How to Grow Peonies: Care, Tips, and Tricks - Michigan Bulb Blog - Michigan Bulb Blog (2023)

How to Grow Peonies: Care, Tips, and Tricks - Michigan Bulb Blog - Michigan Bulb Blog (1)

Peonies are some of the most enchanting perennial blooms that gardeners have at their disposal. Huge, marshmallowy blooms wear nuanced shades from creamy pink to punchy orange to scorching red, and some varieties are even sweetly fragrant.

Not only will they light up your garden with a range of intense hues each spring, but they’re also quite simple to care for. Gardeners often enjoy 70 to 100 years of beautiful blooms without much intervention.

If you have a green thumb and have overlooked the majesty of these beautiful bushes, don’t fret. Peonies are an easy way to upgrade your garden with insanely gorgeous blooms. Keep reading to learn how to properly plant, grow, and care for peonies.

Choosing the Right Peony Plant

There are four major peony categories to choose from: woodland, tree, herbaceous, and intersectional. Because each peony category has a different blooming window, strategic gardeners can experience the magic of peonies for up to eight weeks—from late April through early June.

Woodland Peonies: The first to bloom, woodland peonies are an understory plant that thrives in growing zones three to seven. They unfurl their colorful petals early in the season and require planting in shady pockets of your garden.

Tree peonies: This shrubby variety grows well in zones three to seven and often climbs to heights of three to seven feet. Instead of dying back to the ground like herbaceous varieties, they form a permanent, woody stem that blooms season after season with deeply fragrant flowers.

Herbaceous peonies: Herbaceous peonies are the most popular garden variety—the ones you’re most likely to see lining your neighbor’s driveway with fiery reds and neon pinks. The compact bushes feature large blooms and die back to the ground in late fall for a period of chilling and dormancy before their next bloom during the next spring.

(Video) How to plant peonies video with Thompson & Morgan

Intersectional Peonies: Lacking the relative ubiquity of herbaceous peonies, the rare intersectional features large, fragrant flowers and fine foliage that exude color and charm. As their name suggests, they are a cross—or intersection—between tree peonies and woodland peonies. Itoh peonies, as they are also called, finish out the bloom season with up to three weeks of sporadic blooming—just a few buds at a time.

When choosing the right peony plant for you, it’s important to know that it will grow in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone that you live in. Most peonies thrive in zones three through eight, with some varieties doing well as far south as zone nine. Use our handy zone finder if you’re unsure which one you live in.

Because all peonies are low-maintenance plants that offer a no-fuss approach to gardening in a wide variety of hardiness zones, the following information on planting and growing peonies generally applies to any peony variety you get—from a Pink Hawaiian Coral herbaceous to a Strawberry Crème Bruleé intersectional.

How to Grow Peonies: Care, Tips, and Tricks - Michigan Bulb Blog - Michigan Bulb Blog (2)

Planting Peonies: When, Where, and How

Once you settle on the right variety for your tastes, it’s important to know when, where, and how to plant it to set yourself up for success. But first, which peony format should you buy?

Peonies are often sold as bareroot plants, containerized plants, and seeds. Bareroot plants are young plants that were lifted from the ground during their dormant phase and sold without any soil surrounding the roots. Containerized plants are more mature specimens that are living in a container of soil. Either of these options is great, but beginner gardeners should stay away from seed—as it can take four to five years to bloom after planting!

When to Plant Peonies

Michigan Bulb ships bareroot peonies in the fall and the spring. it is recommended that gardeners plant them on arrival while the soil is still warm. Ideally, you’ll plant them in the fall when the soil is still warm—giving them about six weeks to establish before the ground freezes for winter. However, it’s also possible to plant bareroot peonies in the spring. But Most bareroot peonies won’t bloom for the first 3-4 years after planting. This paragraph needs to be reworked – here is an excerptfrom our Spring Hill site:They take a while to establish, often 3 years before the first bloom—but the wait is worth it. They are heirloom quality. Let them grow undisturbed and they will bring joy to you and your loved ones through the decades.

Pro tip: Moving peonies has been long touted as impossible, which isn’t necessarily true. They are fickle when it comes to relocation, but it’s doable when the plant is dormant in the fall. Dig up the plant and move it to the new location, doing your best not to disturb the root structure.

(Video) How to Plant Allium Bulbs in Fall

Where to Plant Peonies

Whether it’s a mixed border to accent the edge of your decking or a few pops of color in a mostly verdant landscape, you likely already have budding ideas about where peonies would look best in your space. And the good news is that peonies aren’t very picky about where they live.

