When to Plant Garden Peonies: Spring or Fall?

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Pink and white peonies in the spring garden
Glorious garden peonies in June.

Ah, peonies . . .  their early summer lush blooms, intoxicating scents and rich garden color are beyond tempting.  You’ve decided this is the year to add several to your garden, so when is the right time to plant garden peonies?

The answer depends on where you live.

In spring, potted peonies can be found in many garden centers.  These are intended for immediate transplanting. While this approach is quick and easy, usually just a handful of the most common varieties are available potted.

For a much wider variety selection, look for peony roots through online garden retailers. These peonies can be purchased and planted in both spring and fall. To determine the best time for planting peonies in your garden, consider these three variables: geographic location, seasonal timing and personal preference.

Elegant, sweetly fragrant peony Mrs. Franklin D Roosevelt flowers in the garden
Elegant Mrs. Franklin D Roosevelt smells as fabulous as she looks and is outstanding for cutting.

Geographic Location

If you live in a part of the country where spring is short and summers are hot, plant your peonies in the autumn. This gives the plants time to settle in and develop strong root networks while temperatures are cool. Fall planting provides your peonies with several extra months to become established before the plants begin developing spring stems and foliage. (Flowers typically develop year two and beyond.)

If cool spring weather lingers in your region and temperatures are mild for many weeks, you can plant peonies early in the year. Six to eight weeks of 50-65 degree weather are usually sufficient for peonies to grow the supporting roots needed for that first critical season.

Unsure? Choose autumn for planting your peonies. In parts of the country where spring weather tends to include heat waves, your peonies may be prompted by high temperatures to sprout before they’re established. And they’ll struggle. Play it safe; plant your garden peonies in the fall.

Pink and white peony garden bed
When is the best to plant garden peonies? That often depends on where you live.

Seasonal Timing

When planting peonies in the spring, plant early. Peonies planted in early to mid spring have time to develop healthy roots before top growth begins to emerge.  And before the plants have to weather their first round of summer’s heat. If you live where the soil freezes in winter, wait until the ground has thawed. Then plant while the soil is still cool.

Planting in the fall? Let the ground cool and lose it’s summer heat. Then plant. The peony roots will grow in the chilly soil, albeit slowly.

Personal Preference

Are long cool springs the norm in your part of the country? Then it’s up to you whether to plant your peonies in the spring or fall. Either works fine. Let your schedule and variety availability guide your decision.

Striped peony bud, pretty even before it opens
A few peonies have lovely striped buds. This is James Mann.

One Additional Timing Consideration

Peonies are the ultimate investment perennials. Purchase and plant once. Then enjoy their beauty, fragrance and bushels of cut flowers for a lifetime.  Given that, sooner is better.

Peony bushes take a couple of years to reach their full potential, so don’t wait. To start enjoying these beauties sooner, get yours in the ground this year!

Tip: Buy Your Peonies When You’re Ready to Plant

Growers harvest peony roots in the fall, after the plants have lost their summer foliage and slipped into dormancy. Fall purchased roots are intended for immediate planting. Spring purchased roots are held a chilled dormant state over the winter, ready for planting in the spring.

Sometimes we’re asked, “Can I hold my spring purchased peony roots and plant in the fall?” The answer is no, that’s not recommended. Here’s why: plants must have an active growth period each year. Their growth produces the energy required to stay alive. When spring purchased roots are held and planted the following fall they have been dormant for a full year. And they are heading into 3-5 months of additional dormancy. These peonies have missed their energy-producing summer growth period . . . it’s like a very loooong fast.  And that’s not good.

Decide the best time to plant these white peony flowers, spring or fall
Peony Gardenia is a bouquet favorite, maturing to soft white from plump blush buds.

Ready to select peonies for your garden?

Peonies for spring planting  or peonies for fall planting.

Find helpful peony planting information and success tips here: Peony Planting Guide.

Peony Coral Sunset plant flowering in front of fence
For some spring warmth, consider one of the newer coral peonies.

Love peonies but live in a warmer part of the country? Learn about the need for some cold, find recommended cultivars and discover tips for success here: Growing Peonies in Warm Regions

And since peonies never seem to last as long as we’d like, here are some tips for photographing your peonies – and other flowers – so they’ll last forever!  Tips for photographing flowers

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