Peony Planting and Care Tips

Planting and Care Tips -  How to Plant and Grow Peonies

Click Here for our Peony FAQ (common questions and answers on planting, growing and caring for peonies).

5 Tips for Growing Better Peonies

What do peony plants need to thrive? These easy care perennials don't need much attention.

  1. They grow best in USDA zones 2-8 and can last a lifetime.
  2. Well drained soil is a must. 
  3. Full sun is great; however, half a day of sun is fine, too. A bit of shade can be beneficial for a longer bloom season. 
  4. Plant bare root peonies in the fall - prime peony planting season.
  5. Roots are planted with just an inch or two of soil over the eyes (buds).
  6. Potted peonies may be transplanted in the fall or spring. 
  7. Fertilize in early spring. 
  8. Deadhead the spent flowers after bloom.

Peonies establish a vigorous root system the first two years after planting. They often flower the first year. The second year they increase in plant and flower size. By their third spring they are maturing and producing an abundance of flowers. Often you can enjoy your peony plants in the same spot for decades - you may never have to divide your peonies (unless you want additional plants to grow or share).

Plant bare root peonies in the fall. We have planted in most months of the year (bare root or from containers); they will grow more feeder roots, faster, when planted from late August through early November. I have experimented with planting a few in December and January - they won't produce much root growth the first months; but, will lay in the ground, ready to grow when the time is right. I take risks with planting if the opportunity arises. I don't think I have lost any due to time of year planted - just slower establishment of roots the first year. Sometimes getting a root in the ground at the 'wrong time of year' works out better than tending to it in a container. In my experience, all ample roots, no matter the month planted, produce peony plants that catch up in growth and size the 3rd year. 

Potted (container) peony plants can be transplanted in the spring or the fall. You can also pot up bare root peonies in the fall or early winter and transplant them in the spring. Keep potted peonies protected from severe freezing/thawing/freezing - store slightly moist in a garage/shed when temperatures dip below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods. 

Where to plant peonies?

  • Peonies love sun - a half day or more of sun (full sun is great) and good drainage for best growth/bloom.  A bit of shade is okay and can allow your peonies to open with more intense coloring - just be sure they are getting at least a half day of sun. (Too much shade will produce foliage and little or no peony bloom).
  • Peony plants grow best in the ground; however, some gardeners are planting a peony or two in large patio pots. Use an ample sized container of 10 - 15 gallons or larger for best results, as the roots of a peony grow rather large. Be sure it has adequate drainage and remember to water more frequently than a ground planted peony. Peonies will also do well in large raised beds. 
  • Peonies grow in a variety of soil types and actually love clay soil that is well drained. You may amend your soil; but, often, there is really no need to do so. Our farm peonies thrive in our well drained clay soil. If you desire, you may amend your soil to improve the nutrients/organic matter.

 How to plant peonies?

  • Prepare the planting site by digging a hole about 15 x 15 inches, then fill the hole back in with the spaded soil. Remove enough soil to place the root in, so it will sit just below or at ground level. 
  • Place the peony root downward at any angle, with the 'eyes' (buds) facing upward. The roots are placed near the surface of the ground, with just one inch to two inches of soil on top of the 'eyes' (buds). Take care to not plant peony roots too deeply. Think of it as planting your bare root peony 'just below ground level' or at ground level with only a couple inches of soil mounded over the root.
  • In warmer climates (The South, California) where peonies can be grown, gardeners report success with planting the peony root near ground level with just a smidge of soil (about one half inch) over the eyes.  
  • Some of the Itoh Intersectional peonies have extra large roots with some of their 'eyes' on a woody stem. These peony roots may be placed at an angle to fully cover the eyes. Itoh peonies can be planted a bit deeper than other herbaceous peonies. 
  • Water your newly planted peony root right away. Be sure to water new peony plants every week or two, providing moisture until the Fall rains take over. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings -slightly moist is good.     
  • Gently check the peony root; if it settled too deeply, lift it up and add additional soil under the root. Be sure it is only covered with one inch to two inches of soil for best results. Planting peonies too deeply can result in foliage growth with no flowers. 
  • Newly planted bare root peonies will establish feeder roots when you plant them in the Fall. The winter freezing temperatures will not affect roots planted in the ground (garden). Peonies like cold winters.
  • Planting peonies in pots/containers requires a very large container with adequate drainage. Be sure the eyes are covered with only one inch to two inches of soil. Water the potted peonies; keep moist - but, let them almost dry out between waterings.  Keep potted peonies protected from deep winter freezing. Frost doesn't harm planted/potted peony plant roots - it's the prolonged, arctic blast/deep freezing that may affect potted peonies. In areas with excessive winter rain, you can tip your container on it's side, or put under a carport for a month or two.