As long as you give your peonies an environment they enjoy, they will reward you with little maintenance and decades of beauty. While the requirements depend slightly on the variety, here are the general conditions that lead to happy, healthy peonies.

  • Sunlight: Most peonies prefer full sun, although some varieties can manage with less. Red flowering varieties are more likely to do fine with light or mottled shade. The exception is tree peonies, which actually grow best in full shade.
  • Moisture: Peonies need plenty of moisture in the spring and should not be allowed to dry out in the early season. Plant them in free-draining soil that allows you to water them often.
  • Soil: Grow in rich, fertile, and moist soil. If your soil has clay, it is extra important to ensure that it drains well. Chalky soils are good, too. On the other hand, peonies are not tolerant of sandy soil.
  • pH: Peonies thrive in neutral to alkaline-leaning soil—specifically around 6.5 to 7 pH. Once again the odd one out, tree peonies can also tolerate more acidic environments.
  • Distance: Peonies don’t share nutrients well and like to be at least three to four feet away from other plants. Plus, it is important to have good air circulation around peonies to ward off pests and diseases.

How to Plant Peonies

We ship our peonies both Spring and Fall – it would be good to consider rewording to be inclusive for both planting seasons

Step 1: Dig a large hole in a sunny, easy-draining spot that meets the conditions described above. Start with a two-square-foot hole and adjust depending on the size of your plant and its root ball.

Step 2: Add about six inches of organic material to the soil to give your peonies a headstart. Compost, rotted manure, or bonemeal are good options. Add more if you’re working with sandy soil, which isn’t well tolerated by most peonies. Then, form the loose soil into a mound in the center of the hole.

Step 4: Soak your dormant peony plant in water for about an hour to rehydrate it, then place it in the hole. Position the plant so that the eyes (or buds) face upward and the roots facedown and around the mound you made.

Step 5: The root ball’s crown should be up to two inches below the surface if you are planting in a cooler zone. For warmer, more southern areas, shoot for less than one inch under the ground. Be careful not to plant late bloomers too deep, either. Mature, container-grown peonies should be planted to the same level as they were in the container. If you plant a peony too deeply, it will grow plenty of foliage but lack flowers.

Step 6: Fill in the hole with soil, keeping the root ball’s distance from the surface in mind. Gently pack down the soil and water each plant as soon as you’re done.

(Video) 5 Tips for Planting Peonies in the South (Zone 8b)

How to Grow Peonies: Care, Tips, and Tricks - Michigan Bulb Blog - Michigan Bulb Blog (3)

Growing Peonies: Peony Plant Care Tips

Perhaps the most important thing to do when growing peonies is to have patience. Trust us, we understand the giddy excitement to witness their striking colors—but It can take up to three years to experience a full, vibrant bloom from your newly planted peony plant. However, there are a few things you can to do ensure your peonies are thriving all the time.

Watering

You already watered your peonies at the time of planting, and the next time you’ll need to get out the hose is when they start producing foliage. Then, water them again when you see flower buds on the stems. That’s it! The only other time you should be watering your peonies is during droughts within the first year of planting.

Staking

Peonies are known for their big, juicy, delicious-looking blooms (yes, peonies actually are edible!). Because of this, you may need to support their stems with stakes or a peony cage—especially after the blossoms are further weighed down by rain. Consider a single stake for taller varieties like tree and Itoh peonies and a cage for the bushier varieties. The circular supports of a peony cage give you more versatility and look better than other options.

Deadheading

Deadheading is the removal of dead flower blossoms to encourage future blooming. Deadhead your peonies just after the blooms begin to lose their luster. Specifically, cut each stem down to the foliage and just above a strong leaf.

Pro Tip: The blooms aren’t the only part of the plant that could use some trimming. Every fall, cut back the foliage to the ground in order to avoid any diseases that overwinter during the cold season and attack new growth in the spring.

Feeding

Peonies benefit from that initial boost of nutrient-rich organic material as they are planted, but are fairly self-sufficient from then on. You can fertilize every few years in the spring when new growth is about two to three inches high.

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Mulching

Peonies don’t need any care over the winter. In fact, the cold temps actually start the dormancy period where they begin to store their energy for spring. Over-mulching could disrupt or delay this process and cause your peonies not to bloom next season. If you do mulch over the winter, spread it very thinly and remove it in the spring.

Dividing

How do you divide peonies? You don’t! While many perennials do need to be divided every few years, peonies are happier when they’re left alone. They will reward you with a stunning color show for 60 to 70 years without division.

How to Grow Peonies: Care, Tips, and Tricks - Michigan Bulb Blog - Michigan Bulb Blog (4)

Peony Pests and Diseases

If you have followed the above advice on when, where, and how to plant your peonies, they shouldn’t give you much trouble when it comes to pests and diseases. Still, there are a few diseases to watch out for, like the overwintering botrytis, or peony wilt. This will attack young growth in the spring, causing buds to brown and die.

To prevent this, simply prune back any growth that develops brown spots. Deadheading will also help to keep your plants healthy and fresh.

Being one of the deer-resistant perennials out there, peonies are stalwart plants when it comes to pests, too. You will, however, likely see ants crawling on your peonies from time to time. Don’t worry though—they aren’t harming your plants. Quite the opposite, they are engaging in a symbiotic relationship where the ants eat bud-threatening pests in exchange for a drink of sweet nectar.

Pro Tip: If you want to harvest peonies for indoor decor sans ants, cut the stems while the buds are still tight and check the stems thoroughly before bringing them inside.

Final Thoughts

Who said everything that’s worthwhile takes effort? Peonies reward gardeners with ravishing beauty that doesn’t require much input. With the information in this guide and a bit (or a lot) of patience, you’re ready to bring a slice of paradise to your front yard. For more information and gardening tips, check out our planting guides and peruse helpful articles on our blog.

(Video) Fall Planting Bulb Haul from Eden Brother's! 🌷:: Zone 9b Fall Planted Bulbs for Spring Blooms!

FAQs

How long does it take to grow a peony from a bulb? ›

Unlike annuals, peonies take 3 - 4 years to become a fully established blooming plant. The first year of growth is focused on root production and becoming established in the garden.

How do you grow peonies successfully? ›

Try to plant peonies in full sun and a fertile soil, which has been improved by digging in garden compost or well-rotted manure. They will grow well in a range of soils, including clay, as long as it does not get waterlogged in winter and dry out in summer. They are fully hardy so don't need any winter protection.

Where is the best place to plant peony bulbs? ›

Choose the best growing location for peonies.

Peonies thrive in full sun to a little light shade (particularly important for hotter climates with stronger sun), and in well-drained soil with a bit of added nutrients. They prefer not to compete with large trees for water.

What month is best to plant peonies? ›

When to Plant Peonies
  • Plant peonies in the fall: in late September and October in most of the U.S., and even later in the fall in Zones 7 and 8. ...
  • If you must move a mature plant, fall is the time to do it—specifically, when the plant has gone dormant.

How many flowers do you get from one peony bulb? ›

We advice not to cut the stems the first 2 years, this helps the underground root grow bigger. The 2nd years you can expect 5-7 flowers. Every year it should increase until about the 6th year when some varieties could get up to 25-30 stems per plant!

How long does it take for peonies to reach full size? ›

How Long Does it Take to Grow Peonies? Peonies generally take 3 years to really establish. Flowers grown from the root of an older established plant or in a bucket from your local garden centre might have one or two blooms the first year.

Can peonies be overcrowded? ›

Every 10 or 15 years, you'll need to thin peonies out, so the plants don't get overcrowded and strangle one another out.

Do peonies need a lot of water? ›

While mature peony plants are rather drought tolerant, we like to give them a nice, deep watering occasionally throughout the summer (unless we have some very good rainfalls). We water our baby peonies (1st and 2nd year plants) more often, as they are growing nice roots for dividing stock when they reach two years old.

How do you speed up peony growth? ›

Tips and tricks to make Peonies open faster:
  1. Trim additional foliage. ...
  2. Give them a little warmth and food. ...
  3. Cut their stems at an angle. ...
  4. Give them a (gentle) tap on the head. ...
  5. Keep them somewhere cosy. ...
  6. Give them a little cover. ...
  7. Give them a quick dunking. ...
  8. IF ALL ELSE FAILS: Give them a quick swish in water.
28 May 2022

How can I encourage more peony buds? ›

Give them a little massage

Giving the flower heads a little, gentle massage at the base (near where the petals join the stem) will stimulate the petals, making them open up faster.

How do you encourage peonies to spread? ›

You can't really encourage peonies to spread or anything such as that. It's just best to wait until the peony plant has gotten bigger before you do anything at all. The only way that you can make more peony plants is to divide them.

Are peonies best in pots or ground? ›

(Too much shade will produce foliage and little or no peony bloom). Peony plants grow best in the ground; however, some gardeners are planting a peony or two in large patio pots. Use an ample sized container of 10 gallons or larger for best results, as the roots of a peony grow rather large.

Should you soak peony bulbs before planting? ›

The tubers should be fleshy, firm and mold free. Sometimes bare root plants can dry out during transit so it is a good idea to soak them in a bucket of water for 2 to 4 hours to rehydrate them before planting.

How deep do you plant peony bulbs? ›

Planting Depth for Peonies

Back fill with loose soil, covering your peony root with no more than ½ - 1 ½ inches deep. This shallow depth is critical. Planted deeper, your peony plant will still grow healthy and strong, but with few or no blooms.

What to Know Before planting peonies? ›

Plant your peony in full sun (where it receives at least six hours of direct sunlight every day) and well-drained soil. Make sure the spot you choose will allow the plant to have undisturbed roots. Give it shelter from wind, but don't plant it too close to other trees or shrubs or the plants will compete for resources.

Do peonies need fertilizer? ›

Peonies should be fertilized twice a season; the first time you fertilize will be early in the spring. Wait until you see shoots coming from the plant. Once the shoots reach about three to six inches in length, you can apply your first round of fertilizer. Do not apply directly to the plant, but rather around the base.

How often do you water peony bulbs? ›

Water your peony plants immediately after planting so that the soil settles well around the roots. During the spring months, there is usually enough moisture in the ground for peony plants, but if several weeks pass without rain, give them a good watering once every two weeks.

How many flowers do you get per bulb? ›

Some bulb types may produce one stem with multiple blooms, others produce one large bloom at the top of one stem. Some bulb types, such as crocuses, produce a few flowers per bulb depending on the size of the bulb. Tulips and daffodils typically produce one flower stem per bulb.

Do peonies like coffee grounds? ›

However, coffee grounds should not be used on peonies. Peonies need low nitrogen fertilizer, and coffee grounds are high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen can cause peonies to grow fewer flowers and more leaves.

How do you keep peonies blooming? ›

Each individual bloom lasts around 7-10 days, and each plant will give multiple blooms! The simple secret to extending Peony blooming in your garden is to plant varieties that flower at different times within the roughly 6-week period of proficient blooming.

How many times per year do peonies bloom? ›

Peonies only bloom once a year. You get one shot at this. In Georgia we get our blooms in late March/early April depending on climate. For us they bloom once spring is on it's cusp.

What happens if you don't cut back peonies? ›

What happens if you don't cut bush peony stems off in the fall? The leaves and stems of herbaceous (bush) peonies, including the intersectional Itoh peonies will eventually die back as the plants go dormant for the winter. The leaves will start to deteriorate and the stems will fall to the ground and turn 'mushy'.

Should you put a cage around peonies? ›

In order to give the proper support for peonies, you need to get some peony cages to hold them up. Just make sure that the support you use is the right size for you peonies. Some peony varieties grow taller than others, and will need taller supports to hold the flowers upright.

How do you keep peonies from flopping over? ›

How to Stake A Flopping Peony – Attractively!
  1. Here is a peony with stems that are already falling to the ground even before the flowers open.
  2. Step one is to push a bamboo stake into the center of the plant. ...
  3. Next take a spool of twine and tie the end to the stake, about three or four inches from the top.
11 Mar 2017

Are banana peels good for peonies? ›

Feed them a banana!

Potassium means more blooms, stronger stems to support them, and disease resistance.

What do you put in water for peonies? ›

Want to help your peony last longer? You can add a spoonful of sugar, a dash of bleach or sparkling water to your vase. That will keep the water fresh so your flowers won't wither too early. You can also remove the sugar coat of the flower buds.

What bugs do peonies attract? ›

It's a well-known fact that peonies attract ants, which crawl around on the flowers, feasting on the sticky sugars they secrete. Once the flower opens fully, and the sucrose has been consumed, the ants depart, whether they are outside or on someone's dining room table.

Does Epsom salt help peonies? ›

Make sure to spray against Botrytis after the flowers have been cut to prevent further infection. Add Magnesium (Epsom salt) to the Botrytis spray to harden off the plants. In the fall the fungus will form winter spores which will winter over in between the soil and air.

What fertilizer is best for peonies? ›

The Best Fertilizer for Peonies

Use a balanced fertilizer or one that is a little lower in nitrogen. Good choices include 10-10-10, 10-20-10, or 5-10-5. If your peonies don't produce buds and flowers, or don't have very many, the problem could be the fertilizer. Avoid fertilizers with too much nitrogen.

What is the best fertilizer for peony bushes? ›

6 Best Fertilizers for Peonies | How and When to Use
  • Down to Earth Organic Bone Meal Fertilizer 3-15-0.
  • Miracle-Gro Bloom Booster Flower Food 10-52-10.
  • Jobe's Organics Rose & Flower Fertilizer Spikes 3-5-3.
  • Jacks Classic Blossom Booster Fertilizer 10-30-20.
  • Espoma Organic Bone Meal 4-12-0.
  • Dr.

Should you pinch off peony buds? ›

The pinched plants will bloom later, giving you a few more weeks of summer beauty. Remove peony blossoms when they are finished so the plant can focus energy on next year's blossoms instead of producing seed. Clip foxglove after blooming to have healthy flowers next year or forego pinching them and let them self-seed.

How do you make peonies multiply? ›

The only way to multiply peony plants is to divide peonies. This might sound complicated, but it's not. First, you need to use a sharp spade and dig around the peony plant. Be very careful not to damage the roots.

What do peonies need to flourish? ›

Peonies prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil. Good air circulation around the plant is also important. These growing conditions help peonies avoid their only serious disease problem: botrytis. Like other fungal diseases, botrytis is present in most soils.

Should peonies be planted deep or shallow? ›

Dig a good sized hole and plant your peony so the budding 'eyes' on the plant crown are roughly 2cm below the soil surface. If they're planted too deep, the flowering tips will struggle to push up through the soil and flowering will be delayed. Bare root herbaceous peonies should be planted between October and March.

Which peonies are easiest to grow? ›

Peony 'Pink Hawaiian Coral' flowers early on in the season, around late May, so is often used to extend the peony season in a garden. It's vigorous and easy to grow, producing large coral-pink blooms. It grows to around 90cm in height.

Why do you soak bulbs before planting? ›

Should you soak spring bulbs before planting? There's no need to soak them before planting. However, if you are late getting them into the ground, then soaking them for 12-24 hours can speed up the rooting process. Adding fish emulsion or liquid kelp to the water before soaking will help them root even faster.

What happens if you plant peonies too shallow? ›

If the eyes are planted too shallow or too deep, they may not flower. This is the most common mistake that is made when planting peonies and is most often the reason that peonies fail to flower. In all but the southernmost zones, peonies must be planted with their eyes 1½ to 2 inches below the soil line.

Are peony bulbs hard to grow? ›

Peonies are easy to grow and maintain with little care. They bloom in late spring or early in summer, delighting all that behold with their wondrous floral display. Peony blooms are a staple to spring time and are a popular cut flower.

Can I plant peony bulbs in the spring? ›

When to Plant: Bareroot peonies may be planted in spring or fall. The plants can tolerate frost, so may be planted 2 to 3 weeks before your frost free date. Potted peonies may be planted at any time during the growing season.

How fast do peonies grow from root? ›

How Long Does it Take to Grow Peonies? Peonies generally take 3 years to really establish. Flowers grown from the root of an older established plant or in a bucket from your local garden centre might have one or two blooms the first year.

Do peonies grow better in pots or ground? ›

(Too much shade will produce foliage and little or no peony bloom). Peony plants grow best in the ground; however, some gardeners are planting a peony or two in large patio pots. Use an ample sized container of 10 gallons or larger for best results, as the roots of a peony grow rather large.

What happens if you plant peonies too deep? ›

Peonies should be planted with the eyes pointing up and just beneath the surface of the soil. Now here is an important fact to keep in mind. Peonies that are planted too deep will not bloom. In northern gardens plant the tubers no deeper than 2 inches.

How deep do you plant peonies bulbs? ›

Plant the fleshy peony roots so that the eyes are no more than 1-2″ deep. If planted too deep or too shallow, peonies may not flower. Fill in soil around the roots. Water well.

Do you have to dig up peony bulbs every year? ›

Peonies can be left undisturbed in the garden for many years. Occasionally, however, it becomes necessary to move established plants.

How do you grow peonies in Michigan? ›

Moisture: Peonies need plenty of moisture in the spring and should not be allowed to dry out in the early season. Plant them in free-draining soil that allows you to water them often. Soil: Grow in rich, fertile, and moist soil. If your soil has clay, it is extra important to ensure that it drains well.

Why are my peonies not growing? ›

Peonies need a lot of sunlight -- in fact, they pretty much need full sun, which means a total of at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, in order to grow and bloom. If they are in shade for most of the day, they won't grow or bloom very well, if at all.

Is Miracle-Gro good for peonies? ›

In the case of peonies, Miracle-Gro can also be used as a good source of fertilizing nutrients. Miracle-Gro Shake 'n Feed Rose & Bloom Plant Food is an excellent choice out of all the Miracle-Gro products because it continuously releases nitrogen during the three month period between feedings.

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