Shirley Temple peony variety guide

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There’s nothing like mid-May in the garden when all the peonies are in bloom. And what would a peony garden be without a Shirley Temple peony plant!?

Shirley Temple peony is a popular peony variety of herbaceous peony with light-rose flowers that turn cream-white as they mature on the plant. The stunning rose-white blooms of Shirley Temple peony can be 6″-8″ wide in full bloom and are delightfully fragrant. This type of peony makes fantastic cut flowers and is a wonderful low-maintenance perennial in the landscape. The Shirley Temple peony is a cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora.

Want to know more? Read on for information about this beautiful peony and how to care for it. You might find it is just the flower your garden needs!

Shirley temple peony
Shirley temple peony petals are a soft pink color when they start to bloom, before maturing into a cream-white shade as they unfurl.

Shirley Temple Peony: The Basics

The Shirley Temple Peony is a cultivar of Paeonia lactiflora bred from the Festiva Maxima Peony and the Mme. Edouard Doriat Peony. The Shirley Temple Peony was likely bred in Holland at some point before 1952 (source: American Peony Society), although some peony lovers believe this peony was bred by Louis Smirnow of Brookville New York, at some point before 1948 (source: Web Project Paeonia). Mr. Smirnow was an American peony breeder known for working with Mrs. Itoh to introduce her late husband’s intersectional peonies to the USA.

The Shirley Temple peony grows in a mound of beautiful, dark green foliage with glossy leaves. They will generally grow to be about 32-36 inches in height and 24-36 inches in spread. The fragrant blooms start growing in mid-Spring, about a week before Festiva Maxima. Because they are so resilient, cut Shirley Temple peonies will have a long vase life as well. If the flower bulbs are cut, it can usually last for about a week, if not longer. If you aren’t sure, how to cut your peonies for the best results, check this post out!

These peonies bloom each spring and are resilient perennials that will come back annually as long as they receive enough sunlight and water. There have been peonies known to survive and thrive for over 100 years! If you make sure they are grown in proper conditions, they will surely last for a long time.

Shirley temple peony plant
Shirley temple peony plant

Shirley Temple peonies grow to be fairly wide, which means they will need plenty of room to thrive. Though this is not typically common, the glossy green foliage of a peony plant can get as big as five feet in width during peak growing season. This means you will need to space them out accordingly, otherwise, they will tangle up with each other and that will make caring for them quite difficult.

The nicest thing about the Shirley Temple peony is how adaptable it can be. A Shirley Temple peony will do extremely well in flowerbeds, city or cottage gardens, borders (especially for walks and driveways), and as a specimen plant. As a matter of fact, they can sometimes grow large enough that you could even use them as an informal hedge if you so choose.

Peonies in general are extremely tough, despite their delicate, flowery look. They do not usually need to be divided and they can be left completely undisturbed for years upon years. The only thing to keep in mind is their proximity to other plants and trees. It is important to keep them away from trees and shrubs, primarily because they do not like to compete for food and moisture. Additionally, they do not often respond well to transplanting, so be extremely careful and mindful if you choose to do that.

Shirley temple peony

What type of peony is the Shirley Temple peony classified as?

Shirley Temple Peonies (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Shirley Temple’) are herbaceous peonies with Full Double-type peony flowers that bloom mid-season.

Peonies come in six main types of flower forms: Single, Anemone, Japanese, Semi-Double, Bombe, and Full Double. Full Double peonies like Shirley Temple ,are known for their voluminous layers of petals. In this flower type, all stamens and carpels are transformed into petals. Double flowers look like a flower inside a flower (hence the term “double”). Sometimes pollen-bearing stamens (often yellow) appear in a circle around the outside of the inner flower layer.

There are three main types of peony plants: tree, herbaceous, and intersectional. Shirley Temple peonies are among the herbaceous category of peony plants. These plants sprout anew from their roots each spring, and will typically grow to be about 3 feet tall by the middle of spring. Then, they will bloom and go on to display beautiful foliage throughout summer and even into early fall. They usually die back to their roots after the first hard frost occurs in the fall.

Peony plant emerging from the soil in spring

Plant care for Shirley Temple peonies

As you can see from the photos of this stunning flower, a Shirley Temple peony plant is well worth the effort! Here are some tips on how to keep yours happy, healthy, and thriving.

Peonies usually bloom from April through June and sometimes July. They tend to keep their blossoms until fall, or at least until the first frost comes. Bare root peonies must be planted during the fall at least six weeks before the frost begins. Plant peonies in the springtime if you wish, but keep in mind that you may not get blossoming flowers for a year or two. Planting peonies in the fall gives the plants the potential to grow blossoms the very next spring.

You will need to choose a spot for your peonies that has full sun exposure (unless you live in a hotter southern or southwestern region). Shirley Temple peonies will usually enjoy some light afternoon shade, but they do need a good deal of sun to be happy (and to bloom at their best). Choose fertile, rich, well drained soil in which to plant your tubers. Plant them two inches below the soil (one inch for warmer regions). Don’t go any deeper, or else you will get a lot of foliage but no flowers.

As said before, peonies do need space to grow, so make sure you space accordingly and dig large enough holes for the roots to take hold. Make sure your soil is well-draining because Shirley Temple peonies especially hate soggy roots! For that reason, they do particularly well on hills and slopes.

Because Shirley Temple peonies don’t like soggy roots, you should be able to get away with watering them just once a week. You may need to water more often during extreme heat spells, but otherwise, be careful not to overwater. The last thing you want is for your plants to develop root rot or some other type of fungal infection.

Though this is not always the case, your peonies may, at one time or another, need support/stakes to grow. Their large blossoms will often get pretty heavy depending on how big they grow to be. Because of this, you should not be surprised to see your blossoms getting a little droopy. If you notice this happening, work on getting some stakes or cages put into your early summer garden as soon as possible.

Shirley temple peony
Sometimes shirley temple peony flowers can be quite a bright pink but are usually more of a soft blush pink (fading to cream white).
Peony plant with diseased leaves

Pests & diseases affecting Shirley Temple peonies

Fortunately, Shirley Temple peonies are resistant to many types of pests and diseases. Unfortunately, there are still a couple that you will need to watch out for—peony wilt being at the top of the list. As the name suggests, this fungal infection causes mold and fungus to affect a peony’s roots, causing it to wilt and wither. You will see brown or black spots begin to grow on the leaves, the blossom will refuse to open, and in severe cases, you will see fuzzy mold begin to grow all over the plant.

There is no chemical or spray you can use to cure this, sadly. The only way to get rid of it is to pull up all affected plants and send them to the landfill or even burn them. As long as you dispose properly of all the infected flowers and foliage, the spores and particles will not spread to any of your other plants.

Honey fungus presents the same issue. You will find that the foliage of your Shirley Temple peonies is pale or discolored and will eventually turn black and die. As with peony wilt, you will simply need to remove all the infected plants and dispose of them as thoroughly as possible. You will want to keep your plants from becoming too moist or too damp, as those conditions make it much easier for fungus and mold to grow.

Shirley temple peonies
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also a professional engineer, certified permaculture garden designer, and master gardener in training. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.