Farm News

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! ™




Some of the species and early blooming peony varieties are showing changing colors in their foliage. The leaves of many peony plants will turn from green to bronze, yellow, maroon or other Fall colors as summer progresses. Colors vary by variety. 

Fern-leaf peony plants generally go dormant early, so if you see yellow/brown 'die-back' on them in late July, don't fret - they are simply ahead of most other varieties in the 'dormancy' schedule.

Illini Warrior has fabulous serrated foliage and it's changing from a nice bright green to bronze-maroon tones. It's an early blooming peony, so, it shows some great color changes in July. 

Paeonia mlokosewitschii 'Molly the Witch' is a species peony, blooming very, very early (a month ahead of Coral Charm). It's a prolific seed producer, so we generally let some of the seed set. Here it is, cracking open it's first seed pods of the season. It has gorgeous colored foliage this year. Plant one of these peony roots and you'll likely have great success in producing new peony varieties in only a few years.

I love the contrasting colors on the peony plants this time of year. Take a look at your plants to see the colors and textures peonies add to summer gardens. 

Photos: P. mlokosewitschii seed pods and foliage; Illini Warrior foliage. 


It’s mid-summer and hot. While established peony plants are rather drought tolerant, they will appreciate a good ‘drink of water’ this month. Be sure to water your newly transplanted peonies occasionally – they need the moisture to help establish vigorous roots. First year peony plants are establishing roots, increasing in size over the next two years. By the third season, peony plants develop a tremendous root system to support an abundance of dazzling blooms.

Give your peony plants a quick look to see if they need sprucing up for the remainder of the summer. If you didn’t deadhead (cut the flower head/seed pod) after the plant bloomed and you aren’t planning to collect seed – grab a clippers and cut the (dried up) flower heads off the bush. Discard in the garbage. You can trim down or clip off any stems/leaves that are tattered or died back early this season.  A day after a good watering, weeds can be easily removed.

If you are anticipating collecting peony seed, leave the pods to finish developing. They will start to crack open, exposing their seed in late August (varies by variety). You can then collect the seed and sow it into the soil or containers. Keep moist until the fall rains arrive. Check in the spring for germination. Many seeds will sprout the first spring and some will sprout the second spring. You never know what amazing new peony variety you might grow.

We had a Coral Supreme peony flower last week.  It may have just been a slow blossom; but, it was 6-7 weeks after they originally bloomed this spring. What a treat to see. Last year we had a Callie’s Memory re-bloom and the year before one of our Coral Charms re-bloomed. Such beautiful flukes of nature. 

Keep cool. 

June 12, 2013

We have enjoyed 9 weeks of blooming peonies this season, from the very early species peonies through the late varieties that are in bloom this week. Albert Niva, Avalanche, Cheddar Surprise, Chestine Gowdy, Elsa Sass, Lemon Queen, Myra MacRae, Myrtle Gentry, Nick Shaylor, Pink Parfait, Rita, Sweet 16, Tom Eckhardt and others are holding on to some gorgeous blossoms, as others petal-away. Gay Paree and Bo Peep, two of our longest blooming peonies are ending the last of their 5 week bloom. Our dwarf, yellow species Paeonia delaveyi var. Lutea is continuing to develop new buds and blooms, after having bloomed earlier in the season. 

Some gardeners are asking about growing peonies long-term in containers. This can be done, but as a peony root will grow quite large in three years, a very large pot is essential. The peony root can easily mature at 18” wide and 18” long (or larger); so, it’s best to grow peonies in pots that will provide ample space for their roots. If the pot/container is too small, the plant will eventually lose its vigor and thus, it’s abundant bloom. You can then divide the peony and re-plant a division, which will mature again, in three years.  Planting in the ground is ideal, because once established, you do not generally need to divide them.

Patio gardeners can be successful growing peonies in large, well drained containers, placed in a sunny location. The peony root will sit near the top of the container, with just an inch or two of soil covering it. The planted container may be quite heavy, so you might want to place it on rolling castors, to be able to move it (to catch those sun rays). If your winters are quite severe, protect it by placing it in a shed or covered area during arctic blasts (frost and light freezing shouldn’t harm a potted peony root). Keep it slightly moist through the winter, to keep it from drying out.  When it starts to grow in the spring, place it in a sunny spot. You can lightly fertilize with a slow release fertilizer in early spring – take care to follow the label directions on the fertilizer package. Be sure it is a fertilizer to use with potted/container plants (slow release), or your plant will likely suffer fertilizer burn and the leaves and stems will be damaged for the season. We have heard from a number of gardeners who are successful with growing peonies in containers – perhaps you’d like to give it a try.

