Growing Peonies

Discover tips for growing this long-lived perennial.

'Felix Crousse' Peony

'Felix Crousse' Peony

This peony is a hardy grower and a fragrant double variety.

Love peony flowers? Learn what you need to know to succeed with these beautiful spring bloomers. Growing peonies isn’t difficult. Once you get these perennials settled and established, they’re pretty much maintenance free. Better still, peony planting is a job you do once. This perennial can last for generations, becoming a true legacy plant in your landscape.  

Growing peonies starts with buying plants. You’ll find potted peonies for sale in spring at nurseries. If peonies are in bloom, use the time to check out flower colors and test drive blossom fragrance. Some peony flowers have a rich perfume, while others have a scent that many find distasteful. If you buy potted peonies in spring, aim to get them planted as soon as you can—by early summer at the latest. Be sure to water these new additions to your landscape, especially if summer brings a drought.  

The ideal time for planting peonies is in fall. Most garden or Chinese peonies are sold bareroot. Peony specialist nurseries dig their roots in late summer to early fall and typically ship them at the proper planting time for your zone. Each peony root usually has several eyes or growing points. Follow the instructions that come with your peony roots in terms of planting window and pre-planting storage. Most peony roots can be stored in their original packing material, which may be wood chips or peat moss, for 7 to 14 days without harm.  

Peonies are hardy in Zones 2 to 8. Growing peonies successfully depends on choosing the right planting spot. Select a place with full sun in northern settings. A part-shade exposure is best in Southern states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Lousiana. The same is true for California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  

Prepare soil to be rich, fertile and well-drained. Add organic matter to beds before planting peonies. Take the time to mix organic matter into soil to a depth of 12 inches. This kind of thorough soil preparation ensures a long-lived peony. Peonies live a long time. Avoid planting them too close to young trees that will eventually spread and shade the plants.  

When planting peonies, make sure you dig a hole that’s wide enough to allow roots to spread freely. Plant peonies with the eyes facing up. In colder areas, position peony eyes 2 inches below the soil surface. In warmer Southern and Western areas, as noted above, position eyes 1 inch below the soil surface. Cold-weather gardeners should mulch plants the first winter with a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of loose mulch after the ground freezes. Established peonies don’t need winter mulch.  

Peonies need 500 to 1,000 chilling hours—actual hours when temperatures are between 32 and 40 degrees F—to flower. This means they won’t grow successfully south of roughly the Birmingham, Alabama area. In Western states, growing peonies is most successful at higher elevations.

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