Peony Care

Peonies are hardy in zones 3 through 8. They are easy to grow and require little care once established. Under the right conditions, peonies often live for over 50 years! 

 Pick the right location. 

  • Peonies should be planted in fertile, well-draining soil (they hate having wet feet) in a location with direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day.  
  • For best results they should not be watered by daily, overhead sprinklers.  They are tolerant of a wide range of pH but prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil with high organic content.
  • Peonies planted in clay soil take longer to become established but produce beautiful flowers, while peonies planted in sandy soil take less time to become established but may produce less striking flowers. If planting in sandy soil, amend first with compost and top dress annually to renew the soil. If planting in clay you may want to add a bit of sand or other well-draining material to the bottom of the hole.
  • If you decide to move or divide your peony, transplanting should always be done in the fall. Planting instructions below.
  • New plants require three growing seasons to reach full maturity and produce abundant blooms.

 

Top Dressing and Fertilizing 

  • Your peonies will enjoy a regular top-dressing of organic material each fall.  Use well-aged manure and/or well-composted material around your peonies but never put manure or compost directly on top of the crowns of your plants.  And never use fresh manure. They cannot abide that!
  • Should you decide to use fertilizer this should be applied in early spring when shoots are approximately 6 inches above ground. We recommend 5-10-10 fertilizer. It is important that the first number be lower than the second and third numbers. Fertilizer should not directly contact the shoots. Sprinkle the fertilizer around the shoots at a distance of approximately 6 inches. You may make another application in the fall after cutting your peonies down for the winter.

 

Watering

  • Peonies should only be planted in well draining soil. They do not like wet feet, so don't plant them under a downspout or in a damp hollow. Again, for best results they should NOT be watered daily by overhead sprinklers.  
  • During the first two growing seasons ensure that new plants get a thorough soaking  every two to three weeks. Water your plants early in the day so that they have a chance to dry off before nightfall. By the third growing season peonies should not require supplemental watering except in periods of extreme drought.

 

Spring and Summer Care

  •  New plants require three growing seasons to reach full maturity and produce abundant blooms.  
  • If you are looking for show-quality flowers remove the side buds as they form on the stems of your plants. Once your peony has finished blooming remove the spent flowers so that your plant can concentrate its energies on growing strong roots rather than making seeds. However, some varieties develop attractive seed heads so you may choose to leave a few of these on your plant once it is mature.
  •  Do not cut the foliage down until after frost. 

 

 Fall Clean-Up and Winter Care

 After the first hard frost:

  • Cut herbaceous peonies to within 1 inch of the ground.
  • Cut Itoh peonies so that 2 inches of the stalks remain above ground.
  • Remove foliage from your garden bed.

Peonies should be mulched the first winter after planting. The mulch protects the roots from freeze-thaw cycles that can damage them and helps prevent frost heave.  Once the ground has frozen, place a 3 inch layer of mulch over the area where the root is planted. 

Remove or pull back the mulch in early spring when the ground has thawed and shoots begin to emerge. It is important to remove the mulch as soon as shoots are visible. We use straw to mulch our peonies as we find it's easier to pull away from the shoots in the spring.  Mulching is not required after the first winter.

 *If in the spring if you find that your plant has heaved too close to the surface, don't try to push it down, just build up the soil around it.*

 

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

Planting Herbaceous Peonies

Peony roots should be planted in the fall.  Plant so that no more than 2 inches (5cm) of soil covers the top of the roots where the eyes (small pinkish buds) are located. The eyes are next year's shoots. If planted too deeply, flowers will not develop. If planted too shallowly, the eyes will freeze and die back during the winter.

 

Dig a hole 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Add some composted organic material to the hole. You may add 1⁄2 cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer. If you do so, backfill with some soil so that the root will not come in direct contact with the fertilizer. Place the root in the hole so that the eyes are 2 inches from the top of the hole and the roots are pointing downwards. Cover with soil and water in well. 

Peonies should be planted 3 feet apart. Some dwarf or border varieties may be planted closer together.

 

Planting Itoh (intersectional) Peonies

 All peony roots should be planted in the fall. Itoh roots look a little bit different from Herbaceous Peony roots. Their eyes may be found on the crown and/or on the stem. When you plant these roots ensure that all visible eyes on the crown are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 10 cm) under the soil surface. The root should be positioned so that the first eye above the crown is at soil level.

Dig a hole 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Add some composted organic material to the hole. You may add 1⁄2 cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer. If you do so, backfill with some soil so that the root will not come in direct contact with the fertilizer. Place the root in the hole so that the roots point downwards and (as above) all visible eyes on the crown are 2 inches from the top of the hole. Cover with soil and water in well. 

Peonies should be planted 3 feet apart. Some Itohs may grow to 4 feet wide.

 

 

We would like to credit the Canadian Peony Association and its members for helpful tips and the planting diagrams.