Colorful plants that last for decades.
How to grow peony plants:
Peonies, bursting into bloom near Memorial Day, are one of the early entries into the summer garden — and one of the most beautiful. So, how do you grow peony plants?
These perennials are generally shipped in pots or as bare root tubers. Peonies should be planted in the fall, in an area that will receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. Peonies are sun lovers, although they may appreciate a little protection from the sun if you live in Zone 8 or 9.
Peonies are very adaptable, but well-drained, slightly acidic soil is the best bet for their success. If your garden features heavy clay, amend with compost or a bit of loam to combat alkalinity and pooling water.
The method for growing your peonies depends on the form in which you receive them — and on the type of peonies you're growing. Most peony plants belong to three common types: tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, or Itoh peonies. Tree peonies grow in a shrublike habit, with some varieties topping out at 7 feet, and they feature some of the largest flowers and fastest growth. Herbaceous peonies usually grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet and a spread of 2 to 4 feet, and are generally lower maintenance. Itoh peonies are hybrids, blending the perennial habit of herbaceous peonies with the larger flower and color range of tree peonies. Care is generally similar for all types of peonies, but planting and staking will vary by type.
To plant container-grown peonies — ones grown in a pot — just dig a hole big enough for the top of the root ball to stand level with the soil (with herbaceous peonies) or to be buried about two inches deep (for tree peonies). If the plant is rootbound, gently break up the roots before planting. Pile some compost or well-turned soil in the bottom of the hole, and position the peony so that the roots spread over the mount. Fill the rest of the hole, and water in well.
When planting bare root peonies, soak the tubers in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting. For each peony, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots of your peony, and so that the eyes, or growth buds, will be an inch or two below the soil. Toss a shovelful of soil or compost into the center of the hole, creating a mound. Place your tuber with the roots spread over the mound, then backfill the hole.
Water thoroughly after planting, and water occasionally the first summer after planting, in particular when they begin to bloom. Peonies are not generally very thirsty plants, but they will benefit from being watered during dry spells.
Peonies require relatively little care, but herbaceous and tree peonies will require staking to hold their flowers up. After the leaves begin to emerge in spring, place a peony cage around the plant for support as its flowers grow. Or, use individual stakes to support each flower stem.
When to plant peonies:
Peony plants should be planted in the fall. Although peony plants are considerably low-maintenance, they don't respond terribly well to transplanting. Whether you're working with bare root plants or potted peonies, timing is key to successful peonies. In most of the U.S., peonies should be moved in late September or October—about six weeks before the ground freezes. This holds true for bare root plants, potted plants, and even mature peony plants, should you wish to transplant one. Keep in mind, however, that peonies do not like to be disturbed once they are established; so don't move your peonies unless absolutely necessary. Peonies should be planted while they are dormant. Peonies should be planted while they are dormant.
While you can plant peonies in the spring, spring-planted peonies tend not to bloom in their first year—they need all the energy they have for establishing roots and growing foliage. If you plant in fall, peonies typically are able to establish themselves over winter, and will be off to a strong start the following spring.
Where to plant peonies:
Since peonies can be a bit difficult to relocate, be sure to choose a good location before planting. Peonies perform best in a sunny spot that gets lots of airflow, where their leaves and petals won't face constant dampness and the possibility of fungal problems. Don't crowd your peonies in clumps or close to trees or shrubs, as peonies like their space and don't do well in competition for light. Because peony flowers are often huge and heavy, they may need supports such as stakes. Make the job easier by planting peonies out of strong winds, and in a spot that's easy to stake.
When do peony plants bloom?
Peonies bloom in early summer to early fall, depending on variety and bloom habit. Herbaceous peonies bloom in early summer, typically for a week or two. Tree peonies and intersectional (itoh) peonies bloom from early summer all the way through fall. Tree and itoh peonies tend to have an extended blooming time, since not all of the flowers on each plant blooms concurrently.
When to cut back peony plants:
Blooming peonies can be deadheaded throughout the blooming period to encourage additional flowering. When it comes to pruning, itoh and herbaceous peony varieties may be pruned heavily in the fall, when the foliage begins to fade. For these types, prune to four to six inches above the ground. Tree peonies, as the name suggests, are woody and should not be cut down fully. Instead, just prune these peonies for shaping in the spring.