Pointers for planting perfect peonies

Cultivated for more than 2,000 years as ornamental and medicinal plants, long-lived and low-maintenance peonies add a fabulous splash of colour to the spring landscape. Follow these pointers to planting perfect peonies.

Pointers for planting perfect peonies

Pick your peony

Peonies can be divided into two distinct groups, the popular herbaceous ones that die down to the ground each fall, and the less common tree peonies that have a wood stem, often quite short, but still remaining above ground all winter. It is the herbaceous type that most people think of when they hear the word "peony"; tree peonies are neither as hardy nor as readily available.

Where to plant peonies

  • Plant peonies in full sun for best flowering. Growth is best with at least six hours sunlight each day
  • They will grow in part shade but will not flower nearly as freely
  • Plant well away from competing tree and shrub roots and not too close to paved areas that would shield their roots from rainfall
  • Peonies are ideal plants for a perennial border where their lush green foliage acts as a foil for later flowering plants, and, in many varieties, turns a copper colour in fall
  • The height of peony cultivars ranges from about 75 centimetres (29 and a half inches) to close to over one metre (three feet), so be aware of the final height when locating new plants
  • Plant them at last 60 centimetres (25 inches) away from the wall, and outside an overhanging roof line so rain can fall on them

How to prepare the soil

Peonies are one of the least demanding perennials known. Provided they receive sunlight, sufficient water, and a winter rest long enough to ensure spring growth, peonies can be left undisturbed for 40 years or more. It is therefore wise to make sure that their planting site is well prepared first.

For best results:

  • Deeply dig the area, working in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost
  • Add fertilizer, using a balanced blend at the rate recommended
  • Avoid lawn fertilizers with a high nitrogen content as they will promote soft, leafy growth at the expense of good root formation

How to plant peonies

  • Dig a hole large enough to take the roots without crowding, allowing about 15 centimetres (six inches) space all around and beneath the roots
  • Add some compost or well-rotted manure and a handful of bone meal to the soil removed from the hole
  • Work a little more compost into the base of the hole with a small handful of bone meal. It is a good source of potassium, which promotes root growth, but it is slow acting, needing to be broken down by bacteria in the soil. Adding it at planting time will make it available to the plant the following spring
  • If the plants have come by mail, they will be dry. Soak them in water while you prepare the hole, or preferably overnight
  • Place the bare root plant in the hole, holding so that the buds on the crown (where the base of the leaves arise) are five to eight centimetres (two to three inches) below the soil level
  • Fill in the hole with the prepared soil, taking care to work it down around the fleshy roots and firming it down well so as not to leave any air pockets. Then water well

Do not expect a tremendous show of flowers the following spring. There may not be any at all, while the plant is busy recovering from being dug up and divided. The second year should see a few blooms and by year three the plant should be fully recovered and from then on will put on an increasingly colourful display.

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