Complete guide on growing peonies. Everything from soil conditions to USDA zones to the ants that love peonies too. Including how and when to cut peonies for vases so you can enjoy them indoors. And most importantly, what you can do if your peony bush just won't bloom!
Peonies season is here!!! My favorite time of the year!
Now, every year when peony season rolls around I get tons of questions about peony care and how to grow them, so I thought I'd put all my answers in one place and give you some tips on how you can grow peonies too.
How To Grow Peonies
The 3 Groups Of Peonies
There are 3 groups of peonies - Herbaceous Peonies, Tree Peonies and Intersectional Peonies (aka Itoh Peonies). In this article we are discussing Herbaceous Peonies.
- Herbaceous peonies are the kind most commonly found in the garden and have fleshy stems that die back to the ground each winter and reemerge in the spring.
- Tree Peonies are woody shrubs native to China that stay above ground all year with just the leaves falling to the ground in the fall.
- Intersectional Peonies are a hybrid of the two varieties, producing flowers and leaves similar to the tree peonies, yet have the perennial characteristics of a herbaceous peony.
Best Zones For Growing Peonies
Peonies grow well in Zones 2-8, which means they require at least 30 consecutive days of freezing temps in the winter. No deep freeze, no go.
If you don't know your USDA Zone ((gasp!)), you can check it out on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You just input your zip code and it spits out your Zone. Here in Central Ohio I am in Zone 6a.
If you live in a state that is too hot to grow these babies, my deepest condolences.
When To Plant Peonies
Peony bushes are either bought in ½ gallon or gallon containers from your local nursery or as bare root plants stored in wood shavings. If you are buying bare root peonies, make sure the tuberous roots have 3-5 eyes on them.
Peonies are best planted in the fall, but can be planted in the early spring 2-3 weeks before your last frost free date. And I will be honest, the nurseries and large hardware stores have a MUCH better selection of peonies in the spring than in the fall.
Do Peonies Require Full Sun Or Shade?
The best place to plant a peony bush is where it will receive 6-8 hours of sun per day minimum. But if by chance you are lucky enough to live in a much warmer climate, the peonies will appreciate some afternoon shade. And when I say appreciate, I mean they won't wither away and die on you and break your heart.
How To Plant Peonies
You want to pick out an area in your yard or flower beds that receive that 6-8 hours of sun per day.
They enjoy well-drained soil, so if you have clay, you'll need to amend the soil a bit.
Plant bare root peonies (peonies where the soil has been removed from around the tuber) no deeper than 2" below the soil line. Peonies that come in pots can be planted with the soil of the pot even with the ground's soil line.
Peonies that are planted too deep (or even think they are planted too deep) will not bloom. Be careful with putting too much mulch around the base of the plants, because that can trick them into thinking they are deeper than they are. I never said peonies were smart.
If planting more than one peony plant in the area, space them out 3-4 feet between plants to allow for future growth and adequate air flow between the plants.
When Is Peonies Season?
Peonies bloom once a year in the spring. They have a short bloom season, lasting 7-10 days, but it is a glorious one!
Depending on your zone and your herbaceous peony variety, your peonies will bloom between April and June. For instance here in mid-Ohio, I grow three different varieties of peonies and since they all peak at slightly different times, I have some sort of peony blooms from May 15th through June 15th.
How Long Does It Take For New Peony Plants To Bloom?
A little bit of patience is needed for peonies. Peonies do not often bloom the first spring after planting. Depending on how big they were when you planted them, it could take up to three years for them to bloom. Three excruciatingly long years.
That said, I plant the peonies that have been grown in pots and I normally have one or two lonely blooms on them the first year, a couple more the second year and then the third year they take off and never look back!
Peonies are really easy to grow and care for, but occasionally they just won't bloom.
Top 3 Reasons Your Peony Won't Bloom:
- It's a young peony and not established yet. It may take up to three years to bloom. Be patient.
- It's not getting enough sun. Peonies are little sunbathers and need at least six hours of sun a day.
- It's planted too deep. In the fall, when the plant is dormant, you can raise it up a bit.
How To Cut Peonies For A Vase
It's up to you if you prefer to enjoy the blooms on the plants in your garden itself or cut them off and bring them inside for flower arrangements. If you are planning on cutting them off and bringing them inside, you can either wait for the blooms to open on the plant and cut them at that time or you can also cut when in the bud state and enjoy having them slowly bloom in the vase for you.
I prefer to use both fully opened blooms and buds just starting to open in my peony arrangements.
BTW, I recently added a new article on Storing Peonies To Bloom Later in case you have a special occasion coming up you want to save some of your blooms for.
