Planting Bare Root Peonies in the Fall - Tips for Growing Success

Are you planting peonies this fall? Perhaps you're well versed in peony planting; however, if you haven't planted bare root peonies before (or, it's been awhile), here are a few things to think about now. Bare root peony planting season is September, October and November in most areas.    

Allow approximately 32" - 36" diameter footprint per peony plant. Compact varieties only need a 24" diameter spot to grow in. 

  1. Pick a spot that will get at least one half day of sun - full sun is fabulous. Keep an eye out for areas that aren't shady most of the day. While a bit of shade can produce deeper colors in peony flowers, too much shade generates fewer flowers per bush. With peonies, it's best to think sun. 
  2. Peonies love soils that are well drained. You often don't need to amend soil for peonies, although a lot of gardeners do. Soil amendments can improve aeration, drainage and rooting depth. If you feel your soil needs extra nutrients, by all means, spade in some of your well rotted compost or potting soil if that gives you great success with other plants. Here at Brooks Gardens, we grow our peonies in well drained clay soil (the kind that is hard as a rock in summer if it hasn't been watered). We do not add compost or other amendments and the peonies grow wonderfully. 
  3. Adding a good potting soil to very sandy soil will increase water and nutrient holding capacity. 
  4. When you dig holes to plant peony roots (or transplant peonies from containers), prepare a good sized hole about 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep (or a bit deeper). I like to fill the bottom half with spaded soil.
  5. Set the root in the hole with the peony root eyes (buds) up near the top of the hole, near ground level. The bottom of the root will go down in the hole (or sideways). Gently fill the hole with spaded soil, surrounding the root. The goal is to have the top eyes of the root covered with only two inches of soil in USDA zones 2-8. In warm winter areas such as USDA zones 9, cover very sparingly, perhaps with less than one inch of soil.
  6. Hilling soil for improved drainage - prepare your holes as above; but fill the hole with enough soil so that when you set the root in, the eyes of the root are at or above ground level. Cover the top of the root with soil. You will end up with a hill 'mini mound' surrounding the top of your peony root. The goal is to have the top of the eyes covered with only 2 inches of soil. 
  7. Water your new plantings. Check in a day or two to see if the root settled too deeply. Reset if needed so the top of the peony root eyes are just a couple of inches underground. Too deep - slower growth, fewer blooms. Keep slightly moist (not saturated) until the fall rains take over.
  8. No need to mulch or cover for the winter (perhaps only in sub-freezing areas). If you do cover for the winter, REMOVE the mulch or bark in the spring. If not, you now have a peony that is planted too deep. It is best to keep bark dust and other ground covers a good foot from the center of peony plants. 
  9. Watch for new growth in early spring. Peonies are perennials and will fully establish over 3 years. Small plants the first spring; bigger the second spring; then greatness the third spring. Peonies can last a life time, generally without needing divided. 
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