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how to grow peonies

How to Grow Peonies

Growing Peonies to Welcome Summer

Peonies are one of our most beautiful and cherished garden plants. Their huge luscious blooms—typically in shades of red, pink, white, and even sometimes yellow— are a triumph in early summer gardens.

Peonies are long-time garden favorites, and over the years, plant breeders have produced a staggering array of cultivars. Many have mesmerizing scents. Single peonies are simple and sophistocated. Semi-double peonies have beautiful layered petals, without hiding the colorful stames inside. Double peonies are packed with lush petals - some can have more than 100 petals on each bloom! Fancy Japanese Style or Anemone peonies have a combination of broad outer petals around a mass of thin petaloids. 

And best of all, given fertile soil, good air circulation, and adequate sunlight, peonies are both easy to grow and extremely long-lived.

garden of peonies

This photo shows a mature collection of double peonies in white, pink, deep fuscia, and red. Shop our double peony varieties and double peony collections!

When & Where to Plant Peonies

Light: Herbaceous perennial peonies should be located where they will receive at least 6 hours of sun a day. Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) and Itoh hybrid peonies will do best in full sun, but they can also take partial shade.

Soil: Choose a location where the soil will be consistently moist throughout the season, but which does not get waterlogged. Peonies are long-living, however, once planted, they prefer not being moved. So, before you plant, take time to prepare the soil. Dig out any existing weeds and their roots, and turn in aged compost or leaf mold throughout the top six inches of the planting area.

Spacing: Space your new peony roots a minimum of 3 feet apart. Peonies will grow into strong, full plants. Eventually most peonies will grow to three to four feet in diameter, so be sure to choose a spot where each plant will have plent of room to mature and grow to full size.

Fall Planting: Be sure to plant your peonies at least one month before the ground in your area will freeze solid. This will give the roots enough time to get established in their new location prior to the onset of winter. Fall planting will allow for strong growth the following summer. 

Spring Planting: You can also plant peonies in early spring; just remember to water your new plants weekly throughout the first summer, unless you experience adequate rainfall. Spring planting typically results in a slower growth in the first summer season. 

Planting Tips: Look for the pinkish buds or ‘eyes’ on the brown fleshy roots. Since these will eventually give rise to the flower stalks, be sure to plant the ‘eyes’ facing upwards.
  • If you live in a cold climate, position the ‘eyes’ between one and two inches below the surface of the soil and the rest of the root angled slightly downwards into the amended soil.
  • If you live in a warmer climate the ‘eyes’ should be an inch or even less below the surface of the soil, allowing them to maximize their exposure to cold winter temps.  
holding peony bare root

Identify the pink, fleshy buds, or 'eyes' on your peony bare roots before planting.

planting the bareroot

With the 'eyes facing the sky', plant your peonies 1-2" below the surface of the soil.

itoh peony sprouting

This Itoh Peony has sprouted growth from its 'eyes', which are no longer dormant.

pressing soil

The developed 'eyes' of this Itoh Peony are left exposed, above the soil line.

How to Grow Peonies Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: While the height varies with each variety, most peony flowers are around 36 inches high, and the foliage is around 30 inches high.

Staking: Most peonies have lush, heavy flowers, so they will benefit from staking to prevent their stalks from breaking under the weight of the heavy flowers.

  • Metal ‘peony rings’ offer an adjustable height. In early spring, position one ring over each plant so that the foliage and flower stalks will grow up through the supports. Adjust the height as the plant grows so that the flower stalks are supported.
  • You can also make your own support system, using garden twine and metal or bamboo stakes. First, firmly position the stakes in the ground outside emerging peony stalks. Next, run the twine around the stakes to create a circle. Then, run the twine diagonally across the circle of stakes to create a grid, which will support the stems as they grow.

Watering: Unless you live in a very dry climate or are going through a dry spell, your peonies should not require regular watering once they are established. For peonies that are recently transplanted, be sure to water occasionally to help support their growing root system. Light, frequent watering at first will help budding roots, and after a few weeks, deeper and less frequent watering will help roots to reach deep for water.

Fertilizing: The occasional light application of a slow-release organic fertilizer will keep you peonies vigorous for many years to come. Sprinkle a little organic fertilizer around the root zone in spring.

Mulching: When planting, mulch the whole area lightly, with no more than an inch of mulch covering the eyes. Avoid planting your peony roots too deeply, or flowering will be restricted. For established peonies, use a light layer of bark mulch over the outer root zone.

Trimming & Pruning: Remove all spent flower heads. If any stems turn black during the summer this can be a sign of fungal disease. Cut off the diseased portions and dispose of separately—do not add to your compost pile.

How to Care for Peonies at the End of the Season

Overwintering: Sprinkle about an inch of chopped leaves over the roots as a winter mulch. 

Dividing & Transplanting: Mature peonies prefer not to be relocated. Unless you need to thin them out, you do not need to lift and divide your peonies. If necessary, peonies can be divided in early fall and replanted according to the guidelines above.

Pests & Disease: Various fungal blights, especially Botrytis, can potentially attack peony plants. To avoid fungal diseases, plant your herbaceous peonies in full sun where there is good air circulation and avoid overhead watering. To avoid spreading fungal diseases, do not dispose of spent peony leaves into your compost bin.

Learn More

With so many gorgeous peony varieties available, how will you know which is right for your garden? We'll help you choose the best peony for your garden, so you can enjoy your long-living peonies for years to come.

With their gorgeous lush petals and sweet fragrance, it's hard not to fall in love! Read more about the history and varieties of Peonies. 

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