How To Plant Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous peonies are among the most prolific, fragrant, and highly coveted of all display and cutting flowers. They are also remarkably simple to grow—their stunning, luxuriant flowers appear every spring without the least prodding. They are abundant, easy to grow, and resistant to deer. Our rootstocks are also incredibly cheap if you plant them in the fall. What more could a plant possibly provide?

So Easy to Grow for Decades of Flowers

Herbaceous peonies only actually need a protracted period of cold winter weather to start flowering. Peony rootstocks, which are hardy in horticultural zones 4 through 8, should be planted, moved, or divided in the fall so the roots have time to mature and store nutrients before the winter. Horticulturally speaking, fall planting is crucial, and bareroot Peonies planted in the fall cost significantly less than spring-available containerized plants.

Planting Tips

We start shipping our Herbaceous Peonies to cooler parts of the U.S. as soon as we receive them from the yearly Dutch harvest in early October. When you first receive the rootstocks, gently inspect them. If they seem to be dry, don’t worry; once planted, they will naturally rehydrate. Depending on the cultivar, some or all of the eyes, or sprouts, may not be clearly apparent. The small eyes on the rootstocks could come off if you pull or prod at them. The number of roots also varies from variation to variety; some are more carefully pruned of dead wood to promote the establishment of new roots.

When it comes time to plant the rootstocks in October, after the soil has cooled to around 55F or after roughly two weeks of sweater weather when overnight temperatures have been in the 40s, keep them in a cool, dark place. Peonies demand lots of sunlight and rich, loamy soil that drains well. For them to remain healthy, there must be enough space between plants for them to breathe. Although they can tolerate slightly acidic soil, they prefer neutral to slightly alkaline pH soil (6.0 to 7.0). Their constantly expanding, flower-filled stems require structural support.

Prepare the planting area by digging 3 to 4 foot-distance holes that are 2 feet wide by 1.5 feet deep. Each hole needs one foot of quality loam. The crown of each rootstock should be placed just 2 inches below the surface of the soil, with the eyes, or sprouts, pointing upward. Avoid planting them deeper because doing so can prevent flowering. The plant might not flower if it is not planted deep enough. Shovel any loose soil around the rootstock with caution. After planting, avoid adding any soil additions to the peony’s crown area (absolutely no manure of any kind: it can cause crown rot). It’s considerably simpler to install grow-through Peony supports after fall planting than it is in the spring. Water wisely. Mulch newly planted rootstocks with sawdust, straw, or evergreen boughs to help insulate them from temperature spikes after they are planted and after the ground surface freezes. Early in the spring, before the new sprouts appear, remove the mulch. Mulching is not advised in years after that. Herbaceous Peonies are exceptionally drought-tolerant once established, maturing into bigger, more floriferous plants over time despite their love of spring showers. They will prosper over many generations with hardly no upkeep.

The health of your peonies depends on how well you put them to bed for the winter. Every fall, you must trim the stalks to a height of no more than two inches above the soil, destroy any remaining cuttings, and discard the rest. Never mix chopped wood into compost piles. This will aid in preventing the emergence of fungal illnesses in your peony beds (and compost piles).

Interesting fact: For a long time, people believed that ants assisted in the opening of tight peony buds. In reality, that is untrue. The sweet sap that the swelling buds secrete is simply loved by the ants.

Does Your Mature Peony Need to be Divided?

Your peonies probably wouldn’t require dividing for ten to fifteen years if they were planted in a decent location with enough room to flourish. If they become too crowded and can no longer grow or breathe, they should only be dug up, divided, and replanted. Please wait at least three years after the first planting before digging, dividing, or replanting peonies because doing so could reduce blossom production for a few years.

If you must divide your peonies, wait until early fall to do so. Dig cautiously and gently around the plants, avoiding damaging or disturbing the roots as much as you can. Once the rootstock has been freed from the soil, gently shower it down to wash away any remaining soil. After that, remove any last-minute foliage. Cut the tubers into parts, trying to keep them fairly even, with a clean, sharp knife. Three to five eyes and a connected taproot should be present on each portion. Remember to promptly replant each portion using the methods outlined in the planting instructions above.

Peony Bouquet Tips

Your peonies truly burst into bloom, so keep an eye on them. Increase the duration of the peony bouquet by cutting stems into tightly closed buds and storing them in vases with a little water in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Once you bring them indoors at room temperature, they will bloom. You’ll crave bouquets as a result of the fragrance’s hypnotic addictiveness and the amazing beauty of their enormous flowers.

