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A Simple Guide to Growing Peonies

Spring flowers are some of the most loved, most anticipated flowers of the year. Maybe it’s because we are coming out of a long winter, maybe it’s because they are so pretty. Either way, everyone needs a simple guide to growing peonies so they can enjoy these spring blooms for years to come.

vase full of white and pink peonies

I remember seeing peonies in my grandma’s yard when I was a kid, but I didn’t full appreciate the beauty of them.

The short-lived blooming season left me wondering why they needed to be front and center in her yard. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I knew why she had so many in her yard.

Peonies are a beautifully flowering plant that produces sturdy flowers and can be cut and brought indoors. The flowers last 7-10 days and can be enjoyed outside or inside.

These flowers are show-stoppers on their own or in a vase with other flowers from your garden. And with that, let’s see what growing peonies is all about.

vases with cut flower peonies

What are Peonies?

Maybe gardening is new to you and you’re asking yourself, “What are peonies?”

Peonies are a spring perennial that blooms between the months of April and June in most zones. Mature plants produce a multitude of blooms each spring, while young plants may only produce a handful.

Peonies are often known as an “heirloom” plant since they live for decades upon decades and are sometimes handed down to younger generations.

They are hardy and low maintenance plants that do well in zones 3-8. If you’re looking for a large plant that that offers beautiful blooms in the spring, then you’ll love the peony.

The Peony Flower

The peony plant is a hardy plant that produces large blooms. The blooms can be layered with many petals or have large base petals and a cluster of stamens in the middle. Peony flowers can be anywhere from 2 inches to 10 inches across!

The peony flower comes in several different colors, with the most popular being shades of pink, red, white, and yellow.

the bud of a sarah bernhardt peony about to open

Planting Peonies

Planting peonies is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require any fancy tools. All you need is good soil, sun, a shovel, and some mulch.

Best Soil for Planting Peonies

The best soil for planting peonies is well-drained soil. Soggy soil will cause root disease. To get the best soil for the plant, mix native soil with a nutrient rich soil from the garden center. If you have organic compost, you can use that, as well.

Best Sunlight for Planting Peonies

Growing peonies requires lots of sunlight. To make sure your peony is happy, plant it in a spot that gets 6 hours of sunlight, or more.

Sunlight encourages peonies to flower and the sunlight, coupled with good air circulation, help them to not develop a fungus.

Best Time for Planting Peonies

Depending on they type of plant you have, you can plant it in the fall or in the spring. A bare root peony needs to be planted in the fall and might bloom in the following spring. If it doesn’t bloom, it should within three years of being planted.

A plant that is potted and has foliage already will need to be planted in the spring after all threat of frost is gone. These are more expensive, but offer flowers right away.

deep pink peonies in a garden

Peony Bloom Time

Peony bloom time starts anywhere from April to June, depending on your zone. Each peony bloom will last from 7 to 10 days.

Peonies produce many blooms, but the blooming season in short. This is the reason most people have multiple peony plants. With such a short bloom season, people want to be able to enjoy some blossoms outdoors and also bring some in to arrange in a vase.

Types of Peony Plants

Peony Bulbs or Bare Root Peonies

Peony bulbs, also known as bare root peonies, are planted in the fall and will produce flowers within 3 years of being planted. This is the most cost effective way to plant peony plants.

They will come with red buds on the bulb that will grow into stems in the spring. The more buds you have, the more stems you will have.

Peony Plant

If you’re looking to have the most blooms you can have as soon as possible, planting an established peony plant will be your best bet.

Peony plants are typically already established and ready to flower when you plant them. They are planted in the spring and will give you several blooms.

These are more expensive to purchase due to their maturity when compared to the peony bulbs.

magenta pink peony

Pink Peony

Peonies come in several colors, offering you multiple options when planning your garden. The pink peony comes in different hues, also. You can find deep pink, bubblegum pink, and blush pink peonies.

Sarah Bernhardt Peony

The Sarah Bernhardt Peony is a very popular variety in the pink peony family and one I personally have in my peony bed. This plant has double petals on each stem and comes in a soft pink color.

The flowers will be around 8 inches wide, making them wonderful to use in peony arrangements.

Karl Rosenfield Peony

If you want a deep, magenta peony then the Karl Rosenfield peony is what you want. Some of these plants might turn out as a red shade, instead of a magenta. Regardless, it’s a lovely plant and I also have this one in my garden.

This plant has double petals that won’t fade and do well as a cut flower.

vase of peonies cut from a garden

White Peony

Every gardener needs white flowers to cleanse the eye palette. White peonies offer a place for your eye to rest and are show stoppers in the garden. They wreak elegance!

