Lazy Gardener’s Guide: How to Grow Peonies

peonies

Peonies are my all-time favorite flowers. Peonies are among the most loved and admired garden flowers. I love making flower arrangements with the peonies from my garden. The best part about growing peonies is that it is effortless. Peonies are easy to grow dependable bloomers. As a self-confessed lazy gardener, I like peonies because they are one of the easiest and most beautiful flowers you can grow in your garden. Once your peonies are established, you don’t even have to do much to your peonies! It never ceases to amaze me every year how something so beautiful can be so easy to grow. Peonies are truly low maintenance plants, you don’t even need to fertilize it every year! Below you will find everything you need to know on how to grow peonies and how to propagate peonies (trust me, it’s easy to propagate peonies!)

Basic Facts on How to Grow Peonies

Are Peonies ANNUAL or PERENNIAL?

Peonies are perennial plants. That means peonies grow back every year. The best part about peonies is they grow back beautifully every year- effortlessly on your part!

Do Peonies grow best in SUN or SHADE?

Peonies grow best in a location with full sun. Ideally pick a spot in your garden that receives more than 8 hours of sun to grow your peonies. Planting peonies in full sun will build strong plants and give you maximum blooms. If you plant peonies in a location receiving less than 8 hours of sun, you will get a few blooms or no blooms. It’s important to plant peonies in a sheltered location away from strong winds. Strong winds can damage peony flowers. Find a sheltered, sunny spot in the garden and your peonies will grow happily for many years!

What type of SOIL is best for Peonies?

Peonies prefer neutral soil. Peonies also like soil with good drainage and loose soil. Although, I have to confess, as a lazy gardener, I don’t do anything to my soil all year long to improve drainage and yet my peonies grow beautifully!

Are Peonies DEER RESISTANT?

Peonies are deer resistant. I have first hand experience that deers don’t really peonies. My backyard is often visited by a families of deer and I’ve never seen them munch on my peonies!

Are Peonies DROUGHT RESISTANT?

Peonies are drought resistant plants. Once your peonies are established in your yard, your peonies don’t need to be watered. Peonies can survive from just rainfall alone. As a lazy gardener, I love no-fuss, drought resistant plants like peonies!

How TALL do Peonies grow?

Depending on the types of peonies, peonies can grow 1.5 to 3.5 feet.

When do Peonies BLOOM?

Peonies bloom late spring to early summer.

What USDA HARDINESS ZONE is best to grow Peonies?

Peonies will grow in USDA hardiness zones 3-8. I live in USDA hardiness zone 7 in coastal Connecticut and have successfully grown beautiful peonies for almost a decade now.

peonies

Step by Step Guide on How to Plant Peonies

All peonies are extremely long-lived plants and you can be rewarded with years of marvelous cut flowers and eye catching border or pathway. Below is a step by step guide on how to plant peonies in your garden.

Step 1- Find a Sunny Spot: Selecting a sunny location to plant peonies is the most important step in growing peonies in your garden. Set yourself for success by planting your peonies in a sunny location. Peonies grow best in a sunny location that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. Peony flowers can grow big and tend to weigh down the plant and strong winds can damage peony flowers. That’s why aside from a sunny location, it’s important to plant peonies in a sheltered location.

Step 2- Dig Deep: Dig deep to plant your peonies (2 inches deep). If you are planting tree peonies, you need to dig even deeper at least 4 inches deep. It’s a good idea to start your peonies in a well drained soil. If you want to amend your soil, you can do this by working in plenty of thoroughly decayed manure or compost and earthworm castings to the soil. Ideally, allow the soil to age for a month before planting your peonies. Of course, you can always plant your peonies immediately if you don’t want to wait a month! You can buy peonies as bare-root tubers with eyes. Plant your peony roots with eyes facing upwards. Plant your peony tubers 2 inch deep in cold region and 1 inch deep in the warmer southern states. Deeper or shallower plant setting of the roots will affect and prevent blooming. For better soil quality, after planting, you can add a few dozen earthworms to the soil.

Step 3- Water Thoroughly: Make sure to water your newly planted peonies thoroughly.

When is the Best time to Plant Peonies?

Peonies are best planted in the Fall. This is because the main rooting season for peonies takes place in the Fall. Spring planted peonies don’t fare as well and are set back a season when compared to Fall planted peonies.

How to Use Organic Soil Mix and Earthworms to Grow Peonies

It’s important to plant peonies in good soil. Improve your soil quality by making this simple organic mixture for your peonies to grow in.

1 part peat moss

1 part other organic material such as earthworm castings, compost, leaf mold or nitrogen stabilized bark

1 part builders’ sand

Dig and amend the soil with above mix, let the soil mixture age for 2 weeks. If you added manure into the soil mixture, then let it age for 4 to 6 weeks before planting your peonies. Plant the peony into this soil. After planting and covering the peony roots 2 inches deep with the soil mixture, immediately water thoroughly. Dig a small ½ inch hole beside the peony plant the next day and put a dozen live earthworms into it, then cover the earthworm with soil so that birds won’t come and pick them up right away.