A bud can be cut before it opens up once it's in a soft "marshmallow" state (it's still in the shape of a bud, but is soft and squishy like a marshmallow). If the buds are too hard and tight (like a marble) they will not open once cut.
And then you've just wasted a peony bloom, and a peony bloom is a horrible thing to waste!
Psst - I made a quick little video to show you what the different bud stages look like and what exactly this "marshmallow" stage is!
If you prefer, you can watch an ad-free version of this tutorial on my YouTube Channel HERE.
Peonies And Ants
Ants are your friend. Well, actually that is debatable. Some people say they help the peonies to open and others say the ants just happen to like the sweet, sweet nectar of the peonies and have no actual beneficial purpose. In either case, they don't harm the peonies.
I just gently shake the ants off the peonies before bringing them inside. You can also dip them upside down in a bucket of cold water to get the ants off (ie drown the ants).
Like most women, most peonies need a little support and without it they will flop over onto the ground. Think of it as Spanx for your flowers.
I use the basic three legged metal peony rings that stake into the ground and they keep the stems upright.
But there are some peony plants that stand on their own. Normally they are shorter peonies or ones with very strong stems. Here's a nice article with photos on Peonies That Don't Require Staking.
Fertilize in early summer after you have deadheaded the spent blooms.
Use a 5-10-5 blend, keeping the fertilizer 6-18" away from the middle of the plant. The 5-10-5 refers to percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium respectively and should be listed prominently on the fertilizer package.
When planting a new peony bush, water it every couple days if it hasn't rained recently. Make sure to water around the base with a watering can to keep the leaves dry, since they can be prone to mildew. If you must water from overhead, do so early in the day so the leaves can dry out before evening.
Once they are established plants, water them deeply once every 10-14 days if it hasn't rained recently. Peonies aren't super needy for water, but if they get droopy and look wilted that is a sure sign they will need to be watered.
Also, putting a layer of mulch around the plants helps them retain moisture.
Peony Fall Care Tips
When leaves start to turn brown and fall off in early autumn you should cut the peonies to the ground. You can wait until the 1st frost, but I generally cut them in late September when I'm tidying up my beds for winter.
Simply cut all growth down to ground level and discard. Peonies can be susceptible to foliage diseases, so by cutting back in the fall you can reduce chances of any possible foliage disease carrying over into next year's plant.
NOTE: This only applies to herbaceous peonies. If you have tree peonies, they should not be cut down in the fall.
When To Transplant Peonies
Let me preface this by saying you don't ever HAVE to move your peonies. One of the best features of a peony bush is that you just plant them and enjoy them year after year. But in the case when something has changed and you do want to divide or transplant a peony bush into another area of your yard (building an addition to your home too close to your favorite peony bush for example), it's best to know when it's safe to move it.
Fall is the time to divide or transplant your peonies if needed. Your plants will be preparing for dormancy at this time, so it will be much less stressful for them to be moved elsewhere.
Exactly when in the fall will depend on where you are located. Here in Zone 6a (mid-Ohio) I can divide and/or transplant peonies in mid-September, whereas in warmer Southern states you would do it later in November. Far Northern states can do so in August.
- Cut your foliage down to ground level.
- Dig around the entire plant, pull it up out of the ground and then divide with a sharp spade.
- Just make sure you have 3 or more eyes in each new section to ensure you have a healthy, substantial plant to replant elsewhere.
- And then just follow the instructions in the How To Plant Peonies section above to get the new ones back in the ground correctly.
How To Choose A Peony Plant
Since peonies can live for decades and even generations choosing a peony for your garden can seem daunting. But you can narrow down your choices by flower type, fragrance and staking preferences.
There are 6 types of peony flowers - anemone, single, Japanese, semi-double, double and "bomb". I would suggest either looking at online catalogs for peonies or visiting your local nursery to get an idea of what type of flower you prefer. My personal favorites are the doubles and "bombs" because they have multiple rows of petals, are very full and really make a statement in the garden or in a vase.
The 2nd thing to take into consideration is fragrance. Do you prefer one with little fragrance or highly fragrant? The plant tag or the online catalog should tell you the fragrance level.
The 3rd thing I would look at is if they need staking. Most herbaceous peonies do need staking, but there are some that do not. If you plant an intersectional peony they generally do not need staking because they have woody stems.