June 9, 2013

The peony field still has a number of peonies in bloom to get a look at the colors and flower forms of the late blooming peonies. Our display of cut peonies in the tents gives you a quick look at many of the early, mid and late season peonies that are available to purchase in pots or to order for fall planting. We also have our peony photo posters showing many of the varieties we grow. 

Potted peonies transplant now or in the fall; and bare root peonies are planted in the fall. When transplanting a potted peony, be sure to remove the plant from the pot and place the plant into your prepared planting hole. Roots cannot grow through a plastic pot.

Select a sunny, well drained location for your peony plants.  Dig a planting hole about 18” by 18” deep and wide; and, then fill the hole with spaded soil (the soil you removed from the hole). Scoop out enough of the spaded soil to set your plant into, taking care that the peony root is only 1” to 2” below the surface of your ground. Don’t bury your peony stems deeper than they were in the pot.  Peonies do not like to be planted deeply: if they are, you may get lovely foliage; but, not much bloom.

Come on out and ask us how to plant peonies – we’ll be happy to share planting and care tips with you.  

June 5, 2013

We will be sharing our farm with visitors through Sunday, June 16th this year – so you still have time to come out and see peonies in bloom. We keep a number of cut peony flowers on display in our tents, so you can see peony varieties that bloomed earlier in the season, as well as what is currently blooming. In the iris gardens, you may be lucky to spot baby bunny rabbits darting about this week. They are a delight to see; and while they munch on our grass pathways, we never find damage to our garden plants from them. So cute!

Cruise on out this week – it’s a great Oregon country drive.  These beauties stopped by yesterday.

June 4, 2013

The Mid-Atlantic Peony Society hosted the American Peony Society’s (APS) annual convention and floral exhibit at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania May 31 – June 2. I was thrilled to attend, enter a few of our peonies in the floral exhibit and tour some of the expansive gardens and property. The setting was breathtakingly beautiful. We were treated fabulously – the peony society members and staff at Longwood went the extra mile providing helping hands and welcoming hospitality. I give them an A+++.  Some of us ventured out to Eleanor Tickner’s nearby peony nursery where we received ‘the royal tour’ from her family. Eleanor and her husband Bill put a lot of time and effort into coordinating the convention, as I am sure many of the Mid-Atlantic Peony Society members, APS members and Longwood Gardens staff did.

The Philadelphia area was experiencing a ‘heat wave’ with temperatures in the 90’s and a good dose of humidity. There were times when both the lovely peonies and the attendees were wilting; but that didn’t stop peony gardeners and growers from around the country from displaying gorgeous peony flowers. We were honored to receive a ‘Court of Honor’ for our peony entry ‘Ave Maria’.  Our Oregon neighbors, Adelman Peony Gardens, took top honors with ‘Best in Show/Grand Champion’ for the tree peony flower ‘Boreas’.

Preparing for the competition is an exciting event, with lots of logistics to coordinate: selecting, cutting and shipping flowers to the event; staging them in water a day or two before the show; the challenges of heat; properly classifying them; and, trusting that your flowers are set on the correct table, in the correct classification. My friend Rita, a peony gardener in Washington state joined me in the excitement this year. We had the benefit of the use of floral coolers, which was a godsend with the heat. As usual, we had too much fun when we are together. We learned a lot, misclassified a few of our entries, tossed out the blooms that 'blew open' too soon, either irritated or entertained others with our exuberance and had a great time. Logistics and sites may vary year to year; but, it always cumulates with a beautiful and enchanting exhibit of peonies for the public to view.  

Having now visited Longwood Gardens, I suggest everyone who loves plants, flowers or trees visit it – it’s a ‘national treasure’ in my book. The conservatory, trial gardens, formal gardens and fountains are absolutely stunning. I am so impressed that Pierre DuPont arranged that this would be shared with the world. I am grateful to have gone to such a lovely place to visit and to meet with other peony society members. 

Here are a couple of photos from the weekend: ‘Ave Maria’, our Court of Honor; and, my friend Rita and I prepping flowers. I am the one on the left, with the humidity hair, that 'looks more like my Mother every day'. Yikes! Sorry, Mom.