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How to Care for Peonies in Spring

Peonies are one of the most popular perennial flowers for landscapers wanting to add beauty and elegance to their yard or garden. Peony care in spring is essential for the best results come blooming season. Here are some tips on how to take care of your peony plants during the early growing season.

bright pink peony against a white home

I have always had a fondness of garden flowers.

There is something so romantic about a well planned flower bed.

I have found that most of my favorite flowers to plant are perennials that last for years after being initially planted.

Peonies are one of those plants, which is why I wrote an entire guide for growing peonies last year.

These plants are simple to grow and produce blooms for generations to enjoy.

Another flower that has stolen my heart is the English rose. I have written on planting bare root roses and how to buy bare root roses for your garden.

All that is required is a little care in the late fall, which you can read about in my post on caring for landscaping for winter.

early spring peony growing in the ground

What are Peonies?

It’s always important to determine the history of a plant and how it thrives in different climates.

Peonies belong to the genus Paeonia, and there are about 33 peony varieties available and can be found at your local garden center.

Peonies are herbaceous plants, also known as woody shrubs, that are native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America.

They are often found in shades of white, pink, or red, but you can also find them in yellow or cream to give a bright floral pop in your garden.

Peonies typically bloom in late spring or early summer. They have a relatively short blooming season, which makes them all the more special.

Peonies come in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes, and they have a sweet fragrance that is simply intoxicating.

Thankfully, they make excellent cut flowers and are relatively easy to care for.

vibrant peonies growing along a white house

Which Peonies are the Best for You?

The different types of peonies include tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, and Itoh Peonies. Each type has different needs when it comes to soil, sun, and water.

If you are looking to plant lots of peonies, the best way to do this on a budget is with bare root peonies.

  • Tree Peonies are characterized by their strong, woody stems.
  • Herbaceous Peonies die back to the ground each year.
  • Itoh Peonies are a cross between tree and herbaceous peonies, and they are characterized by their large flowers and strong stems.
early spring peony growing in the ground

The Different Peonies

  • Tree Peonies: Tree Peonies thrive in dappled light and well-drained soil with little care. They will tolerate full sun, however. Tree Peonies are the most drought tolerant of all the peony types. Their woody stems allow the plants to retain more water.
  • Herbaceous Peonies: Herbaceous Peonies need full sun but will tolerate some shade. They prefer rich, well-drained soil with a high organic matter content. Herbaceous Peonies are not as tolerant of drought as tree peonies, since they lose water to evaporation more easily.
  • Itoh Peonies: Itoh Peonies need full sun but will tolerate some shade. They also prefer well-drained soil with a high organic matter content. Itoh Peonies are not as tolerant of drought as tree peonies.
big pink peony blossom

Are Peonies Easy to Care for?

  • Peonies live for a long time, living up to a hundred years, and are otherwise easy to care for.
  • Peonies are generally tolerant of cold winters and strong winds. They actually need a few weeks of cold soil to help prepare them for the growing season.
  • They hold up well to being transplanted and can even be divided and replanted every few years to keep them looking their best.
  • You should plant the peony roots close to the soil surface so they can get adequately chilled during the winter months.
  • The biggest issue with peonies is powdery mildew, which is easy to treat with potassium bicarbonate.
early spring peony growing in the ground

When should you plant peonies?

New plants should be planted in the early fall, about 6 weeks before the first frost. This gives the roots time to establish themselves before winter sets in and the ground freezes.

When planting peonies from seed, plant them in the fall as well. It can take up to 3 years for peonies to bloom from seed, so be patient!

Even if you plant bare root plants, the first year won’t produce many blooms. The following spring is when you will get to see the plant in all of its glory.

With each following year, you will notice your mature plant will give you considerably more buds.

If you split or relocate your herbaceous peony, it should be planted at the same depth as is was growing in its previous pot or bed. That way the eyes, or growing buds, will be at the correct depth for best results.

early spring peony growing in the ground

How do you care for Peonies in Spring?

In early spring, check your peony plants for any signs of fungal disease. Peonies are susceptible to a few different types of fungi, including botrytis and crown rot. These diseases can be fatal to your plant, so it is important to catch them early.

