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How To Plant, Grow and Care For Peonies

Botanical Name Paeonia
Plant Type Perennial
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained loamy, sandy or clay soil
Soil pH Neutral to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color White, pink, red and yellow hues
Hardiness Zones 3-8
Special Features Peonies are very long-lived perennials. They make very showy, cut-flower displays. Deer tend to avoid.

Loved by generations of gardeners, peonies put on a colorful show when they bloom in late spring to early summer. The large, fluffy, often fragrant, peony flowers symbolize happiness—and the blooms are sure to delight in the garden and cut-flower displays. The ornamental, lush green foliage stays attractive for months. Peonies are long-lived, low-maintenance perennials that can be planted in mixed perennial beds or grown as a low hedge along a walkway. They enhance landscapes with both their flowers and foliage, and deer tend to avoid them. Read on to learn more about when to plant peonies and how to care for peonies.

Types of Peonies

Gardeners can choose from various types of peonies, and by choosing from each group, they can extend the peony flowering season for weeks.

Herbaceous peonies

Herbaceous Peonies: When people think of peonies, they often think of these popular plants. Herbaceous peonies often grow 3-4 feet tall and bloom in late spring to early summer. The flower types may be single, double, bomb-type or anemone. A few popular varieties include the white-flowered Festiva Maxima Double Peony and the red-flowered Karl Rosenfield Double Peony.

bartzella peony

Itoh Peonies: A cross between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies, Itoh peonies often grow 2-3 feet tall. They have sturdy stems and are often very floriferous. The showy yellow Bartzella Itoh Peony is very popular. Itoh peonies are available in a range of flower colors.

tree peony

Tree Peonies: Often growing 5-7 feet tall, tree peonies are woody perennial shrubs that bloom in mid to late spring, before herbaceous peonies. They are available in a variety of flower colors. Shimadaijin Tree Peony is prized for up to 8-inch, fragrant, reddish-purple blooms and vigorous growth.

When to Plant Peonies

Peonies are usually planted in the fall, at least six weeks before the ground freezes. With proper care, they can also be planted in the spring. When planted in the spring, they may take longer to bloom. Because peonies are long-lived and don't like being transplanted, take care in choosing where to plant peonies.

Where to Plant Peonies

Peonies thrive in areas with long, cold winters and mild summers. They are winter hardy, and most can be grown in zones 3-8. Because they require a chill period, they may not grow well in some Southern areas. To find your hardiness zone, visit our grow zone finder. Peonies grow best in full sun, or six or more hours of direct sunlight daily. They prefer neutral, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter.

peony sas image

How to Plant Peonies

Before planting amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost. This is especially important in clay soils so it can improve drainage. Because peonies need good air circulation, spacing is important. The spacing and depth varies with the type of peonies. Plant the fleshy roots of herbaceous and Itoh peonies so the eyes are no more than 1-2 inches deep. They should be spaced 2-3 feet apart. When planting the larger tree peonies, prepare the soil to a depth of 24 inches. Place the plant in the hole. The place where the branch meets the root system should be even with the soil surface and the woody stem should be above the soil line. Space tree peonies 3-4 feet apart. After planting, water the peonies.

Materials You'll Need

For digging, you'll need a shovel or trowel. While peonies aren't heavy feeders, they often benefit from an all-natural, slow-release fertilizer, such as Van Bourgondien 100% Natural Perennial Food, mixed into the soil at planting time.

How to Grow Peonies

While peonies are low-maintenance perennials, following these guidelines will help you grow a vibrant peony display.

  • Be patient. Sometimes peonies take a year or two to flower, especially if they are planted in the spring.
  • Consider staking the plants. Because some flowers grow quite large, many peony varieties benefit from staking.
  • If your area goes for two weeks without rainfall during the growing season, water your peony plants.
  • Disbudding, or removing side buds, can promote larger flowers.
  • Deadhead peony flowers after they bloom.
  • While peonies do not require regular pruning, cutting herbaceous and Itoh peonies back at the end of the growing season can help prevent diseases. Cut herbaceous peonies all the way to the ground and cut Itoh peonies so that about 6 inches of stem is left above ground. Tree peonies should not be cut back but can be pruned after they are well established.
  • Peonies may attract ants during the blooming season. Leave the ants, as it's a symbiotic relationship. The ants eat the nectar and protect the blooms from floral-feeding insects.
  • Peony FAQs

    When are peonies in season?
    Peonies are in season from mid-spring to early summer. The specific peony bloom time depends on the area and the type of peony.

    What pests and diseases bother peonies?
    Peonies are fairly trouble-free perennials. Few pests bother them, and peonies are deer resistant. They may be affected by powdery mildew and botyrtis blight. Good gardening practices can help prevent disease.

    What are some harvesting tips for peony flowers?
    Peonies are treasured as cut flowers. For the best flower display, cut the flowers in the mornings when the buds are tight. If ants are on the blossoms, gently rinse them before bringing them indoors.

    How do you take care of peonies in a vase?
    Cut the stems at an angle and remove leaves from the lower parts of the stem. Place the stems in warm water.

    How do you care for cut peonies?
    To make your cut peonies last longer, change the water in the vase every few days. Each time that you change the water, re-cut the stem at an angle. Also add flower food to the water.

    How do you care for peonies in the fall?
    In the fall, herbaceous can be cut to the ground and Itoh peonies can be cut so that 6 inches of stem are above ground.

    How long do peonies last?
    Peonies are long-lived perennials and may last for 100 years.

    Why are peonies so special?
    Peonies are treasured for their gorgeous flowers that are wonderful for cutting and gifting. Many people have treasured memories of receiving peony flowers or delighting in their color and fragrance in late spring.

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