Herbaceous Peonies That Do Not Need Staking Include:
- Krinkled White - this single flower type peony has crinkled white petals with gold centers
- Coral Sunset - a semi-double with coral pink ruffled flowers and gold centers
- Bride's Dream - pure white Japanese style flowers with thin white centers
- Buckeye Belle - a vigorous grower with very dark red semi-double flowers
- Bowl Of Beauty - gorgeous anemone shaped blossoms in rose pink with light yellow frilly centers
Favorite Peony Plants
If you are planning on planting more than one peony plant in your garden (and by all means, please do!!!), you have to choose whether you're going to plant more of the exact same peony variety or mix it up with lots of different varieties. Personally, I like to mix it up a bit in my peony bed!
These are three of my favorite peony plants. In chemistry flasks, because . . . why not.
Duchesse de Nemours is a beautiful white peony variety that was first introduced in the 1800's. It has creamy white double flowers with just a hint of yellow in the center and is wonderfully fragrant. You can't go wrong with this one!
Victoire de la Marne gives a much-needed POP of color! This bright fuchsia red variety has very large double flowers and is oh so pretty as a cut flower.
Sarah Bernhardt peonies are probably one of the most common peony varieties and for a good reason. Sarah Bernhardt peonies have large light pink double flowers backed up by glossy green foliage. They are easy to grow, have been around for over 100 years and they are readily available at most garden centers and big box stores.
Festiva Maxima is an heirloom herbaceous peony with huge, double, pure white blooms with dashes of raspberry pink sprinkled throughout the bloom. It is a favorite as a cut flower for vases and arrangements due to its strong stems and extra-long vase life.
Big Ben was introduced in 1943 and is an excellent grower with lovely fragrant flowers. The 5"-6" blooms are a bold cherry red color and sit atop sturdy 4' stems. Big Ben is terrific as a cut flower.
Karl Rosenfield is a classic peony with ruffled, deep fuschia-red double blooms. Flowers can be up to 8" across and make a huge statement in early summer arrangements.
Are you a peony lover? Have you ever gone completely overboard with them at your house?
More Frequently Asked Questions:
Is It Possible To Grow Peonies In Zone 9?
I get asked this question a lot! Although peonies grow BEST in zones 2-8, you may still possibly be able to grow them in zone 9 with a little extra care.
USDA Hardiness zones 9A and 9B can be found in middle Florida, southern Louisiana, parts of southern Texas, and parts of California to name a few. Zone 9 will be the outermost limit of being able to grow peonies.
In zone 9, make sure you:
- Keep them well watered in the summer heat so they don't have a chance to wilt
- Plant them in an area where they can enjoy some afternoon shade.
- Plant varieties that bloom early in the season so when they are blooming the hottest part of your summer hasn't hit quite yet.
It's definitely not a sure thing, but it may be worth it to try growing a peony in your climate.
Can I Grow Peonies In A Pot?
Yes you can!
You want to make sure you get a large enough pot to hold it (at least 1 ½ foot tall and 18 to 24" wide) and it MUST have drainage holes. Peonies don't like to sit in water as they are susceptible to root rot, so make sure you use a well-draining soil.
If you live in a cold climate, pull the pot into a sheltered area (porch next to house, carport, etc) in the winter. It needs to experience the cold weather in order to bloom the following year, but you don't want it to have a hard freeze.
If you need to feed your gardening addiction more you can check out:
Storing Peonies To Bloom Later
How To Grow Limelight Hydrangea
Old Fashioned Flowers For Your Garden
(This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. You can read my full disclosure policy here.)
These are so gorgeous!! Can you come plant some for me? Love, love, love!
Good instructions! A few years ago I bought a little seedling of a fern-leaf peony, which bloomed for the first tine last year- a dark pink "single" (not fluffy), which is nice and different. All of the rest I dug up from relatives and friends when they were dividing in August-September. I have several colors but don't know their names. Mine absolutely thrive on neglect. For a few weeks each year, I have big bouquet in every room of the house and give many away. Right now its been so cold and dreary in Illinois that they re a few weeks behind the usual timing. My whole house smells like lilies of the valley now! I love spring!
I'm so jealous! Lily Of The Valley is one of my favorite plants!
Your peonies are gorgeous, Pam!!! I just bought a couple of pink bulbs this winter and planted them in a cement urn I have. They seem to like their spot and the plants are growing well. Will pick up the fertilizer and give them a bit this week. Thank you for the tips and I'll be back for hydrangea info. too since I have two again. Still learning how to grow plants here in Texas! 😉
I was wondering, after they have bloom, does anyone else cut them back or just cut the flower part off? I always left them alone and my friend who has beautiful ones always cuts them back. What do you suggest?
I live in San Antonio,Texas I did not find the zone for planting peonies could you please share my zone thank you
Depending on your zip code you'd be in zones 8B or 9A, which is sort of the outermost limits of being able to plant peonies. But that just means you'll need to take a little extra care with them. Make sure you 1) keep them well watered in the summer heat so they don't have a chance to wilt, 2) plant them in an area where they can enjoy some afternoon shade and 3) plant varieties that bloom early in the season so when they are blooming the hottest part of your summer hasn't hit quite yet.
