Home » ⇾ Facts and Fables about growing Peony

Botanical Name:  Paeonia spp.

Flower colours: Pink, purple, red, white and yellow

Peony are perennial herbaceous plants that come back year after year with large, fragrant blooms. They are long-lived with some lasting up to 100-years-old. They require little to no care. Depending on the variety you select, peonies bloom early in the season (May) or into the summer (June or July). There are five varieties of peony I select for my garden designs that work well in our growing region: Itoh, single, semi-double; full double; and the Bomb. All varieties are bush peony.     

An old variety of Hot Pink Peony from my garden

FACTS about growing peony

  • Peony are sun-lovers. They require at least six-full-hours of direct sunlight on the plant per day. You will find the variety Itoh prefers a bit of light shade from the heat of the afternoon.
  • Well-drained soil is ideal. Peony don’t like wet feet (roots) or standing water. Make sure you plant your peony where the soil drains away quickly after it rains. Raised beds are a good location for peony. Low lying areas such as the bottom of a slope, are not good locations for peony. Plant peony high and dry.
  • Peony need support when they flower. When peony buds start to open, the flowers quickly become too large and heavy for slender peony stems to support. As a result, your beautiful blooms go crashing to the ground. Add in rain or wind, and your lovely peony flowers are ruined in a couple of days. If you want to extend the length of time you enjoy your peony flowers, keep them off the ground. Install a peony ring (hoop) or peony cage above the peony plant before spring growth gets too tall. When you can see about two to three inches new growth poking out of the ground, it is time to place your peony support.  
Peony Support from Lee Valley Tools
  • Peony need room to grow. Most peony tend to grow between three to four feet wide and about three feet tall. If you want beautiful blooms, you need to give peony room to grow. At least three feet of space or about the size of a child’s hula hoop will work. Overcrowding peony can reduce bloom production.
  • Watering peony. Like any plant, peony need water in the first two growing seasons to establish their roots. Water at least once or twice per week for the first growing season. If the weather is hot, make sure to water at least twice per week. Once the peony is established – in the third growing season –reduce watering as it tends to be drought tolerant.
  • Feeding peony. Although peony require little care, if you want great blooms, you need to feed. Feed peony only once per year when the new stems reach about two to three inches above the ground (the same time you put in your peony support). Use a low-nitrogen dry fertilizer (5-10-10) placed on the top of the soil around the peony. About quarter-cup per mature peony plant will do. Water the fertilizer in well and make sure the fertilizer doesn’t get struck in the crown of the plant where it can burn tender new stems. Overfeeding peony will lead to tons of green leave growth, however, little bloom production.   
  • Planting and transplanting peony. Peony may be purchased and planted any time during the growing season, however, if you want to divide and move peony, spring and fall are the best times. If you are moving peony in the fall, cut the leaf stems down to the ground before moving. Peony roots look like really big carrots. The trick to moving peony is to try and dig up as much root as possible. Once you have your peony roots dug, shake off as much soil as possible so you can see the root zone. This is important because you don’t want to plant the roots too deeply when you move them to their new home. Peony need to be planted just below the surface of the soil – only one to two inches below the garden level. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots, making sure it is a shallow hole.  If you need to, add soil to make sure the peony roots sit high. Place the roots so the ‘eyes’ or buds are facing upward. Cover with about one to two inches of soil. You can divide peony root clumps using a knife, making sure you have at least four to five ‘eyes’ (buds) in each clump. Remember, if you plant peony too deeply, they won’t bloom. Plant high. Water well after planting. Quick note: Peony may not bloom in the first spring after planting, as it can take a full growing season or two for them to settle in.

Long-blooming peony

If you want long-blooming peony, make sure to water around the roots of the plant, not the blooms.  Hand watering is the best. Using a long handled wand (spray wand) and place water around the peony roots. Blooms that receive water from an overhead sprinkler or irrigation system tend to breakdown faster, where the blooms fade and are gone within a week. Overhead watering can also promote powdery mildew on peony leaves.  

Water Wand from Lee Valley Tools

FABLES about growing peony

A Fable about Peonies and Ants!
  • Peony and ants. For years I believed peonies wouldn’t bloom without ants. This, however, is a fable. What is true is that ants like the waxy coating of the peony buds and harvest the nectar from the peony blooms. In return, ants protect peony blooms from flower-feeding insects like Thrips. Peony and ants have a friendship of sorts. Ants do not harm peony or their blooms in anyway. You don’t have to remove the ants or even spray with insecticide. Just leave them alone. They’re working together.
  • Placing peony. If you don’t like ants, make sure to plant your peony in a location away from the house.
  • Cutting Blooms. If you want to cut and bring peony blooms into your home without ants, carefully shake the blooms by holding the stem close to the bloom so you don’t snap the head from the stem. The best time of the day to cut peony for indoor use is early morning.
  • Peony are hard to grow.  No way. Peony are easy to grow, low maintenance and tend to take care of themselves once they are established.  With a bit of spring care, peony will grow happily in your gardens for years.
  • Deer and rabbits like peony.  Both deer and rabbits are not big fans of peony blooms. Peony tend to do well in gardens with wildlife. You may find young deer will take a nip from a peony bloom only to discover they really don’t taste great.
Single Red Blooms of Blaze Peony
One of my favourites – Raspberry Sundae Peony

The Peony

The light delicate petals of a peony

like crisp tissue paper balls

with ruffled edges of pink and white.

You can almost smell their sweet fragrance

as they swaying in the breeze.

Soft to the touch – lovely to behold.

Reminds me of sweet spring garden dreams.

Lexi Dearborn

The Gabby Gardener

March 2022

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