How to care for your peonies?

  • Water your new peony plants thoroughly upon planting or transplanting. Water a peony deeply, then let the soil almost dry out between waterings. Watering first year peony roots/plants every couple of weeks during dry weather, should be adequate. The moisture will help the roots establish.
  • Once the fall/winter rains arrive, you may not need to water your peonies until you have dry weather in the spring/summer. 
  • Once a peony plant is several years old, it is fairly drought tolerant; although they do appreciate a good watering every few weeks in hot summers. An established peony plant does not need frequent watering. 
  • We use 1/4 cup of fertilizer (10-20-20) around the drip line of our mature peonies early in the spring. You may also fertilize your peony plants after they bloom. Many gardeners do not fertilize their peonies and others fertilize annually. You may want to experiment for best results with your soil.
  • If you are fertilizing potted peonies - be sure to use a slow release fertilizer, as other fertilizers will burn the foliage. We fertilize in early spring, just as plants emerge. 
  • Deadhead flower/seed pods after bloom. You may trim your peony stems to shape the bush as it pleases you.
  • If you want to let seed pods mature, leave them on the stems until they crack open in late summer. You can immediately plant the seed in the ground or potting flats and keep moist until the fall rains come. Some seed will germinate the following spring, other seeds will sprout the 2nd spring. 
  • Cut peony stems to ground level in the late fall. Remove the stems and leaves from the garden for good sanitation.  Do not compost peony leaves and stems. 
  • Mulching is not required in the Northwest. Some gardeners in very cold winter climates mulch for the winter - if you do, be sure to remove the mulch in the spring (otherwise, your peony will be 'planted' too deeply).

If your peonies lose their vigor over time, check for the following:

  • Mulch or bark dust may have been added seasonally (without springtime removal) and now the root is buried too deeply. There is no need to protect a ground planted peony in our northwest climate - they love the cold winters. 
  • Landscape trees/plants may be providing an abundance of shade.
  • Tree roots may have grown through the peony roots, crowding the peony roots.
  • Excessive nitrogen.
  • Or, they may be like some people: they've lost their spunk and need reinvigorated. You can re-invigorate your peony by digging, dividing and replanting a division with 3-5 eyes in a different spot that provides good sun and good drainage. They'll spring back.  

The American Peony Society (APS) award designations

American Peony Society (APS) award recipients are listed on our peony descriptions: Gold Medal winners and Award of Landscape Merit peonies. These peonies' flowers and/or growth habitat have received distinguished recognition from the American Peony Society. 

The Award of Landscape Merit (ALM) peonies exhibit superior ornamental value, overall appearance in the landscape and throughout the growing season and reliable performance across North America. The ALM award is in it's infancy and many other peony varieties worthy of the designation will be evaluated by the APS in the coming years. 

Our Brooks Gardens award winning peonies include: Court of Honor for 'Ave Maria' peony at the 2013 APS floral exhibit; Court of Honor for 'Coral Supreme' peony at the 2012 APS floral exhibit; and, we were honored to receive Best in Show - Grand Champion awards for the peony 'Bob' at the 2011 APS floral exhibit. Grand Champion for 'Lavon' and Court of Honor for 'Raspberry Charm' in 2018.