Trouble Shooting?

Even though it happens infrequently, rootstock crowns planted too deeply are the main cause of failure to bloom. Too much shade, inadequate water drainage, an overcrowded planting site, or a late spring killing frost can all prevent plants from thriving (buds would look desiccated). Dig up the rootball in the fall and amend the soil if the peony crown was planted too deeply. The rootball should be replanted 1/2 inch above the soil line. The crown should sag down to soil level with adequate watering and mulching. Depending on the weather, semi-double flowers from double types may blossom the first year; as the plants age, more fully double flowers will appear.

A peony flower bud burst occurs when the bud fails to open. This is typically brought on by nutrient-deficient soil, planting too deeply, immature root system development, an excessive amount of shadow, and weather damage from late-spring killing frosts and/or winter temperature spikes that have stressed the plants.

If you notice that the foliage or flowers of your peonies have changed appearance or color, especially during periods of cool, rainy weather, the plants may have contracted a fungus. Our peony rootstocks are completely spore-free, healthy, and clean. Due to the characteristics of the planting site, peonies are prone to fungal disease. In particular in planting sites with excessively wet or humid circumstances, overcrowding, or poor management, fungi infections can spread through the air or through the soil. Maintain proper garden upkeep, air circulation, and water drainage in the garden to prevent fungus.

Botrytis blight, the most prevalent fungus disease, overwinters in dead leaves and stems and is prevalent in cool, moist environments as well as in overly crowded or untidy gardens. Peony plants must be pruned back in the fall to just 2″ above the soil line, and any cuttings must be removed from the garden and destroyed (never add them to the compost pile). Shoots and blossoms may become mushy, decay, and become gray-brown due to botrytis blight. Spores of botrytis can be seen on leaves and stems. At the base of the crown, mature stems might rot. Plants that are ill should be dug up and removed.

Peony Blotch, often called Peony Measles, is another fungus that causes purple-brown patches on the leaf. On leaves, stems, and flowers, Powdery Mildew leaves a thin layer of pale gray powder. Brown spots appear on leaves or blossoms as a result of fungal leaf spot or blight. Wash the foliage with insecticidal soap that is suitable for gardens if it appears that insects are harming Peony plants. Find out what kind of fungicide is safe and allowed in your state by getting in touch with a reputable neighborhood garden center or your state’s Agricultural Extension Service.

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Which method of planting peony is best?

  • Keep plants neat by deadheading and prune as needed (herbaceous only).
  • When peonies become congested and produce fewer blooms, divide the plants.
  • When the blossoms feel like soft marshmallows, cut the stems for bouquets. Water should contain Miracle-Gro for Fresh Cut Flowers.

When the peonies blossom, you can finally start to feel the arrival of summer. Around Memorial Day, when spring bulb flowers are starting to fade and summer blooms are beginning to emerge, these stunning perennials bloom profusely. Peonies are resistant to deer and rabbits, which is useful for gardeners who frequently experience issues with animals eating their plants. Peonies are frequently seen blooming despite years of neglect if you drive through old cemeteries or abandoned farmsteads. That is because to how simple peony are to grow!

How to Choose Peonies

Peonies come in four different varieties. They are forest peonies, tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, and intersectional peonies, in the order of blooming time. Herbaceous peonies, which thrive in zones 3–7, and tree peonies, which flourish in zones 3–9, are the two most popular varieties. Herbaceous plants often reach heights of two to three feet and spreads of two to four feet. With some types reaching heights of 7 feet, tree peony are more closely related to tiny shrubs. The type of peony you plant will depend on where you live and the style you’re going for because all peonies require similar maintenance. The focus of this paper will be on tree and herbaceous peony.

When to Plant Peonies

Fall is the ideal season to plant peonies. This is often when peonies purchased from a catalog will be delivered. It’s okay to plant peonies when you see them flowering and for sale in containers in the spring.

Where to Plant Peonies

Peonies require at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day, though in zones 8 and 9, some shade from the sweltering afternoon sun is beneficial. Additionally, picking a location with sufficient air circulation is crucial to avoiding fungal illnesses.

How to Plant Peonies

In somewhat damp, well-drained soil, peonies thrive. Dig a hole, take the plant from the pot, and plant container-grown herbaceous peonies (the kind you buy in pots) so that the top of the root ball is level with the earth (any deeper and the peonies will not bloom). Fill up the area surrounding the plant by combining the discarded soil with an equal amount of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers.

