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Few garden plants can deliver a show to rival that of well-grown peonies. Large bushes, lush flowers, fabulous fragrance and a lifetime of garden glory. Simply stunning.
Grown for centuries, these beauties are remarkably undemanding. Well sited, planted at the correct depth (they aren’t flexible on this) and given sufficient winter cold (they need this to flower), these gorgeous perennials deliver their bounty year after year.
Isn’t it time you had peonies to look forward to every spring?
Select a planting site with full sun to ¾ day sun. While peony plants will often grow with less light, they don’t flower well without lots of sunlight. In fact, one of the primary reasons peonies fail to bloom profusely is because of insufficient sun.
Given that peonies are such long lived plants, it’s worth a little effort to scout a site that’s sunny now and can be expected to stay that way for years; i.e. avoid planting where shade from nearby trees is likely to increase significantly. Also, allow 3-4 feet of space for each plant. This spacing ensures that when the peony is mature (4+ years old) it will enjoy the good air circulation that promotes healthy growth.
In most cases, it's best to plant peonies in the ground rather than in containers. These are long lived plants that resent being transplanted; transplanting often necessitates a season or two for resettling before the plant will flower again. Also, temperature fluctuations in the surrounding air cause similarly dramatic swings in container soil and these can be hard on peonies.
Peonies are happy with average soil and neutral soil pH. Very rich soil can produce lots of foliage at the expense of flowers so avoid over fertilization. As with most plants, good drainage is required to prevent root rot.
Peonies can be planted successfully in the fall or in the spring. Plant upon receipt. Fall shipped peony roots should be planted in the fall and spring shipped peonies should be planted in the spring. Do not hold over from one season to another or viability will be reduced.
Fall planted peonies have the advantage of being able to grow a nice set of feeder roots before having to support the stems, leaves, buds and flowers of an actively growing plants. Fall planted peonies sprout in the spring. Spring planted peonies typically sprout in 2-4 weeks, depending on variety and temperature.
Learn more about which is likley to be more successful for you, and why, here: When to Plant Garden Peonies
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots and add a handful or two of compost to the soil you removed. Add a little loose amended soil back in the hole making a mound to rest the root on. Fan out the roots into the soil when possible; they can be stiff so take care not to force them as this can cause breakage.
Turn the root in your hands to find the best position to accomodate the eyes, the little growing points. Place the root in the planting hole so that the eyes are: 1.5 – 2” below the soil surface for cold climate gardens and 1” below the soil surface for warm region gardens. This depth may seem fussy but does matter for good flower production. Angle the rest of the roots down into the hole. It's okay if the roots are a bit off to the side as long as they are in the soil. Pat the soil to remove air pockets and water to settle the soil around the root. Check to make sure the root hasn’t sunk as the soil settled. Find photos and more guidance here: Which End is Up on My Peony Root?
Peonies need an average amount of water for good growth, typically about 1” of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two.
After they have finished flowering for the season peonies still add to the garden with dimensional structure and serve as an attractive backdrop to other perennials and annuals. To help your peonies thrive, leave the foliage in place all season. Don't trim it down until it goes dormant in the fall.
Summer foliage is needed by your peonies to create energy in the form of complex sugars/starch which is used for fall and early spring root growth. More roots and a increasingly sizeable crown translate to fuller, stronger plants and more wonderful flowers.
Trim off spent flowers after blooming has wrapped up for the season. This helps channel the plant's energy into root growth rather than seed production.
Peony foliage typically holds its attractive looks through the fall and some varieties even have leaves that turn a lovely bronze or deep red, a nice bonus. When the foliage succumbs to frost or browns on its own, trim back to 2” above the soil line. Discard the trimmings; don’t compost.
Trimming off the spent foliage in the fall avoids trying to trim out prior season stems around the tender new spring sprouts. Cutting out the old stems without accidentally cutting off the new spring growth is a challenge best avoided.
The first fall, add 3-4” of loose mulch; pine needles, bark nuggets or straw. This provides insulation to limit the freezing and thawing of the soil as air temperatures fluctuate, and reduces the changes of frost heave. In spring, pull the mulch back away from the peony sprouts as soon as they appear. Look for new shoots that are pink or red – peony sprouts are colorful!
The first spring, a newly planted 3-5 eye peony will typically produce several stems that grow 6" to 12” tall. Generally there will be no flowers that first year. Flowers that do develop are often a color or form that is not representative of those on the mature plant. Not much to get excited about, but wait! Think investment.
Year two, the number of stems usually doubles what it was the first year and the growth is taller. Often a few blooms are produced. Don’t worry if the flowers are a bit small, this will correct with maturity.
The third year, the stem count typically is twice what it was the prior year; your peony begins to look like the beauty it's destined to become. By year four your peony will reach full size, producing plenty of blooms. The plant will continue to expand for the next 4 to 6 years.
For the rest of your peony's life – a plant that can live 50+ years, so as long as you do – you’ll enjoy spring to early summer blooms. Peonies are a first rate garden investment!
Light: Full sun to ¾ day sun
Soil: Average, well drained
Depth: Cover growing points with 1-2" of soil
Water: Average moisture
Uses: Beds, borders and sunny garden naturalized meadows
Tip: Planting depth is key for good flowering; see details at left
They Start Out Looking Like This:
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