5 Tips for Planting Peony Bulbs
Peonies are one of the reliable darlings of the gardening world because they're some of the easiest flowers to grow, and also some of the longest-lived. When peony bulbs are happy with their location, they’ve been known to bloom for decades (or even centuries) in the same spot! You might notice peonies still blooming their heads off in the spring when you drive past old, unoccupied farmsteads. A house could be empty for 50 years, and the peonies are still growing.
Peonies are incredibly deer-resistant, another reason to love them!
And, if you’re a gardener who simply can’t make up your mind about colors, forms, and sizes, you’re in luck. With hues ranging from pinks, reds, and yellows to coral, purple, and even mahogany, and heights ranging from 2-4’, you’ve got a lot of options. Peony bulbs also grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7, with some varieties hardy to Zone 2 and others accepting Zone 8 temps. Always follow recommendations for planting varieties and times for your particular area — we want you and your peony bulbs to be the happiest and most successful you (and they!) can be.
5 Tips for Planting Peonies
1. Plant at the right time.
Plant peony bulbs in the fall — September or October for most areas of the country, and even later if you live farther south. Aim to get them into the ground about 6 weeks before the ground freezes — and remember, if you put off planting until the spring, expect to wait about a year for that peony to catch up to its fall-planted friends.
2. Choose the best growing location for peonies.
While peonies aren’t fussy, they do have one quirk that pays to acknowledge — they don’t really like being moved after they’re established. Trust us; they’ll put up a fuss and may even pout and skip a bloom for a season. If you must, however, transplant them, aim to do it in the fall at about the same time you would plant them in your area. Peonies thrive in full sun to a little light shade (particularly important for hotter climates with stronger sun), and in well-drained soil with a bit of added nutrients. They prefer not to compete with large trees for water.
3. Give them enough room to grow.
Because peonies don't like to be moved, make sure you give them enough space to grow and spread over the years. They're not like groundcovers — they won't take over your garden — but the clumps will expand. (And you want them to!) Plant traditional herbaceous peony bulbs and Itoh peony bulbs 2.5 to 3 feet apart.
4. Plant peonies at the proper depth.
Peonies do not like to be buried deeply. Good news for you, this means less digging! Plant the peony bulbs so that no more than an inch of soil covers the top of the bulb and do not bury in mulch. The exception to this is in zones 2-4, where an inch of mulch in the winter can keep the eyes (where the plant grows new stems) from freezing. Water immediately after planting the peony bulbs, and every other week or so until the ground freezes.
5. Support the blooms.
Some peony blooms can be massive (like the double or “bomb” variety), and the weight of the flowers can topple over the stems and foliage. Peony Joker and Big Ben are great examples with their oversized flowers. To keep your peonies upright and perky, use a support system (sometimes called a peony cage) created for encircling the developing growth, and install it early in the season when your peonies are still small so they can grow up through the cages. (Or, if staking isn’t your thing, look for varieties like Peony Bartzella that feature exceptionally strong stems that don’t require it.
Above all, be patient. Peonies need a bit of time to get established and start to shine; it could take a year for the bulbs to start blooming. But when they do, stand back and watch the magic! They’re some of the most effortless beauties your garden will ever see. (And peonies make gorgeous cut flowers!)
Ready for a glorious spring garden filled with peonies?
- Katie Elzer-Peters