How to Plant a Garden Peony Root

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Spring blooming peonies deliver one of the top floral shows of the whole flowering season.  The best way to get a great selection of varieties is to order from a specialty shop.  Before your box arrives learn how to plant a garden peony root, while avoiding the most common mistake.

When your first open the box you may think “Really, this is it? Weird.”  Don’t worry. Here’s how to coax that gnarly-looking chunk of botanical promise into a beautiful plant with fragrant blooms galore.

peony root with pink buds, ready to be planted
This peony root is ready to plant and become a treasured part of your flower garden.

What Does a Peony Root Look Like?

Your peony root is a cutting from the mother plant, bringing with it the exact genetics of that original peony. Expect the root to be oddly shaped. In its underground setting it needs to provide support to the plant but doesn’t have to be pretty. Good thing, huh?

Ready-to-plant peony roots can be a single relatively straight piece, curved or twisted, or even branched. Shape doesn’t matter. Likewise, some peony cultivars produce thick, chunky roots while others are about as big around as your index finger.  While shape can sometimes make it a challenge to figure out the best planting position, the root’s configuration doesn’t influence it’s ability to grow.

Which End is Up?

Ready to plant peony root with growing eyes circles for identification.
The four eyes on this peony root are circled. Plant the root so the eyes are 1.5-2″ below the soil line.

Peony roots have “eyes” similar to those found on a sprouting potato. These growing points, distinguishable by their red, pink or white color, develop into stems. Eyes vary in size and sometimes are hard to see. Don’t worry, size doesn’t affect ability to grow. Place the roots so the eyes are facing upwards.

In this example, position the circled buds towards the top of your planting hole with the rest of the root angled down into the bottom.

Note: the peony roots in these photos have been held at warm temperatures for two weeks to encourage the development of eyes for these photos. Don’t worry if the eyes on your root, which has been held in cool conditions at Leafari, are small and/or hard to see. Also, some peony varieties produce very small eyes; it’s cultivar specific.

Planting Depth:  the Secret to Success

While peonies generally aren’t fussy there is one thing they won’t flex on – planting depth.

Plant too deep and your peony won’t develop as many buds and blooms as it might. Plant too shallowly, and the crown area, where the roots and stems meet, may dry out. Peonies with a dry crown can struggle to survive.

Not bothering to get this part right is the most common mistake made when planting a peony root.

Peony root with white buds on wooden tableThe ideal planting depth is 1.5-2″ below the soil line.

This is where you want your growing buds/eyes to be when the root has been planted and watered. Note that if your soil is loose, the initial watering may cause the root to sink a bit. Check your root placement and adjust as needed to get back to the original depth.

Soil Prep for Peony Planting

Keep it easy . . . dig a hole large enough to accommodate your peony root, usually about the size of a soccer ball. Add a couple handfuls of compost and mix well. Super rich soil is neither needed, nor beneficial. Avoid any type of manure as that can encourage crown rot.

Do make sure your planting site offers soil that drains well. Peonies don’t appreciate soggy soil.

Position your root so the eyes are at the target depth and refill with the soil you removed. Water to settle the soil.

That’s it! Now you know how to plant a garden peony root and can start dreaming about those marvelous spring blossoms.

For additional information on planting peonies, go here: Peony Planting Guide

To choose peonies for your garden here: Fall Planted Peony Selection and Spring Planted Peony Selection.

Travel Tip:  Should you find yourself in southeastern Michigan in late spring, swing by the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden for breathtaking inspiration. This scented sensation is among the very best in the country!

2 thoughts on “How to Plant a Garden Peony Root”

  1. If I read this right the whole root system is buried and that includes the eyes 11/2 to 2 inches under the soil.

    1. Joyce,

      Yes, the whole root is shallowly planted, with the eyes 1.5 – 2 inches under the soil. It’s often helpful to roll the root around in your hands to determine the best way to situate it in the soil as each root is a different size and shape. It’s rarely perfect with all the eyes aligned along the same plane. Just do your best!

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