Your Guide to Planning, Planting and Growing Peonies
Peonies are perennial garden classics, loved throughout the world for their extravagant, early summer blossoms. They are dependable, incredibly long-lived plants and will bloom for generations with little attention. As cut flowers, peonies have no rivals. Alone or in mixed bouquets, they have an elegant natural beauty and a delicate, unforgettable perfume.
Start with a Better Bulb
When you compare two peony plants side by side, it’s easy to see differences in quality. Longfield Gardens supplies grade #1 peonies, as shown at far left. A grade #2 peony is shown at right. It takes less time for the larger root to develop into a strong plant that produces lots of flowers.
Plan for Success
Peonies are carefree plants and very easy to grow. Here are a few tips to help you get the best results.
Sun and Shade: Peonies are sun-lovers and perform best when they get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. The more sun they get, the better they'll bloom, so it's best to plant your peonies in the sunniest location possible.
Zone: Peonies are winter hardy in zones 3-8. They grow and flower best in areas with cold winters. They may struggle in zone 8 and are not recommended for zones 9 and warmer. Want to check your hardiness zone? You'll find the USDA Hardiness zone map here.
Soil: Most plants, including peonies, grow best in loose, fertile, well drained soil. You can improve the quality of your soil by adding compost and an all purpose fertilizer at planting time. Avoid planting in areas where the soil is soggy or compacted.
When to Plant: Bareroot peonies may be planted in spring or fall. The plants can tolerate frost, so may be planted 2 to 3 weeks before your frost free date. Potted peonies may be planted at any time during the growing season.
How to Plant Peonies
Dig a 12" x 12" hole. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and add some compost and all-purpose granular fertilizer (follow package directions).
Replace all of the soil and then dig a new 8” deep hole in the same place.
Put the peony root in the hole so the eyes (the growing tips) are positioned no more than 1” below the soil line. When peonies are planted too deeply, the plants will grow but may refuse to bloom. Cover the root with soil and water as needed.
Planting Tips for Peonies
To ensure an abundant display of flowers, peonies should be grown in full sun. Though some varieties will tolerate partial shade, less light usually means fewer flowers.
Peonies should be planted in well-drained, fertile soil with a neutral to slight alkaline pH. Over time, they will develop a large root system and become difficult to move. Take time to site your peonies in a place where they can grow happily for many years. Once established, the plants are relatively drought resistant.
Where to Plant Peonies
Perennial Gardens Peonies are ideal for perennial gardens. Their dark green foliage stays attractive all season long. In fall, peony foliage will sometimes take on hues of red or gold.
Hedges and Fence Lines Peonies may be planted in a row to make a low hedge for enclosing a space, defining one side of a garden or bordering a walk. They also look great planted at the base of a split rail or chain link fence. Avoid planting them beside a solid fence as it will restrict airflow around the plants and make them more vulnerable to foliar diseases.
Foundation Plantings and Shrub Borders Peonies have as much presence as a small-size shrub. As long as they are planted in well drained soil and get adequate light and good air circulation, peonies will thrive almost anywhere in your landscape.
What to Expect from Peonies
All peonies flower in early summer, but the exact bloom time varies by cultivar. If you plant a combination of early, mid and late season bloomers, you can extend the peony season to a month or more. Peonies are ideal companions for other early summer perennials such as iris, alliums and roses. The foliage keeps borders looking full and provides a lush backdrop for other flowers.
Depending on the variety, most peonies are at least 3-feet tall and 3-feet wide at maturity. So it’s important to allow room for them to fill out. Surrounding peonies with a support cage will help keep the flowers upright. Use a ready-made peony support or fashion your own from wood slats or remesh/steel reinforcing wire. Supports should be put in place in early spring -- before the plants are 12" tall.
Peonies are carefree plants that are rarely troubled by pests or disease. It takes at two to three years for a young peony plant to get established, but once it has settled in, it will bloom reliably every year.
Peonies are fantastic cut flowers. They last for days in a vase and most varieties are also wonderfully fragrant. Peony stems may be cut when the buds are in "marshmellow" stage, and stored in the refrigerator (in water) for several weeks. Bring the stems out into room temperature and the buds will open after several days.
Caring for Peonies are they Bloom
After the flowers have faded, use scissors to remove the spent flower heads and the top 6 to 8" of the stem. This will keep the plants looking neat and will also prevent them from producing seed heads. Removing as little foliage as possible will help the plants produce the energy they need for next year’s flowers.
In fall, wait until the foliage is yellow, then cut back all the stems to within an inch or two of the ground.
Fertilize peonies in the spring when the stems are about 6" tall. Sprinkle about a half cup of all-purpose granular fertilizer around the base of each plant. Pull any mulch or other debris away from the crown of the plant to keep the eyes from getting buried too deeply.
How to Divide a Peony
Peonies may remain in the same place for many years without being disturbed. Should the plants need to be moved, move them in the fall as they are entering dormancy, rather than in the spring when they are starting to resume growth. Cut back the foliage and carefully dig up the entire root ball, which may be as large as 3 feet in diameter. Take care to dig deeply and avoid breaking off roots. Replant immediately and water deeply.
If you want to divide a plant, it can be done in fall or very early spring. One approach is to dig up the entire root ball as described above and put the clump on a tarp. Then use a sharp knife to divide the clump into sections and replant immediately. Work quickly and gently, damaging as few of the fleshy roots as possible.
The other option is to use a sharp spade and cut one or more chunks of root away from the mother plant. Again, replant these divisions immediately and water as needed during the first growing season. The less the roots are disturbed, the more quickly the plants will recover, though you can usually expect to lose at least one season of flowers.
Peony Pests and Diseases
Peonies are rarely troubled by pests or disease. A fungal disease called botrytis sometimes causes buds to blacken and shrivel as if they have been burned. The disease may also blacken young shoots and entire stems. As with all fungal diseases, wet weather increases infection. Remove and dispose of any affected tissues. The best control is preventative: remove spent flowers as soon as possible, avoid wetting the foliage with overhead irrigation, and encourage good air circulation by not crowding plants.
Right before they bloom, peony buds are covered with a slightly sweet, sticky substance. This will often attract ants, who appreciate the sweet treat. Peonies don’t need the ants, but the ants don’t harm them in any way. It’s a win-win situation. If you cut the flowers and want to avoid bringing ants into your home, just give the flowers a shake or dunk them in some cool water.