Peonies are a garden favorite and one of the most beautiful and beloved perennial plants. Their large blooms in shades of white, pink, red, and even yellow make wonderful additions to any landscape. Peony bulbs can be planted in the fall for spring blooming or early spring for summer flowering.
This blog post will cover everything you need to know about planting, growing, and caring for peony bulbs. We’ll start with how to choose the right peony variety for your garden, then move on to how to prepare and plant your bulbs. Finally, we’ll touch on some tips and tricks for keeping your peonies healthy over time.
Basics of Peonies
Peonies are a popular perennial plant in Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae. Known for their large, often fragrant flowers, peonies are a staple of many gardens due to their hardiness and long lifespan, some living for a century or more. Their lush blooms, which typically appear in late spring and early summer, add a stunning and sophisticated touch to any landscape. Peonies come in various colors, including white, pink, red, and yellow, which can be single, semi-double, or double-flowered, depending on the variety.
While peonies are quite resilient once established, they require a certain level of care, particularly during their initial planting phase. It’s essential to understand the needs of these plants and provide the optimal growing conditions to ensure their health and encourage abundant blooming. This guide will cover everything you need to know about planning, preparing, planting, and growing peony bulbs.
Types and Variations of Peonies
Peonies come in three main types: herbaceous, tree, and intersectional (also known as Itoh peonies). Herbaceous peonies die back to the ground each fall and reemerge in the spring. They are most common in home gardens due to their hardiness and the vast range of colors and flower forms available.
Tree peonies, contrary to their name, are not actually trees but are woody-stemmed shrub that loses its leaves but retains their structure year-round. They offer large, exquisite flowers and are generally more heat tolerant than herbaceous types.
Intersectional peonies are a hybrid of the tree and herbaceous peonies, displaying the best qualities of both with their sturdy, tree-like stems and lush herbaceous flowers that come in a range of colors.
Start with a Better Plant
Starting with a healthy and high-quality peony plant can greatly influence the success of your growing endeavor. When you buy peony plants, choose a reputable nursery or garden center that offers quality bare-root peony tubers.
These are the dormant peony root structures, usually sold in the fall. Ensure that the tuber has at least 3 to 5 eyes (small, red-colored peony buds from where the new stems grow) and that the peony roots are firm and not mushy or rotten.
While it may be tempting to buy peonies in bloom from a nursery for an instant garden effect, remember that these plants can take some time to establish in a new location, and the stress of transplanting can affect their health and blooming the following year. Thus, starting with a dormant, bare-root peony often offers a better chance for long-term success.
Plan for Success
When planning where to plant your peonies, keep in mind that they require full sun with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Choose an area in your garden that is well-drained and not prone to standing water. Peonies don’t like wet feet, so plant them in an elevated spot if your yard is prone to waterlogging.
Sun and Shade
Peonies thrive in locations with full sun exposure for at least six hours a day. While they can tolerate partial shade, less sunlight can lead to fewer blooms and weaker stems. However, in areas with particularly hot summers, some afternoon shade can help protect peonies from intense heat and prolong their bloom time.
Peonies have a relatively long growing season, often early blooming peonies in early spring when the first shoots emerge from the ground and ending in late fall when the foliage dies back. The actual bloom time is typically in late spring or early summer and lasts several weeks. The specific timing can vary depending on the region’s variety and climate.
Peonies are hardy plants that can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8. They need a period of winter chilling (temperatures below 40°F) for bud formation. Therefore, they may not perform as well in regions with mild winters or extremely hot summer temperatures.
Peonies prefer well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Heavy clay or sandy soils can be improved by incorporating compost or well-rotted manure at planting time. The ideal soil pH for peonies is neutral to slightly alkaline, between 6.5 and 7.5.
When to Plant
The best time to plant peony bulbs is in the fall, typically around September and October, before the first hard frost. This gives the plant enough time to establish its root system before winter.
How to Plant Peonies
To plant peonies, dig a hole wide and deep enough to comfortably accommodate the root system. The hole should be around 12-18 inches in depth and width. Place the tuber in the hole with the eyes (or buds) facing upwards, and make sure the topmost bud is no more than 2 inches below the soil surface. Cover the tuber with soil, firming it gently around the plant. Water well and apply a thin layer of mulch to help conserve moisture and deter weeds.
Planting Tips for Peonies
When planting peonies, it’s essential to avoid planting them too deep. If the buds are more than 2 inches below the soil surface, it can prevent the plant from blooming. Space plants about 3-4 feet apart to allow for good air circulation and prevent fungal diseases. Peonies can take a few years to settle and bloom, so patience is key. Once they’re established, however, they can bloom profusely for many years with minimal care.
Where to Plant Peonies
Peonies are a versatile addition to any landscape and can be used in various planting schemes. They look beautiful in perennial beds or mixed with other spring-blooming flowers. Plant them along a fence line or use them to create attractive borders.
Due to their lush foliage and spectacular blooms, peonies make a beautiful addition to perennial gardens. They mix well with other spring-blooming plants like irises and roses and provide excellent foliage for the rest of the growing season once their blooms have faded.
Hedges and Fence Lines
Peonies can also be used to create striking hedges or to line fences. When planted in a row, their impressive flowers and dense foliage create a compelling visual barrier while adding a touch of elegance.
