Peony Planting Guide
Peonies are not only some of Mother Nature's most stunning creations, they are exceptionally long lived plants making them outstanding investments in your garden's overall design. Give some thought to where you want them to be for the foreseeable future and then watch them fill out each year for the first four to five, until you have lush, bushy beauties.
For cutting, fragrance, structure and foliage that looks fresh right up to, and through, the first few frosts, plant peonies!
- Find a location where the soil drains well. If there are still water puddles 5-6 hours after a hard rain, scout out another site or amend the soil with generous additions of peat moss, perlite and course sand to improve the drainage. Peonies prefer soil that provides average moisture, but is not water logged. Keep in mind that your peonies will live for years, so adding nutrients in the form of compost, to the soil at planting time is a good idea.
- Site your peonies where they will receive full sun to very light shade. While peonies will survive in moderate shade they will not bloom as well and stems will not be as strong as when they are located in sunnier sites.
- Your peonies will be shipped "bareroot". This just means that the soil has been washed from the dormant roots. Bareroot plants are easy to handle and settle in quickly. Tuck your peony roots in the ground with the tips of the roots pointing downwards and the "eyes" or growing points 1/2" to 2" below soil level. Plant on the deep end of this range in cold zones and on the shallow end of this range in warmer areas. Heads up - this depth measurement is important! If planted deeper, the roots will grow and produce foliage but the flower production will be limited. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart to allow for mature size.
- After planting, water generously, soaking the soil to settle it around the root. Fll root growth helps anchor the plants for the future. Foliage sprouts will appear in the spring and will be immediately identifiable as they are bright red or pink and look like colorful asparagus shoots. These sprouts will grow and change to green as they lengthen and develop leaves. Flower buds will follow although buds don't always form the first spring.
- The first year most roots will produce 2-5 leave shoots and only 1-2 flowers. This is just a taste of wonderful things to come and next year that number will double. The plant will double in size again the third year. By the fourth or fifth year your peony will be full and bushy, with lots of foliage and many flower stems.
- Water periodically during the growing season if rain does not occur, but keep in mind that weekly deep waterings are better than lighter drinks every day or two. About 1" of moisture per week is a good estimate.
- Feel free to clip blossoms to bring inside. This will not hurt the plants and will provide gorgeous, often fragrant, stems for bouquets.
- After blooming has finished for the season clip off any spent flower stems. Your peonies will continue to provide attractive, lush foliage for the remainder of the growing season. As fall arrives and temperatures cool, the leaves will yellow, and then wilt, after the first frost. At this point you may trim off any leaves with the knowledge that next spring will bring fresh growth.
Pots, Barrels, Tubs & Urns
Peonies develop huge root systems over time and prefer to grow in the same site for years. For this reason, these plants are not the best choices for containers.
Cold Weather Requirements
Garden peonies appreciate cold weather during the winter and require at least 30 consecutive days of below freezing temperatures. The goal is to keep the roots cold, so freezing and thawing weather won't do the trick. Before buying any type of peony, consider whether you can provide sufficient dormancy period cold weather for your peonies to thrive and bloom.
Peony roots are odd, gnarly things that encourage you to think, "Really? How could something this weird looking become a lush bush covered with gorgeous, fragrant flowers?!" Some roots are huge, others considerably smaller; this depends on the variety. Take the leap of faith, plant carefully with eye facing upwards and at the proper depth. Then, go do something else while your peony settles in, gets fuller every year for the first 3-4 and morphs into a thing of stellar beauty. You'll be duly proud of the final results.