Prepare Your Peony Planting Sites

Getting Ready to Plant Herbaceous and Intersectional (Itoh) Peonies This Fall

Peonies stun us with their beauty as they unfurl each spring. We plant them once and they keep coming back year after year, producing spectacular flowers.  We anticipate the new growth and forming buds each spring.  Like children at the toy store, we are eager to see all the dazzling sights; picking favorites for our wish list. With fall just around the corner, now is a great time to prep your planting area for peonies and other fall plantings and to eye that wish list one more time.

Herbaceous (bush) peonies and Intersectional (Itoh) peonies continue to be popular peony plants with gardeners. The Intersectional peony is a hybrid cross between a tree peony and herbaceous peony and is named after the originator (Mr. Toichi Itoh) of the first successful cross of the two types of peonies. The planting instructions and growth habitat are the same for both of these types of peonies. Tree peonies have different planting depth requirements and different growth habitat.

Given the right conditions: plenty of sun and good soil drainage, peonies can grow for decades in the same spot. They grow in USDA zones 2-8, needing a cool dormant period in the winter. Locate a spot in the garden bed or landscape that will provide at least one half day of sun or more for peonies.  Full sun is fabulous for peonies – the more sun, the more blooms.  If you are worried about drainage (constant pooling of water after rains/wet winters that is slow to drain) consider building ‘hills’ for new peony plants.   

You can prep your planting area now and it will be ready when you receive your plants/root stock in the fall. Be generous and dig a big hole (about 18” by 18”) for your peony root. Spade the soil you removed from the hole and put it back into the hole. You can add a bit of potting soil; but, generally speaking, peonies don’t need amended soil if it is well drained. Peonies can grow in clay soils that have good drainage.

Remove all packaging and tags from your peony root. Place the peony root on top of the spaded soil, just below ground level and cover with soil. Cover the herbaceous or Intersectional peony root with only 1 to 2 inches of soil. Herbaceous and Intersectional peonies don’t want to be planted deeply.  If you mound hills for your peony roots to aid drainage, the same method applies – only an inch or two of soil above the root. Water your peony transplant and check it the next day to see if it sank down. If needed, lift it up; add some soil under the root so it is at the proper, shallow depth of one to two inches below the top of the soil.  (Note: tree peonies are planted a bit deeper than herbaceous or Intersectional peonies).

A great thing about peonies is you don’t have to divide and replant them unless they lose their vigor (too much shade, interfering tree/shrub roots). If that happens, you can dig them in the fall, divide them into several root cuttings and replant one or more in a sunny, well drained location.  You can also divide a peony in the fall if you want to increase your peony plantings or share roots with friends. A nice root cutting will be 6” - 9"  long with 3-5 eyes (buds). Each root differs in appearance. Smaller root pieces with eyes will likely be viable, and larger root cuttings will give you a jump start on that first year peony plant.

Peony plants establish a large, vigorous root system the first two years to support an abundance of flowers at maturity. First year peony transplants may produce one or two blossoms. Our customers often get a bloom the first year with our ample bare root peonies. The plants stems and flowers increase the 2nd year while still establishing their tremendous root system. They should be producing heartily at 3 years old.

We’ll be starting our fall peony digging season soon. We look forward to digging and shipping vigorous root stock for successful peony gardening. 

Here’s to perpetuating the cycle of the most stunning flower! Plant It Peonies! ™




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