Foundation Plantings and Shrub Borders
Mature peonies are shrub-like and can be used in foundation plantings or shrub borders. They can help to soften the lines of buildings or fences and create a visually pleasing landscape.
What to Expect from Peonies
Typically, contingent on their type, peony plants grow to a minimum height and width of three feet once fully mature. Consequently, it’s vital to allocate sufficient space for their growth.
Employing a supporting structure around the peonies aids in maintaining the upright position of the blossoms. Either utilize a commercially available peony support or construct a DIY one using wooden strips or steel wire mesh. Installing these supports during early spring before the plants surpass a height of 12 inches.
In the first year after planting, peony growth may be modest as the plants focus on establishing their roots. You may see a few leaves and possibly a peonies bloom or two. By the second or third year, the plants should begin to fill out and produce more stems and peony flowers. After about three to five years, peonies will reach their full size and flowering potential.
It’s worth noting that peonies are long-lived plants. Once established, they can bloom every year for decades, or even a century or more, with minimal care. This makes them a wonderful heirloom plant to pass down through generations.
Caring for Peonies After They Bloom
After peonies finish blooming, you should deadhead any spent flowers to maintain the plant’s appearance and prevent seed formation, which can reduce the plant’s vigor. Continue to water and care for the plants throughout the summer and fall, as this is when they are building reserves for the next year’s growth and blooms.
In the fall, after the foliage has died, cut the plants down to the ground and clear away the debris to prevent diseases or pests from overwintering. You can also add a layer of mulch around the plants for additional winter protection.
How to Landscape With Peonies
When landscaping with peonies, consider their bloom time, plant height, and flower color. These elements can help to create a cohesive and visually pleasing garden design. For example, use peonies to create a stunning theme by planting varieties with similar or complementary flower colors. Or, create a “peony border” with shorter plants in the front and taller ones in the back.
Peonies also work well when paired with other perennials that bloom at the same time or shortly after peonies to provide ongoing color and interest in the garden. Companion plants that work well with peonies include irises, alliums, and early-blooming roses.
Peony Pests and Diseases
Peonies are relatively low-maintenance and are not often bothered by pests. However, they can occasionally be affected by diseases such as peony wilt or botrytis blight, which can cause wilting, discoloration, or a fuzzy mold on the leaves, stems, or buds. Good gardening practices, like providing proper air circulation, avoiding overhead watering, and keeping the garden clean of plant debris, can help prevent these diseases.
In terms of pests, ants are often found on peonies, attracted by the sweet sap on the flower buds. However, they are harmless to the plant. The most significant pest of peonies is probably the Japanese beetle, which can chew on the leaves and flowers. Hand-picking or using a targeted pesticide can help control this pest.
What is a peony bulb?
A peony bulb is not a true bulb; it’s actually a tuber or root structure. When planting, make sure the tuber’s ” eye ” faces up and cover it with soil for best results. To ensure proper growth, it is crucial to plant peonies correctly since they rely on tubers, which are bulb-like structures that store nutrients for yearly regrowth.
Why aren’t my peonies blooming?
Peonies can fail to bloom for a few reasons, including insufficient sunlight, lack of nutrients, or planting too deep. Ensure your peonies are planted in a sunny location, and the buds are no more than 2 inches below the soil surface. A top dressing of compost or a balanced fertilizer in spring can also help boost blooming.
Do peonies need staking?
Some varieties of peonies, especially those with large double flowers, may need staking to keep their heavy blooms from drooping or touching the ground. Many types of peony support are available, or you can make your own using stakes and string.
Do peonies multiply?
Yes, peonies can multiply over time. However, they are slow-growing plants that can take several years to produce additional stems and flowers. If you want to propagate peonies, dividing the tubers in the fall is the most reliable method.
How often should I water my peonies?
Peonies prefer evenly moist soil, but they are relatively drought-tolerant once established. During dry periods, water deeply once a week. Watering in the morning is best to allow the leaves to dry out during the day and prevent fungal diseases.
What are peony plants used for?
Peonies are popular garden plants for their attractive foliage and colorful flowers. Their beautiful blossoms can be used in cut flower arrangements, while the plants make a great addition to any landscape. They look beautiful planted alone or grouped in foundation plantings or shrub borders. When mixed in a perennial flowerbed, peonies can also provide subtle color and texture. Peonies can also be used for their medicinal properties as they contain various compounds that may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.
Why are peonies expensive?
Peonies are expensive because they take a long time to mature, require a lot of care (especially during their first two years), and there is a high demand for them. Additionally, growing and transporting peony plants can be costly. It takes anywhere from three to five years before the plant reaches full maturity and blooms properly.
Peonies are a classic and elegant addition to any garden. They are a garden treasure with their long lifespan, stunning blooms, and low maintenance needs. Establishing these plants may take patience and care, but the rewards are well worth the effort. So, start planning, prepare your garden, and plant some peony bulbs this fall. You’ll be delighted with the results for years to come.
We hope this guide has given you a better understanding of how to landscape with peonies and care for them properly. If you have any questions or want to share your favorite tips, please feel free to comment below! Happy gardening!