How to Care for Peonies

Peony will take a few years to establish in your garden. Once established, peonies can grow for 100 years! Peonies are so low maintenance, it’s perfect for lazy gardeners. There is no need to divide or dig up peonies. Peonies grow happiest when left alone. Peonies don’t even need much fertilizing as long as you start off with good soil (add compost and earthworms at time of planting). Here are just a few things you can do to make your peonies grow better:

  • Deadhead peonies. Deadhead peonies after the flower fades.
  • Cut down peony foliage. Cut the peony foliage to the ground in the Fall
  • Support your peonies. Peony flowers are heavy and can weigh down the stems. You can support your peonies with tomato cages or peony support rings. Make sure you install your peony support rings at the start of the season before the peony flowers bloom, otherwise it will be difficult to get the support rings around the peony plant when it’s in full bloom!
  • Sparingly fertilize your peonies. You don’t need to fertilize your peonies every season. You only need to fertilize your peonies every few years. You can fertilize your peonies with bonemeal or a bulb fertilizer. Make sure to use a fertilizer low in nitrogen for your peonies. The best time to fertilize your peonies is in the spring when new shoots are just starting to come out of the ground. Don’t apply fertilizers at the crown of the peony plant, spread the fertilize around the perimeter of the plant.
  • Cut peonies strategically. Peonies makes excellent cut flowers; however, when cutting flowers, don’t cut more than half the blooms in each clump. You do this in order for the peony plant to retain enough leaves to store next seasons requirements of energy. Also trim the spent peony flowers to prevent seed formation.
grow peonies

How to Cut Peony Flowers for Your Floral Arrangements

Peonies makes marvelous cut flowers. Here are tips on how to cut peony flowers from the garden. As well as some advice on how to make your peony flower arrangements last longer!

  • Cut peony buds. Cut peonies when the buds are starting to show color before the flowers open. Leave at least three leaves on each cut peony stem. Do not remove more than half the peony blooms in any clump. Make sure you use sharp garden scissors for a clean cut.
  • Cut peony flowers in the morning. Cut peony flowers during the early morning or early evening.
  • Remove ants from peony flowers. You will notice there are a lot of ants in the peony cut flowers. To get rid of these unwanted ants from the peony cut flowers, place the cut peony stems in water for 20-30 minutes outside to allow the ants to leave. Another method that I prefer is to hold the cut peony flowers upside down and submerge the cut peony flowers in water for a few minutes to get rid of the ants on the peony flowers. You can also gently shake the peony flowers upside down while it is submerged in the water.
  • Cut peony stems at an angle. To maximize water absorption, cut your peony stems at an angle with sharp garden scissors. Repeat and cut the peony stems every few days to promote maximum water absorption and make your peony flowers last longer in the arrangement.
  • Add sugar solution flower food to your peony arrangement. Put your peony stems in cold water containing sugar solution. The sugar solution for your cut peony flowers is composed of granulated sugar plus water. If you have commercial flower food, you can use that for your peony flower arrangement.
  • Change water every 2 days. Make sure to change the water of your peony flower arrangement every 2 days to prevent rot. You should also re-cut the peony stems at an angle when you change the water.

Enjoy your cut peony flowers in a vase by themselves or mixed with other smaller flowers and foliage!

peony bud

Why is Your Peony blooming poorly?

There are several reasons why peonies bloom poorly. Below are a few reasons why your peony is blooming poorly.

  • Peony is too young. Your peony plant will bloom poorly if the peony plant is young. You will not get a lot of peony flowers in the early years. You have to wait a few years for your peony plant to grow a lot of flowers.
  • Peony planted too deep or shallow. Another reason why your peony plant is blooming poorly is if your peony was planted too deep or too shallow. To fix this, lift your peony plant during the dormant season and replant your peony at a proper depth. Plant your herbaceous peony plant at 2 inches deep and plant your tree peony plant at 4 inches deep.
  • Peony lack nutrients. Another reason why your peony plant is blooming poorly is if you had planted your peony in poor soil. You can improve the soil quality of your peony plant by applying organic fertilizer. You can fertilize your peonies with bonemeal or a bulb fertilizer. Make sure to use a fertilizer low in nitrogen for your peonies. The best time to fertilize your peonies is in the spring when new shoots are just starting to come out of the ground. Don’t apply fertilizers at the crown of the peony plant, spread the fertilize around the perimeter of the plant. Remember, peonies don’t need to be fertilized frequently so apply sparingly.
  • Peony was recently moved or divided. Another reason why your peony plant is blooming poorly is if your peony plant was recently moved or divided. Peonies don’t like to be disturbed or moved too often so you should give your peony plant sometime to recover.

How to Propagate Peony

Peony could be propagated by clump division after 3 to 5 years in the spring or fall. You can divide your peony plant by digging the peony clump up and carefully dividing the clump. Then immediately replant your divided peony clump in a sunny area that is sheltered from strong winds. Water your peony plant thoroughly. Partially shade the peony plant from sun for a few days after replanting. Another way of to propagate Peony is to plant Peony seed and grow them from seedling. Growing peony from seeds will not produce original hybrid offspring.

