Peony Planting Guide

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?

Choosing a Growing Site

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.  

Soil Prep for Planting 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.

When to Plant Peony Roots

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

How to Plant Peony Roots

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?

Throughout the Peony Growing Season

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.

During the Summer

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.

At Season’s End - Peony Care in the Fall

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!

Growth Expectations for Newly Planted Peonies

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!

Insider Tips

  1. If you garden in a cold region, any of the peonies here are well suited to your climate. Peonies are fine with winter temperatures below zero. 
  2. Considering peonies for California, Texas and other toasty parts of the country? Please read this first: Growing Peonies in Warm Regions
  3. To reduce the need for staking, consider Japanese peonies. These varieties have elegant flowers with forms that are less likely to catch and hold springs rains, and bend stems. Japanese peonies are wonderful for cutting and many are fragrant. (We love these and believe they deserve to be grown more widely.)
  4. Give some thought to peony placement. Peonies don’t appreciate being moved and take a season or two to settle in after being transplanted. If you can avoid moving your peonies you won’t have to wait for the plants to re-establish.
  5. When your peonies have finished blooming it’s a good idea to trim off spent blooms, leaving as much foliage as possible. This makes the plant more attractive and reduces plant energies dedicated to seed production. Discard the foliage, rather than composting it, as botrytis fungal spores can be present on peony leaves.
  6. Ants sometimes are active on peony buds. The insects are drawn by the sweet sap and, contrary to popular folklore, don’t play a role in bud development.
  7. Peonies planted in the fall have the benefit of being able to establish feeder roots before having to support top growth. While peonies are tough plants that generally do fine planted in the spring, if you live where spring is short and summer heat is intense, planting in the fall gives the roots time to establish before having to deal with blistering temperatures.  
Shop Peonies
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Success Snapshot

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

GUIDE: Peony Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: