How to Plant a Peony Cutting Garden
Alaska Peony Cooperative
Is there anything more thrilling than preparing a garden plot that will pay floral dividends for years to come?
Many gardeners plant peonies for pure enjoyment, but peonies also play an important role commercially as a high-dollar flower for floral design work. If you’re wondering how to grow peonies (especially for cut flower work and floral design use), this article is for you!
As a farmer-florist, you can grow the cultivars that compliment your design style, including some that are otherwise hard to find or not available on the commercial market—this one of the biggest benefits to growing your own peonies. You also have total control over the harvest, selecting only the most perfect buds for your design work.
In this article, we’ll cover:
How to plant peonies
What you need to know to grow healthy peonies
How to choose your planting location
What soil preparation is needed (including how to take a soil sample!)
When to plant peonies
And much more! Let’s dig in.
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Growing Peonies: What You Need to Know
Growing peonies can be such a joy. A well-tended peony garden can thrive for 50 years or longer, gifting the fruits of your labor to future generations of flower lovers. A peony garden can also add value to your property and set you apart in the market for the right buyer, should you ever decide to sell your property.
Herbaceous peonies are perfect for commercial production due to the quality of the blooms and the extensive variety of cultivars available. Many types of herbaceous peonies feature long and sturdy stems, and the flowers come in a broad range of colors and forms, including double, semi-double, bomb, and single.
Blooms from most herbaceous cultivars perform well in both the vase and garden. Some varieties are highly floriferous, meaning they will produce many buds on one stem (a terminal bud with secondary side buds), while others may produce only one terminal bud and very few or no side buds on each stem.
Learn how to grow peonies with this online class built for floral designers and growers alike. Discover how to confidently care for, harvest, and work with cut peonies—making the most of your investment in this sought-after bloom!(Video) Experiment: 🌱Propagating A Peony Plant From A Cutting🌱
A grower can spend hours researching peony cultivars and planning their beds—and to help with this, our peony cooperative recently published a free guide, which features 24 varieties that are perfect for farmer-florists.
However, what about the less-glamorous aspects of developing a peony cutting garden? Things like soil nutrition, irrigation, and ongoing plant maintenance?
By looking at the big picture and focusing your efforts in all of these areas from early on, you will maximize the long-term production potential of your cutting garden and also enjoy the peace of mind that comes from beginning a project with a solid plan.
How to Grow Peonies: Considerations Before You Break Ground
Let’s dive into some of the most important considerations when harvesting and growing peony flowers.
Peonies are relatively easy to grow when planted in the right location with proper soil conditions.
Most cultivars grow well in zones 3–8 and prefer a sunny spot with excellent drainage.
Growers in warmer climates may want to select a location that receives partial shade to shield the plants from the heat of midday sun. In cooler climates, peonies will enjoy being in a sunny spot all day long.
Peony roots may rot if planted in soil that does not drain well, so select your planting site with care. Raised beds can help alleviate drainage issues, and clay soils will need to be heavily amended to encourage good drainage.
The quality of your soil is of the utmost importance for any growing endeavor, including growing peonies. Before planting, invest in the time to make sure that the pH is near neutral (6.0 to 7.0) and that nutrients and organic matter are distributed throughout the soil column.
A professional soil test may sound daunting, but it’s actually very easy to procure and will give you the best results for improving your soil. The Cooperative Extension service in your area can review the soil test and provide advice on how to supplement for any nutrient deficiencies as well as how to adjust the soil pH.
Here’s how to collect a soil sample:
Using a clean trowel or shovel and a bucket, obtain a ‘slice’ or boring of the soil profile from multiple spots within your cutting garden.
Thoroughly mix all of the borings in the bucket to make a composite mix of your soil.
From the composite mix, remove 1 cup or so of soil and place it in a bag to send to the lab.
It’s that easy and, depending on the size of your peony cutting garden, can be done in less than 30 minutes.
There are many outstanding soil labs available to analyze samples. Once you select a lab, plan to use that lab for future soil samples as well—that way, you ensure your analyses will be comparable from year to year. In our peony cooperative, most of our growers send their soil samples to Brookside Labs in Ohio, as we have found them to be fast, helpful, and competitively priced.
When reviewing your soil report, it can be hard to make sense of all the numbers, so take it to your local Cooperative Extension office for interpretation.
They will review the results and advise you on the exact amount of amendments needed to boost your soil fertility. Your future self will thank you for taking the time to build the quality of your soil before planting peonies (or any flower or plant you choose to incorporate!).
When to Plant Peonies
The gardener’s rule of thumb has been to order peonies in spring and take delivery of them in fall at planting time. However, there is some wiggle room when it comes to planting time, depending on your growing zone.
Growers in warmer climates may want to stick with fall planting, as it allows the peony to become well established over winter, before the intense heat of summer kicks in.
In cooler climates, many growers have had success with planting peonies in either spring or fall. If you are unsure, consider experimenting with both spring and fall plantings, and the vigor of your plants over time will let you know what is best for your microclimate.
Planting Depth & Peony Spacing—How to Plant Peonies
You’ve probably heard that when it comes to planting peonies, don’t plant them too deeply (or you may get a lot of foliage and no flowers) but also don’t plant them too shallow (or they may not survive winter).
Ideally, the goal is to plant the root in such a way that the “eyes” (or buds located on the root at the base of each stem) are just 1–2 inches below the soil, so they have some protection but aren’t too deeply buried.
When transferring a potted peony into the ground, it should be easy to plant the peony at soil level, as the potted plant should already be planted to the correct depth in the pot. However, with bare root peonies, it’s a little trickier. Each root will look different, and the eyes may not necessarily be as neatly positioned on the root as expected.
In this situation, do your best to get most of the eyes at the correct level, and mother nature will work her magic from there. It’s also vital to backfill soil under the peony root as needed; there should not be any pockets of air left under the roots which could otherwise cause rot from pooling water or cause the plant to sink too deep in the soil.
Some growers plant their peonies in single rows while others plant in double rows, and there are tradeoffs to consider for both methods. Double row plantings help maximize the profitability of the space but will likely result in rows that are densely packed and possibly at higher risk for foliar disease due to a lack of air circulation around the plants.
Peonies planted in single rows experience improved ventilation, but fewer peony plants will fit within the area overall, depending on the size of the walkways in between each row.
In addition, it may be easier to harvest cut flowers from single row plants since the entire plant is reachable from all angles when cutting; however, double row plantings have a fullness that is visually pleasing if you will have visitors to your cutting garden.
Within a row, plant peonies with at least two feet between each plant, which sounds like ample room but is very close once the plants mature. It is certain that the leafy foliage of healthy peonies will be touching within the first few years of growth when planted at two-foot increments.
For better air circulation between plants, consider planting your peonies further apart as space allows, and offset each plant when growing in double rows. Raised beds should be a minimum of three feet wide so that roots can spread in all directions within the growing space.
Irrigation for Peonies
Peony plants are highly susceptible to certain diseases, in particular, botrytis sp., which thrives in high humidity, low airflow environments.
Because of this, one of the best preventative measures you can take against foliar disease is to drip irrigate your peony plants.
The idea of installing irrigation is new to a lot of growers, but there are many affordable and easy-to-use systems on the market which can be set up very quickly and will last for years. The time that you spend installing drip irrigation will pay dividends in time saved and potential disease mitigation down the road.
If you are watering on a slope, then you’ll want to use irrigation line with pressure compensating emitters, so that your plants are watered evenly. If you are on flat ground, simple drip tape is very affordable and, although thin, may last for multiple seasons if holes are mended each spring.
Many of the farms in our peony cooperative source their irrigation supplies from Dripworks. Dripworks customer service can provide advice on an irrigation design specific to your growing configuration, and they also have many pre-made kits available for smaller growers.
Young Peony Plants: Years 1–3
A peony cutting garden develops slowly, and the plants must be allowed to establish themselves before harvest can be taken. It is normal for a peony plant to flower very little or not at all within the first three years.
However disappointing this is to the grower, it can be a good thing for the plant to have time for root growth rather than the development of flower buds, which are technically for reproduction. Many professional growers will remove all the buds from their plants during their first few years, hoping to encourage robust development of the roots.
That said, there can be an argument made for letting one flower open per young plant to confirm that the root you received is true to the cultivar that you ordered from the supplier (if not, make sure to let the root supplier know so they can correct the issue).
Mature Peony Plants: Years 4+
Around the fourth year of growth, many growers report that their peony plants really take off. It’s an exciting time, as all of the care that has been put into the plants finally begins to show!
Peony plants are usually easy to maintain once established, just remember to perform a few key steps every season:
Collect an annual soil sample to monitor nutrient availability over time.
Work amendments into the soil as indicated by the soil analysis (rather than guessing!).
Watch your plants for disease and pests.(Video) PEONY PROPAGATION | CARE FOR THE PLANT, REJUVENATION
Keep the peonies weeded and well-watered (note: although they do not like to have their roots in standing water, peonies do need to be watered thoroughly and regularly).
What’s up with ants on Peonies?
At our peony cooperative, we are asked all the time about the relationship between ants and peonies. The truth is, ants (like bees) visit the closed peony buds to collect the nectar that is extruded on the outside of the peony bud. The nectar is a source of carbohydrate for the insects that collect it; however, peonies are capable of blooming without the assistance of ants or any other type of insect.
Which peony cultivars are right for my area?
There are so many beautiful peony cultivars on the market, so how does a grower know which are the best for harvesting? In a few words, it takes research and experimentation.
Plant characteristics are usually listed on the websites of root producers, so make sure to look for cultivars that grow tall, have sturdy stems and may already be designated for cut flower production.
In general, double form peonies tend to be reliable bloomers on the plant and in the vase, and are good for new growers.
Some peonies are a bit more temperamental or delicate than others, so planting a mix of bloom forms and cultivars can be a good strategy.
Growers in warm climates may want to select early blooming varieties to ensure that harvest is done by the time summer’s high temperatures kick in. In cool climates, growers can try a mix of early, mid, and late blooming varieties for a protracted harvest season.
This winter, the eleven member-farms of our peony cooperative worked together to compile a guide that describes the peonies which have performed the best for us over time. Specifically, the guide highlights 24 cultivars that can reach the desired stem length necessary to meet USDA standards for commercial stem production, reliably produce a high number of harvestable stems, and are the varieties that florists have told us they love.
We also describe bloom size, color, and form as well as tips on harvest stage, cooler storage, and vase life. The Passionate For Peonies Guide can be downloaded for free, and we hope that it will become a useful reference tool as you work towards building your very own peony cutting garden.
Where can I buy roots?
There are different options for purchasing peony roots, depending on the size of your cutting garden.
For a small and diverse peony collection, there are many peony roots for sale online as well as at local greenhouses. These businesses often feature excellent selections, including new introductions, so this is an excellent way to find roots that are not usually offered by wholesale root vendors.
We receive a lot of calls and emails to our peony cooperative from growers looking to purchase roots, which we don’t sell; however, we are happy to refer to our favorite retail vendors, specifically those businesses that have extensive collections of quality rootstock and provide excellent and prompt customer service.
You can find our preferred retail vendor list here. On a side note, many retail plant nurseries will discount their perennials once the spring planting frenzy has passed, so this may be a perfect time to find locally grown potted peonies at a discount in your area.
Growing a large peony cutting garden allows the grower to benefit from deeply discounted wholesale root pricing.
Wholesale peony roots are sold by the crate, which usually holds around 50–60 bare roots each, depending on the size of root that is ordered.
In Alaska, we work with wholesalers who are willing to navigate the crazy logistical chain that is required to get high-quality roots to the far north, including Oregon Perennial Company, DeVroomen Garden Products, and Peony Shop Holland, to name a few.
For growers in the lower 48 states, you will likely find a broad selection of wholesale growers who are willing to ship to your area as well.
We wish you the absolute best as you develop your very own peony cutting garden. The work is worth it, and the payoff is grand! If you have questions along the way, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or instant message us on Instagram or Facebook (@alaskapeonycooperative).
Blog article written by Maureen with Alaska Peony Cooperative.
- 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.
Cut the faded foliage back and lift the plant with a garden fork. Remove as much of the garden soil as possible and with a knife cut off sections of the crown. Each section should have at least three buds and plenty of root. Replant straight away in the garden.When can I take peony cuttings? ›
For simple root division, autumn is best. Though you can divide any time during the growing season, that's when peonies start to go dormant, and all the trauma of digging them up and cutting them apart has less of an impact on them.How deep should a peony be planted? ›
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.
Tubers without eyes, or with only one or two eyes, often rot in the ground. And tubers with more than five eyes often fail to produce large flowers. Tubers are sold in late summer and fall.
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.Do peonies flower in the first year of planting? ›
Flower buds will follow, although buds don't always form the first spring after planting. The first year most roots will produce up to five leaf shoots, and perhaps just one or two flowers. In the second year the number doubles, and again in the third year.Can peonies be planted in April? ›
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 long do peonies take to root? ›
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. If blooms occur the first year, they may be smaller and not of the typical form or color of a mature planting.How long does it take for peonies to grow from root? ›
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.
Peonies rarely bloom the first year after planting. It often takes three years before you see an abundant display of flowers. But once the plants do start blooming, you can look forward to a lifetime of beautiful flowers. Peony plants rarely need dividing.Can you root a peony branch? ›
Though tree peonies do not root as readily as most woody plants, if a living branch is buried beneath the soil, it will eventually form new roots. This may happen over one season or it may take several years. After the branch forms sufficient roots, it can be cut away from the mother plant.How do you wake up a cut peony? ›
Bonus: How to Open Peonies Up Faster
To speed up the process, trim the stems and put them directly into warm water. Put the flowers, vase and all, in a warm place in direct sunlight and check on them periodically. Once they start opening, you can move them to wherever you'd like them to be.
Within a row, plant peonies with at least two feet between each plant, which sounds like ample room but is very close once the plants mature. It is certain that the leafy foliage of healthy peonies will be touching within the first few years of growth when planted at two-foot increments.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 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.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.How long can peony roots stay out of the ground? ›
If you don't have time to plant immediately, keep the peony roots in their original bags at about 40°F [5°C] (the vegetable drawer of a refrigerator is ideal) for no longer than three weeks.What kind of soil do peonies like? ›
All types of peonies need: Fertile, well-drained soil with a mildly-acid to neutral pH of 6.5-7. Never plant a peony in a soggy area or an area which has standing water for any length of time.Are peonies difficult to grow? ›
Despite a popularly held view that peonies are delicate and difficult to grow, the truth is that they are easy to grow and extremely hardy. They will live happily in a decent sized container for some years but ultimately will be happier in the ground.
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.Do peonies plants get bigger every year? ›
Every year it should increase until about the 6th year when some varieties could get up to 25-30 stems per plant! Peonies need a cold (winter) period to break their dormancy in order to bloom the following season. Because of this, they are grown with very mixed results in the southern states (USDA zone 9B and higher).Should peonies be deadheaded? ›
Deadheading right after the plant blooms allows it to redirect all of its energy into next year's growth and blooms. If you don't snip all your peony flowers for vases, deadheading will help to redirect the energy into the plant for next year's foliage and flowers, instead of forming seed pods.Can I plant peony in March? ›
Shop and plant early: get them in the ground in March or April. Bare root plants are generally cheaper than potted plants. Potted plants have a better chance of flowering this season (but in general, the planting year is never great for flowers)Can I plant peonies in February? ›
It is recommended to plant peonies before your soil is frozen hard. Frost is not a factor. Peonies from containers or pots can be transplanted into the ground in the fall or spring. I transplant from containers any month of the year.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.Do peonies like sun or shade? ›
Where to Plant Peonies. Peonies need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day, though some protection from hot afternoon sun in zones 8-9 is helpful. Choosing an area with good air circulation is essential as well, to help prevent fungal diseases.Do peonies spread a lot? ›
No, peonies will not spread out and create new plants on their own.How do you speed up peony growth? ›
- Trim additional foliage. ...
- Give them a little warmth and food. ...
- Cut their stems at an angle. ...
- Give them a (gentle) tap on the head. ...
- Keep them somewhere cosy. ...
- Give them a little cover. ...
- Give them a quick dunking. ...
- IF ALL ELSE FAILS: Give them a quick swish in water.
Light. A common question that arises when planting peonies is, “Do Peonies need full sun or shade?” Peonies should be planted in an area that receives full sun. They should receive five to six hours of full sunlight per day.
You certainly may get extra root development by disbudding baby peonies their first spring; but, don't fret if you didn't. I suggested he leave a whorl or two of leaves on each stem, not cutting them to the ground, which will help with plant nourishment in the summer.How do you keep peonies blooming all summer? ›
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.When should I plant peony roots? ›
Plant peonies in the fall: in late September and October in most of the country, and even later in the South. (If you must divide or move an established plant, do it in the fall.) Spring-planted peonies generally lag about a year behind those planted in the fall.Can you replant peony stems? ›
Begin by cutting the peony stems near ground level. Then carefully dig around and under each plant. Try to retain as much of the root system as possible. Promptly replant the peonies in a sunny, well-drained site.Can you grow peonies from broken roots? ›
As long as the tubers are not terribly mangled, they will recover. If any tubers have been dislodged from the soil, rebury them. Make sure that you do not bury them too deeply, however, as peony tubers need to be near the surface.Why do peonies close at night? ›
Plants that tuck themselves in for bedtime exhibit a natural behavior known as nyctinasty. Scientists know the mechanism behind the phenomenon: In cool air and darkness, the bottom-most petals of certain flowers grow at a faster rate than the upper-most petals, forcing the flowers shut.Do peonies bloom more than once a year? ›
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.Can you grow peonies from root pieces? ›
You will continue to divide peonies until you have as many peonies as you can get from the roots you originally dug up. Plant the pieces in a location suitable for growing peonies. Make sure the buds on the pieces are not more than 2 inches (5 cm.) under the soil or they may have trouble growing.
Remove any stalks from the plant where the stem is damaged. These can be thrown away or composted. The stalks of a peony plant cannot be rooted, so you cannot use them to grow a new plant. Any stalks that only have leaf damage can be left intact on the plant.Do I need to soak a bare root peony 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 long can I keep bare root peonies before planting? ›
If you don't have time to plant immediately, keep the peony roots in their original bags at about 40°F [5°C] (the vegetable drawer of a refrigerator is ideal) for no longer than three weeks.How many peony stems per plant? ›
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! Peonies need a cold (winter) period to break their dormancy in order to bloom the following season.