Troubleshoot Peonies with Pest Problems

During cool, humid weather, botrytis, a fungus disease can be a problem. If the peony stems wilt and collapse, buds blacken and fail to develop then your peony plant is inflicted with botrytis. You can prevent it by cleaning surrounding dead leaves or stems during the Fall. Make sure to dispose the dead leaves and stems, don’t add it to the compost. Then in the Spring, sprinkle sulfur power as the new peony growth emerges from the ground.

Types of Peonies to Grow

There are 3 types of peonies: herbaceous peonies, tree peonies and itoh peonies.

Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous peonies are long lived perennials that can live up to 100 years. They are beloved for their stunning, fragrant cut flowers.

  • Bowl of cream Peony: Bowl of cream peonies are herbaceous peonies that grows 2.5 feet. You will enjoy the double white bloom from this variety of peony. Bowl of cream peonies blooms mid-spring..
  • Coral Charm Peony: Coral charm peonies are herbaceous peonies that grows 3 feet tall. You will enjoy gorgeous persimmon, semi-double coral blooms from this variety of peonies. Coral charm peonies blooms mid-spring to early summer.
  • Festiva Maxima Peony: Festiva maxima peonies are fast growing herbaceous peonies that grows 3 feet tall. Enjoy beautiful snow white double blooms with a hint of pink. Festiva maxima blooms late-spring.
  • Karl Rosenfield Peony: Karl Rosenfield peonies are fast growing herbaceous peonies that grows to 2.5 feet tall. Enjoy gorgeous double red blooms with this peony variety. Karl Rosenfield peonies will bloom mid to late spring.
  • Monsieur Jules Elie Peony: Monsieur Jules Elie peony are fast growing herbaceous peonies that grows to 3 feet tall. Enjoy the beautiful double pink blooms of this peony variety. Monsieur Jules Elie peony blooms in mid to late-spring.
  • Sarah Bernhardt Peony: Sarah Bernhardt peony are fast growing herbaceous peonies that grow to 3 feet tall. You will love the fragrant, early-summer double light pink blooms of this showy peony variety. Sarah Bernhardt peony blooms in mid-spring.
peonies

Tree Peonies

Often called tree peonies, tree peonies are actually woody peonies that are the size of shrubs not trees. Tree peonies are characterized by their woody stems. Tree peonies can grow 3-5 feet tall and flowers can grow up to 6 inches wide!

Itoh Peonies

Itoh peonies have characteristics of both tree and herbaceous peonies. Itoh peonies are hybrid peonies. The stem are woody enough to holds up giving season long support. Itoh peonies plants can provide blooms for 3-4 weeks, which makes it the longest of all peony varieties. There is also a wide variety of colors from itoh peonies- from pinks to yellows to reds.

Below are popular Itoh peony varieties (source American Peony Society)

Bright Yellow Itoh Peony Varieties (with red or pink flares)

  • Bartzella
  • Garden Treasure
  • Smith Family Yellow
  • Sonoma Halo
  • Sonoma Yedo
  • Pure Bright Yellow Varieties (without flares)
  • Amy Jo
  • Yellow Doodle Dandy (Yumi™)
  • Sequestered Sunshine

Yellow & Pink Bicolor and Blended Itoh Peony Varieties

  • Berry Garcia
  • Julia Rose
  • Hillary
  • Magical Mystery Tour
  • Smith Family Jewel

Itoh Peony Pink Varieties

  • First Arrival
  • Impossible Dream
  • Pink Double Dandy (Keiko™)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy

Itoh Peony Lavender Varieties

  • Morning Lilac
  • Sonoma Amethyst
  • Gordon E. Simonson
  • Sonoma Rosy Future

Itoh Peony Red Varieties

  • New Millennium
  • Scarlet Heaven
  • Unique

Itoh Peony with Peach and Orangey Tones

  • Kopper Kettle
  • Sonoma Kaleidoscope
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Light Yellow, Cream and Near Whites
  • Cora Louise
  • Love Affair
  • Scrum-didley-umptious
  • White Emperor

Yellow Itoh Peony with Purple Streaks or stripes

  • Candy Cane
  • Lollipop

Single Itoh Peony with Large Prominent Flares

  • Pastel Splendor (S)
  • Smith Opus 2 (Takara™) (S)
  • Viking Full Moon
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Fact Sheet: How to Grow Peonies

Peony size:                            1.5 to 3.5 feet

Peony bloom time :              Late spring to early summer

Peony light:                         Full sun, tolerates partial shade.

When to Plant Peony:         Fall or early spring         

Peony Colors:                      Red, rose, pink, cream, and white

Peony soil type:                  Well-drained average soil, slightly acidic

Peony Plan depth:              1 to 2 inches deep from soil surface,                       

Peony USDA Hardiness Zone:     Zones 3 to 8

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