How do you think a peony plant would do in my sunroom in a container? It is facing south
And gets enough light for many of my plants grow.
It's definitely worth a try! I've never grown one in a sunroom before, but that's mainly because I don't have a sunroom 🙂 But as long as it's getting good light it should be fine.
As for growing it in a pot, just make sure it's an extra large and deep pot, since peonies have very large root systems. I'd put it in a pot like you'd normally see flanking someone's front doorway. At least 18 inches deep and wide at the minimum, 24 inches would be even better.
My two Peonies are in pots that I winter over in the garage and are about 6 years old. The source I had said to fertilize in the Spring and I do, after I get them out for the year and they have leafed out. I only get 4-5 blooms a year on each plant and they are only open a couple days before they drop their petals. I wish I could cut a few blooms to bring indoors, but they don't last long enough. What am I doing wrong?
Would have liked to read what to do to your Peonies in the Fall to prepare them for the winter. Mine seem to be turning black up the stalk and the leaves are all brown and ugly... so I just chopped them all down to about 5 inches high... hoping they'd come back in the spring. These are peonies that I had dug up from a neighbor this summer and planted in my yard. Then I bought some in containers and put them all along my back fence. I live in the state of WA, so I assume I'm in a good place for them to grow.
Sign, impatient and disappointed.
Oh, no. I'm so sorry you're disappointed. I'll add that to the article later this morning.
You did the right thing. You should cut them to just above ground level in the fall. You can wait until the 1st frost, but mine normally start looking pretty bad in late September, so I normally cut them then. And it is pretty normal for the stalks to turn dark in the late summer or early fall.
They should grow very well for you in Washington. You have the perfect weather for them. I did find an article for you specifically on growing them in the Pacific Northwest.
Enjoy your peonies, you'll love them!
I’ve read quite a bit on Pinterest about Peonies but nobody has mentioned anything about watering them. Any information about that?
When I plant a new peony bush I will water it every couple days if it hasn't rained recently. Water around the base with a watering can to keep the leaves dry, since they can be prone to mildew. And a layer of mulch around the plants helps them retain moisture. Once they are established plants, I will only water them deeply once every 10-14 days if it hasn't rained recently. Peonies aren't super needy for water, but if they get droopy and look wilted that is a sure sign they will need to be watered.
Thanks for asking - I'll add a section on watering to the article also.
Thank you so much!
I like in Bakersfield CA and I purchased a peony from Lowe's. Only leaves no blooms. So I will follow your advice and dig up and replant. Also I am not cutting them down all the way. I will give it a try.
So glad the tips helped you!
I have several peony bushes planted years ago. They are in sunny locations in improved soil, watered every few days. They look healthy. Problem? When they bloom I only get a few blooms, 3-5. Blooms often look spindly. I’m thinking more fertilizer? Replant all? Oh and they were purchased in gallon pots. What am I doing wrong?
Two thoughts - Are you cutting them down to the ground in the fall or earlier? They need to keep the leaves on the plants up until early fall to store up enough energy for next year's blooms. It's sort of how you keep the greens on the daffodils until they die off on their own in order to feed next year's daffodils. One year my husband accidently mowed down one of my peonies in May (before I had had a chance to cut any blooms for vases!) and the next year that plant only had a handful of blooms.
I wouldn't think it would be the fertilizer. Actually too much fertilizer can stunt blooms, so go easy on the fertilizer. Peonies especially don't like too much Nitrogen (the 1st number on the fertilizer package 5-10-5), but they can also get too much fertilizer if you are fertilizing the grass too close to them.
Susan I have a peony that I have yet to put in the ground should I wait till next Spring an store in doors?
Can I grow peonies in pots as I live in an apartment?
Yes you can! You want to make sure you get a large enough pot to hold it (at least 1 1/2 foot tall and 18 to 24" wide) and it MUST have drainage holes. Peonies don't like to sit in water as they are susceptible to root rot, so make sure you use a well draining soil. If you live in a cold climate, pull the pot into a sheltered area (porch next to house, carport, etc) in the winter. It needs to experience the cold weather in order to bloom the following year, but you don't want it to have a hard freeze.
Dr. Johari M. Rashad
Where can I purchase a copy of this peony growing guide? Is it available for download?
I received some peony seeds straight from the shrub. What do I do with them?
First time planting peonies. Is it ok to use miracle grow moisture control soil and fertilizer for plant potting?