Growing the Perfect Peony

Photography by Jim Bathie

Text by Bethany Adams

Is there anything more picturesque than a garden bursting with peonies of every variety and shade? As these popular perennials begin to bloom in the late spring, it’s easy to see why they’ve been so loved for so long, and it’s only natural to want to include them in your own garden. But while peony plants don’t require much attention—and have been known to live for 100 years or more—planting them correctly is crucial if you want to see those stunning, healthy blooms for generations to come!

Choosing Your Peonies

Photography via @christiansonsnursery on Instagram

When most people think of peony plants, they think of herbaceous peonies, the bushy perennials that are perfect for nearly any garden. While these plants are typically sold as tubers, it’s also possible to purchase them container-grown, which may be a better option if you’re looking to enjoy those beautiful blooms sooner.

Growing your plant from a tuber means you won’t see any flowers for at least a year, and they’re best planted during the fall, while container-grown will do fine if planted in the spring. If you choose to start with tubers, look for root clumps that have three to five small buds, known as “eyes.”

Planting Your Peonies

Photography by Maaike Bernstrom

Plant your peonies in the fall, from late September to October, to get the very best results. Find a spot where they can get plenty of sunlight—6 hours a day, at least—far enough away from trees and shrubs that they won’t need to compete for nutrients. They like moist, well-drained, nonacidic soil and prefer to have lots of room, so give each plant a 3- to 4-foot diameter. Plant tubers no deeper than an inch beneath the soil with the eyes facing up, and container-grown no deeper than they were in their original pot.

Supporting Your Peonies

Photography via @countrycutflowers on Instagram

The major flaw of herbaceous peonies is a combination of heavy blooms and weak stems. Because of this, it’s best to offer them a little support to keep stems from falling and breaking. Metal peony rings, placed atop the plant in the spring so it can grow up through the supports, are a great way to help your peonies stand tall.

Caring for Your Peonies

Photography by Helen Norman

Water your plant thoroughly at the time of planting and keep it moist during the spring—especially when there’s no rainfall for two weeks or longer. During the summer months, peonies like an inch of water per week. While they need little fertilizer, using a low-nitrogen option once a year in the spring can help to promote growth.

Keeping Your Peonies Healthy

Photography via @peoniesandpeppers on Instagram

While peonies aren’t prone to many diseases, they are susceptible to certain fungi, and infected plant parts should be cut off and removed from the garden—not composted. After the first frost of autumn, herbaceous peonies should be cut back to the soil to protect them from damage and encourage healthy blooms the following spring.

Note: Despite a popular myth, ants aren’t necessary for your peonies to bloom properly, but they will be attracted to your plant’s buds, and they aren’t harmful. In fact, they can help to combat more damaging pests, so keep them around!

BONUS: Growing Peonies in Warmer Climates

Photography via @caledonhillspeonyfarm on Instagram

Although peonies are known to thrive nearly anywhere in the country, they can face challenges in the Deep South or the hottest parts of California. Address these difficulties by looking for a spot that receives sufficient sunlight during the day but offers shade during the more intense heat of the afternoon. Additionally, it’s better to select early-blooming varieties like ‘Kansas’, ‘Shirley Temple’, or ‘Paula Fay.’

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