In late spring, as the weather begins to warm up, keep an eye out for strong winds. Peonies have large, heavy flowers, and strong winds can damage them. If you live in an area that is prone to high winds, you may want to give your plant support with stakes.

In early summer, as the flowers start to bloom, be sure to deadhead them. Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers from the plant.

This will encourage new growth and prevent the plant from going into seed.

early spring peony growing in the ground

How to Plant Peonies in Spring

  1. When planting peonies, it is important to choose a spot that has the right light requirements and good drainage. Peonies do not like to sit in wet soil, so be sure to choose a location that has good air circulation.
  2. Dig a hole that is twice the width of the roots and about 6 inches deep.
  3. Loosen the soil at the bottom. This will help the roots establish more easily.
  4. Place the roots in the hole, making sure that the eyes are pointing up.
  5. Backfill with soil, and water well.
  6. Mark the area where you have planted the peonies, as they can be slow to emerge.
  7. Be sure to leave plenty of room around each peony plant, since they need excellent air circulation to thrive.
how to plant and grow peonies

Watering Peonies in Spring

Consistent watering is important early on to help peonies get established. Once they’re established, they’re more drought resistant.

First-year peonies should be watered well about once a week. Older peonies can be watered less frequently; every 10-14 days is plenty.

Be sure to water at the base of the plant, not on the leaves. too much water on the leaves can lead to fungal diseases.

Finally, keep in mind that peonies don’t like to sit in damp soil. The soil should be well-draining, and you shouldn’t water them until the top 3/4 inches of soil is dry.

You can use your finger to check how dry the soil is.

Should You Fertilize Peonies in Spring?

Peonies don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but you can give them a light application in early spring when the shoots are 3-4 inches tall.

Be sure to use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, as too much nitrogen will encourage leaf growth at the expense of peony flowers.

early spring peony growing in the ground

When do Peonies Bloom?

Peony plants generally take about three years to reach maturity and start blooming. The best time to plant peonies is in the fall so that they have a chance to establish themselves before winter.

Once they reach maturity, you’ll start to see flower buds that will bloom in early to mid-summer.

The bloom time doesn’t last very long, but they are so beautiful and worth it.

With every new growing season, you will notice more and more peony buds on your peony bushes.

As with any established plant, they get better with time.

cut peonies in a vase in a kitchen

How long do cut Peonies last?

Peonies make excellent cut flowers, and they can last 5-10 days in a vase. If you’re hoping to make them last longer, you can store them in the refrigerator for quite some time until you’re ready to use them.

Cut your peony stems when the bud is in the “marshmallow stage.” This means that the bud is still in tact and squishy like a marshmallow.

You will get the most out of your peony bloom if you harvest it at this stage. You will enjoy the large bud and get to watch it bloom in the vase!

Be sure to cut the stems at an angle and remove any leaves that will be below the water line.

It is best to cut peonies in the morning, when the flowers are just starting to open.

How to Prevent Disease in Peonies

Peonies are susceptible to a few different types of fungal disease, including botrytis blight and rot that happens at the crown of the plant.

These diseases can be fatal to your plant, so it is important to take preventive measures.

The best way to prevent disease is to plant your peonies in well-drained soil and to water at the base of the plant.

You should also remove dead plant parts frequently. Remove dead leaves from the actual plant and around the base of your garden peonies.

Be sure to space your planting hole for each plant far enough apart that they get ample amount of space to grow. They like plenty of air circulation, so choose your planting site with that in mind. That air flow will help keep disease at bay.

light pink peony bud

Pro Tips for the Best Peonies

Tree peonies will take a few years longer to reach maturity than herbaceous peonies, but they are well worth the wait.

Peonies prefer cooler weather and will not do well in hot, humid climates.

Peonies are best planted in the fall so they have time to establish themselves before winter.

Herbaceous peonies are one of the easiest perennials to grow and make an excellent addition to any garden. Peonies are relatively low maintenance, needing only occasional deadheading and watering.

Have you ever planted Peonies? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Also if you are growing peonies for the most cut flowers you should pinch off the buds for the first three years (yes that means no flowers for three years) but it helps the plant create a healthy root system that means less susceptibility to disease later. It’s what flower farmers do.

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