Before planting bare root herbaceous peonies, give them a brief dip in a basin of water to rehydrate them. Create a planting hole that is big enough to fit the roots, mix the soil as previously mentioned, and place a mound of the blended soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the roots atop the mound and let them fan out and descend. Using the remaining blended soil, fill in the remaining portion of the hole, making sure that the “No more than 1 to 2 inches of soil should be present around the plant’s eyes (or growth buds) in order for it to bloom.

Deeper planting is required for tree peony. Unless they are grafted, peonies should be planted in the same soil combination as above, 2 to 4 inches deep at the crown (where the roots meet the stem). Check the label to see if the plant has been grafted, and then plant it such that the “The plant’s graft union, where the grafted top and rootstock are united, is located 4 to 6 inches below the soil line.

How to Stake Peonies

Peony stems are prone to toppling over after it rains, and the blossoms can become big and heavy. For herbaceous peonies, the best approach is to cover each plant in a peony cage in the spring, before the leaves begin to sprout (picture metal supports with rings for the flowers to grow up through). This is far more effective than attempting to hold each flower stalk separately, and it also looks nicer than wrapping the entire plant in string and cinching it in like a belt.

One stake can be used to stake tree peonies. Place the stake next to the stem in the ground, and then use a piece of twine to loosely secure the plant to the stake.

How to Water Peonies

When planting, give everything plenty of water. When the spring foliage begins to emerge and the flower buds start to show, give the plants another drink. Although peonies do not have a thirst, they will benefit from watering during dry spells for a year following the first planting.

How to Feed Peonies

Your peony will benefit from a powerful combination of care that includes excellent soil and the ideal plant food. Give peonies the nutrition they require by feeding them Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Rose & Bloom Plant Food in addition to the soil improvements indicated above for stunning color and more flowers than unfed plants. Peonies should be fed twice a year: the first time, right after they emerge in the spring (when the new shoots are 2 to 3 inches tall but before the flower buds are pea-sized), and the second time, in the middle of the growing season (about three months after the first feeding), to help them develop sturdy roots before the arrival of winter. Make sure you adhere to label instructions.

How to Help Prevent Problems with Peonies

Although mostly fuss-free, peonies occasionally experience fungal issues. Browning and failure to open flower buds are symptoms of botrytis. Brown patches on leaves are a symptom of some fungus illnesses. Infected blooms and leaves should be simply pruned off and disposed of (do not compost) in order to control these problems. Additionally, keep the plants neat, remove old foliage at the end of the season, and deadhead spent blooms. Peony blooms occasionally draw ants, but they won’t hurt the plants, so you can ignore them. (Contrary to popular belief, peonies do not require ants to blossom.)

How to Prune Peonies

Cut back each flower stalk on herbaceous peonies once all of the blooms have faded to just above a leaf, low enough so that the stem doesn’t protrude above the rest of the leaves. Unruly tree peony can be trimmed either in the spring or the fall (right before plants go dormant). However, any stems you trim back in the fall will not blossom the following spring (as you will be cutting off the flower buds). After blossoming in the spring, you can prune. Anytime you choose to prune, be careful not to take more than one-third of the plant with you.

How to Divide Peonies

It is ideal to leave tree peony alone (undivided) so they can flourish for many generations in the garden. If the clumps have become too large or the flowering has slowed, herbaceous peonies can be divided. Herbaceous peonies can be divided by digging up the entire clump and rinsing it off to reveal the plant’s numerous roots and eyes (or buds). Leave as least one large root and three to four eyes per clump after cutting the plant apart with clean, sharp pruners. Replant, adhering to the bare root peony planting directions above. The plants might or might not flower the first year after dividing, so keep that in mind.

How to Cut Peonies for Bouquets

Timing is crucial. Buds should feel roughly as firm as a soft marshmallow when squeezed, which is known as the “soft marshmallow stage.” Examining the bud’s coloring is another method for determining when to cut. The majority of the bud’s exterior should remain green, but you should be able to make out approximately half an inch of the flower’s vibrant petals. Although cutting the flowers at this stage lessens the possibility of bringing ants inside with them, it is still advisable to inspect the flowers before bringing them inside. Plants should open up when stems are placed in a vase of water. For longer-lasting blooms, change the water every few days and add Miracle-Gro for Fresh Cut Flowers (vs. water only).

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