Complete Guide to Planting and Caring for Peonies

No garden is complete without the lush, vibrant, incredibly beautiful peony. These timeless flowers are great for those looking to establish a lasting flower bed that can be enjoyed for decades to come. Plus, the glossy green foliage is lovely in its own right and will add a unique depth to your garden. 

Location

Since your lush peonies could thrive for over half a century or more and are not fans of transplanting, picking the best location to grow them is a critical decision that should be made with care and forethought. Thankfully, they are not too picky about location as long as you are in growing zones 2-8. Remember, they will do best in a full sun spot that is sheltered from strong winds. However, if you live in a southern climate, plant them in an area that receives some afternoon shade to encourage flowering and promote healthier foliage. If exposed to bright sunlight in a hot environment, peonies may wilt and refuse to bloom. 

The only other requirement for peony location is soil moisture. These perennials hate having soggy roots, so be sure to avoid planting them in a swampy area or on the bottom of a slope. It is also a good idea to plant them away from large trees or shrubs that will compete for water and root space. 

Planting

Peonies will do best when planted in fall about six weeks before the first frost. A cold winter is actually beneficial for the peonies that are planted as bare root tubers. Be sure to plant them in large holes at least two feet deep and two feet wide for the optimal spacing of 3-4 feet apart for mature plants. Mound enough soil back into the hole to create a small hill on which to plant the root, eyes facing upwards. The top of the root shouldn’t be more than 2 inches beneath the soil surface. Be sure to water deeply once you have patted the soil down. 

They will do well in any well-draining soil but will flourish and bloom faster if the soil is amended with compost or other organic material such as bonemeal.  

Diseases

Thankfully, peonies are deer and rabbit resistant, meaning that the shiny green leaves aren’t appealing to the more destructive garden invaders. However, these perennials are susceptible to a fungal disease known as botrytis that can cause blackened buds and stems and even rotting at the base of the plant. Botrytis is caused by cool and wet conditions and is often an issue if the peonies were planted in overly moist soil or too close together. If you notice any signs of this fungal disease, remove any affected parts and dispose of them in the trash. It can be largely avoided by following proper planting location guidelines and checking on your plants regularly. 

Care

Growing peonies requires patience. You will likely have to wait about one or two springs before you will see blooms from your new plants. During this time, and the rest of their incredibly long lifespan, these hardy perennials will thrive on benign neglect, barely needing any extra water or fertilizer to grow strong and produce beautiful blooms. If you do have nutrient-deficient soil, you can amend the soil with bonemeal, or organic compost in the summer after the blooms are gone, and you have deadheaded the spent flowers.

Because the gigantic flowers are often disproportionate to their relatively weak stems, peonies usually require staking or a tomato cage during the blooming season in the spring to prevent them from falling down in heavy wind or thunderstorms.

Add mulch around the base of your plants in the fall only if you live in a freezing climate. This protective layer will help insulate the bulbs and allow them to go through their hibernation period to come back even better in the spring. Remember to mulch very loosely and remove the mulch in the spring. 

At the end of the season, cut back the dying steams, leaving about 4 inches. This will help make room for new growth.

Companions

Fragrant peonies grow well with other, low maintenance flowering perennials such as roses and clematis. You’ll love your stunning flower garden in the spring when the exquisite blooms come out in style.

-Susan Patterson

 

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