Shirley Temple Peony

This creamy ivory bloom smells wonderful and is a classic garden favorite. It has a base color of white and slight hues of pink.

Not to mention, the butterflies love this flower.

Paeonia Lactiflora

This white peony produces it’s flowers later in the growing season, which extends the enjoyment of these plants. This peony is in my garden and while the others are blooming wildly, this one is still tight in its buds. Having a variety that blooms a week later will extend the joy of having peony plants in your garden.

This classic, white peony has won many awards for being hardy and beautiful.

Red Peony

Red Charm Peony

The Red Charm Peony has a deep red color with wider petals on the bottom and smaller petals on top.

Since I have shades of pink in my peony bed, this isn’t a color I personally own, but I’ve seen it and it is stunning.

peony plants lined up next to a white house

Yellow Peony

Yellow peonies aren’t as common as white and pink peonies, but they add life to the garden with their bright blooms.

Bartzella Itoh Peony

The Bartzella Itoh peony is a very popular yellow variety. These have been around for over 2,000 years, which shows how resilient they are.

The bloom season for these is short, but in that blooming window they produce extreme numbers of blooms.

Claire de Lune

If you are looking for a unique peony, the Claire de Lune is a great one to add some visual interest.

The creamy, yellow petals on the outside are wide and velvety while the center is full of brightly colored stamens.

How to Plant Peonies

Planting peonies is simple and much like other plants, but the key with peonies is to not plant them too deep.

  1. Dig a hole 1 1/2 times wider than the pot of the plant. If planting multiple plants, space 3 feet apart so the plants can have good air circulation.
  2. Add soil enhancer or compost to the hole and mix with some native soil
  3. Place the plant in the hole, making sure the top of the root system will be level with the top of the ground. You don’t want to plant them too deep because the plant won’t grow well and it’ll inhibit its ability to produce flowers.
  4. Fill in around the plant with good soil
  5. Add mulch around the plant
  6. Water well
peony bare root peony bud about to open

Can you Grow Peonies in Pots?

A common question, especially for people with small green spaces, is can you grow peonies in pots? The short answer is, yes!

Peonies can be grown in pots that are at least 10 gallons. They have substantial root systems, so they need space to thrive.

Peonies do best in the ground, but they can be planted in pots. Be sure your pots have good drainage and protect the roots of the plant during the cold season, either by bringing it indoors or by mulching really well.

growing peonies and cutting them to bring inside

Peony Arrangements

One of the best parts of growing peony plants is being able to bring them inside to arrange in a vase. They produce the most beautiful arrangements on their own, but they pair nicely with other flowers.

If you want to create a peony arrangement with only peonies, you will want 5 opened peonies and 3 buds, depending on the size of your vase.

Peonies tend to lean on each other well in a vase. They have full blooms and strong stems that keep them upright and not flopping over.

If you want to add variety, you can use multiple colored peonies or place them with other flowers. Peony arrangements look great with a mixture of peonies, roses, and lisianthus.

pink peony with green bush behind it

What about the ants on peonies?

Yes, it’s true. The ants love peonies. When I shared that I bring peonies inside to enjoy, I had a lot of peoples ask what I did about the ants on the peonies.

The tight blossoms have a sweet nectar that attracts the ants. Once they are opened, the ants will usually move on, except for a couple that decide to hang out on the opened flower.

To get rid of the ants, hang the flower upside down and give it a shake. Go inside and fill a bowl with chilled water and dunk your flower in the water. Swoosh them around in the water and when you take them out, give them a gentle shake. Any remaining ants should fall out.

What does new growth on a peony look like?

You will know your peony plant is sprouting when you have red shoots coming out of the soil where you planted them. As they grow, the sprouts will change to a green color prior to producing foliage.

Can you transplant peonies?

You may transplant peonies, but they develop massive root structures and prefer to stay in one location. If you do transplant peonies, it may take a growing season before they produce flowers.

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a simple guide for growing peonies

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  1. I love peonies but I live in zone 9. I planted buckeye Belle in my other house and it bloomed but have hard bad soil here. Would they grow here?; I am in central California.

    1. I am not positive. I think they make different peonies to be hardier in different climates. I think the soil might be the biggest issue, to be honest. It’s always worth a shot to try it!

  2. Love this post and love peonies! I first fell in love with them when my florist for my wedding put them in my bouquet. My husband always watches for them in the spring at Trader Joe’s for me, but this past Mother’s Day he bought me a plant. He was just telling me I needed to read up on how to plant them and care for them. So, your blog post came at the perfect time! Thank you!

  3. I want to buy three new peony plants but have barely jept the one I have alive …such great tips!

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