophers have not eaten it yet. Each year I kept thinking I would transplant it into more sun away from the rose, but alas, everytime it lost its leaves, I would forget again. Well, this year it has buds. I’m so excited as I have never seen a real peony, and don’t know for the life of me why it is blooming as it still is intermixed with the rose. And it gets only a portion of the days hottest sun. In Chino it gets very warm and dry in the summer. I am excited to await its first opening flowers.

    • Pat Pender June 5, 2016 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      I know this is older post, but I am thinking about trying to find peonies if they are still available. Are your still doing well? I’m in Orange, Ca and can’t wait to have some of those beautiful flowers.

      • Roger's Gardens June 6, 2016 at 1:18 pm - Reply

        Hi Pat,

        I am afraid our peonies are all sold out for this year. They are also finished with their spring bloom as well. However, we can certainly order one for you if you would like. Just give one of our nursery salespersons a ring at 949 640-5800 and they can take care of you.


  7. Patricia R Moore March 27, 2016 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    Does Rogers still carry peonies? I’d love to give them s try, so far no luck but haven’t tries itoh Penney but this time I will.
    Thanks so much!
    Patricia R Moore
    Anaheim Hills, Ca

    • Roger's Gardens March 28, 2016 at 9:38 am - Reply

      We certainly do Patricia. In fact, this year we have added four additional varieties to the choices, the first additions since Itoh’s were introduced about five years ago. Definitely, do tery an Itoh variety, you will not be disappointed. I was just looking at mine at home today – filled with buds! We have sold probably a thousand Itoh’s since they were introduced and I don’t think we have had a complaint yet. In SoCal, they are THE peony. With some summer pruning I even get two bloom cycles per year, one in the spring and another in the fall.

      Ron Vanderhoff

  8. Michele Nemier May 6, 2016 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Are you guys carrying Itoh peonies this year? It’s now May, 2016, and I would love to know of progress with the Itoh Peonies here in So. Cal. Have a few gift certificates for your business and haven’t used them yet, Itoh Peonies, Dwarf Japanese Maples, or Descano Garden’s Lilacs for California? Any success stories? I’m growing Siberian Iris, Clematis and things others say are difficult here, not really if you give plants the right environment and cultural requirements. Never say never.

    • Roger's Gardens May 9, 2016 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Hi Michele,

      Absolutely we are carrying Itoh peonies! I believe we were the first garden center in California to introduce these. Michelle, they are definitely “the real deal” for Southern California. We were very skeptical when they first arrived, having heard numerous rumors, fish-stories and other unsubstantiated local peony claims for decades. I have had two Itoh peonies for about 6-7 years now in my own garden and many of our staff have them as well. They bloom reliably every year, in fact I get two bloom cycles each year in my garden. Customers routinely compliment them and give us positive feedback, even right on the coast. I would say conclusively that if you live in coastal Southern California, these are the peonies you should be growing.

      This year, through our partnership with Monrovia Growers, we added three more varieties to the Itoh peony choices. We still have most of these varieties in-stock now, but they are wrapping up their spring bloom. Still a great time to plant them.

      I don’t know what city you are located in Michelle, but I like your positive attitude on these various plant groups. You are clearly a good gardener and have a good grasp of horticulture.


  9. Ron R May 10, 2016 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    I would love to buy a few peony plants and I can’t find them here in Woodland Hills. There was a nursery here that I bought one plant from and it bloomed! Can I order some plants and have them shipped?

    • Roger's Gardens May 10, 2016 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Ron (great name),

      Shipping live plants is quite a challenge. We are not able to ship peonies, but we do have them here at the garden center. Our normal delivery range is within Orange County. We can arrange for delivery to Woodland Hills through an outside service, but for that it would be best to call us and ask for one of our nursery staff, who can prepare a quote.


  10. Tom Barger October 4, 2016 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Interesting to note that Itoh’s are doing fabulous in my Houston, TX garden (zone 9a). Not many people know about them, as most local advice say it is a waste of time to plant any peony. Hope they become more widely available locally, right now I look to CA sources for new additions. Getting Callie’s Memory next.

  11. Matilda January 16, 2017 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Would like to order some itch peonies
    I live in San Diego
    Do you know any sources here

    Thank you

    • Roger's Gardens January 16, 2017 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      Hi Matilda,

      I am afraid I don’t know the retail nurseries that well in San Diego County. You would probably need to call them and ask. It is a beautiful drive up to Roger’s Gardens – hint, hint.


  12. Amy April 25, 2017 at 11:43 am - Reply


    I would like to order some peonies. Do you have any available?

    • Roger's Gardens April 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Amy,

      Yes. We have several varieties in stock currently, but hurry. It is a limited season when these are available. I suggest calling us or stopping in right away to make your purchase. Most have flowers right now as well.


  13. Libby April 30, 2017 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Hello. Fellow Peonie fan here from San Diego. Do you still have some itoh peonies? How much are they? Would like to come up and get some for Mother’s Day…

    • Roger's Gardens May 2, 2017 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Hi Libby,

      Yes, we have a great selection of Itoh peonies right now, but hurry, once they are sold that’s it until next year. For current varieties and pricing it is probably best to give us a call. 949 640-5800.


  14. kathleen Novikoff March 7, 2018 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    Can you tell me when and if you will have peony’s available this year?

    • Roger's Gardens March 12, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

      Hi Kathleen,

      Yes, we are one of only a handful of garden centers around the country that introduced the Itoh Peony series several years ago. I suspect that you probably read either our newspaper article on online blog about growing peonies here in Southern California. The short story is . . . yes, they can be grown and quite successfully. But they must be the low chill Itoh varieties in our climate. The peonies are now available from our grower, but are still just beginning to emerge from their winter sleep. We generally wait until the plants are larger, more attractive and maybe even budded before bringing them to our store. That generally begins in about four to six more weeks. We will carry several varieties at that time. If you want to get a head start you can always order one in advance by visiting or calling us. We can have your order ready for pickup here in about one to two weeks.

      I hope that answers your question. By the way, if you love peonies, you will love the Itoh series. I have been growing them in my garden in Lake Forest since before they were even introduced to the market and love them.


  15. Argie April 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Hello Ron,

    Are there Itoh Peonies available now? What do they require to grow in Mission Viejo area? Do they come in a gallon pots and do I need to transfer them out of the pot? I just love peonies but I’m just a newbie gardener. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you!

    • Roger's Gardens April 23, 2018 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Argie,

      Yes, we have a limited number of Itoh peonies in stock now, but they are going very quickly. I highly recommend to hurry in before this year’s crop is all gone. Itoh peonies are only grown in five-gallon containers, which is about a foot or so in diameter and height; the pot that is, the plants are about 2-3 feet tall and wide and loaded with buds and flowers. Grow them in full sun, either in a pot or in the ground.


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