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Peony Care: How to Plant and Grow Peonies (Herbaceous Peonies)

We ship healthy, freshly dug, 2-year-old, bed-grown herbaceous Peony roots with 3-5 eyes, during the proper planting time for your USDA zone. Eye count will vary depending on each variety's growth characteristics, but there will be ample eyes and root development present to allow your plants to establish themselves nicely in your garden. They may bloom the first year. We ship our bare root Peony plants from early September through November, weather permitting.

Hardiness Zones for Peonies
Herbaceous Peonies do best in USDA Zones 2-8. They require between 500 and 1000 winter chilling hours (between 32°-40°F) to flower.

If you live in a warmer climate and would like to grow Peonies, here are a few suggestions we've learned from our Southern gardeners:
Choose earlier-blooming types that blossom before the heat of summer. Single and semi-double forms fare better than the double or bomb types. Plant Peony roots no deeper than 1" below the soil surface, watering only as needed. Peonies will begin to die back in August in preparation for a period of needed dormancy. Remove foliage from garden area to avoid disease problems. Proven Peony varieties to grow in warmer climates include 'Do Tell', 'Coral Charm', 'Abalone Pearl', and 'Miss America'. (See below for more specific tips for growing Peonies in the South.)

When Your Peonies Arrive
Inspect roots carefully when you receive them. If they appear dry, soak in water for 6 hours. If they cannot be planted soon, repack them in the packing material and wet thoroughly, leaving in a dark, cool place. They will keep for a week or two without damage. If they are to be kept longer, dig a trench and temporarily heel them in.

Ideal Conditions to Grow Peonies
Select a sunny, well-drained location with good, friable, well-drained, well-tilled soil. Peonies are tolerant of a wide range of pH levels, but a slightly acidic to near neutral soil (pH 6.0-7.0) is recommended. Cultivate and mix compost 1" deep before planting. Do not plant too close to trees, as the tree roots will compete for food and moisture.

Spacing for Peony Plants
In a bed or border, allow 3-4' for each plant.

How to Plant Peonies
Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Plant Peonies with the eyes 2" below the soil surface in colder zones and shallower in warm zones (see notes for specific regions below) with the eyes facing upwards. Fill the hole with soil, tamp lightly, and water thoroughly. For the first winter, apply a 3 to 4 inch layer of loose mulch. This is especially important in the North or with late-season planting. Pull mulch back in the spring, away from new shoots. Once Peonies are established, winter mulch is not needed. The ideal transplant time is anytime during the fall when the ground is not frozen.

How to Transplant and Divide Peonies
Although Peonies are often happy in the same spot for 50 or more years, and prefer to be left undisturbed, sometimes the surrounding plants mature and create too much shade, or the garden is being changed or renovated, or the gardener would like to divide a plant to share with a friend. Peonies are resilient plants and can be moved any time in the fall before the ground freezes.

Start by trimming back the stems to about 8" (this makes them easier to handle during moving, after you replant them, trim them to about 2"). With a sharp spade, carefully dig a perimeter around the Peony approximately 8-12" out from the stems and approximately 12-15" deep depending on the root system. Undercut the clump of roots to free it from the hole, trying to keep as much of the root system as intact as possible. Lift or roll out of the hole, trim off any damaged or extra long roots, and carefully pull some soil away from the clump to make it easier to handle.

At this point, if you are transplanting the Peony, move it to the desired location and plant at the same level that it had been growing; you will be able to see the previous soil line on the stems. Water to settle the soil and apply 3-4" layer of mulch.

If you would like to divide the Peony, pull as much soil away as possible from the root ball, then use a hose to spray the remaining soil off of the roots. When they are fairly clean, look them over to find the best places to make the cuts, plan to leave at least 3-5 "eyes" (the pointy buds that are found along the roots) plus approximately 3-5 carrot-sized roots with each section. Make the cuts carefully with a sharp, clean knife or garden pruners. Cut away any damaged looking roots, leaving only firm healthy roots. If there are some very long root sections, they can be trimmed back to about 6-12" for ease of handling. Once you have the sections cut apart, plant them the same as a newly purchased Peony root (see "How to Plant Peonies" directions above).

Growing Peonies in the South Tips for specific southern regions:

California: Abundant moisture is a necessity, meaning thorough soakings every few days. Partial shade may be preferred and success will be better at higher altitudes.

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona: Water thoroughly twice weekly. From September 1st through October 15th, withhold all water to induce dormancy. Cut off all foliage in the beginning of September. Success will be limited to the northern parts and higher elevations of these states. Again, partial shade may be helpful and success will be more likely at higher altitudes.

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana: Adequate moisture is imperative. Eyes should not be planted more than 1" below soil surface. Peonies will not succeed south of Birmingham, AL.

Fertilizing Peonies
Peonies should not be over-fertilized. Bone meal is a good fertilizer, but any complete garden fertilizer not too rich in nitrogen is ideal. Best time to fertilize is early summer, after Peonies have bloomed and been deadheaded. They will be developing new eyes for the next season at this time. Once every several years an application of a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer is adequate. Too much fertilizer can be detrimental to a Peony. Overall, Peonies thrive with little attention paid to them.

Peony Bloom Times
Peonies bloom mid-May through mid-June in our southern Wisconsin climate, which is in zone 5a. Depending on your zone, they will bloom within a few weeks of this in spring.

Results to Expect
The first spring after planting, a 2-year-old, bedded Peony root will make one or more stems 6" or more high. Do not be discouraged if the growth is slow and only a few stems appear. It may bloom and it may not. There is nothing to worry about if it does not. First year blooms are often not typical of the variety, not nearly as full and beautiful as they will become within a few years of growth. The second year the number of stems usually doubles, the growth is taller, and the blooms are nearer normal. The third year also doubles that of the second, and the plant should produce blooms that are normal in every way. After the third year, the increase is slower and after the 8th or 10th year, they may be at their full size. Peonies are extremely long-lived plants. Some plants have reached 100 years old and are still growing strongly!

Pests and Disease
Peonies are tough, strong-growing perennial plants that exhibit excellent disease resistance. Occasionally, during cold, wet springs, random infections of the fungus Botrytis Blight can occur on isolated stems, buds and occasionally roots. Such infections are easily treated and should not be detrimental to a plant's future health and success.

Good culture and hygiene are very helpful for preventing Botrytis infections. Strong-growing, healthy plants are seldom infected. Good air circulation around plants reduces surface moisture which aids germination of fungal spores on plant tissues. Watering should be done early in the day, avoid wetting the leaves. In the fall, cut back stems and foliage and remove from the garden; do not compost. In spring, watch carefully for isolated infections, usually seen as suddenly wilted stems. Immediately remove these stems; cut them well below the infected area and put them the trash. Fungicide sprays can reduce subsequent infections. We suggest you consult a reputable local garden center or your local County Extension agent for the most recent recommended fungicide treatments.

If you are not seeing Peony blooms after a few years, here are the possible causes:

  • Planted too close to trees and shrubs. We recommend planting 3-4' from another Peony or plant. Need more nourishment, replant away from trees in the fall, when dormant.

  • Not enough sunlight. We recommend 5-6 hours of full sun (morning or afternoon). Replant in a sunnier location in the fall.

  • Ground too wet. Make sure that there is good natural drainage.

  • Ground too dry. Water to the bottom of roots.

  • Older plants do not appear as happy as they once did. Soil may need to be enriched with compost or other improvements. Sometimes over the years neighboring trees and shrubs grow and crowd Peonies. These Peonies may be need to transplanted and divided to help reestablish their vitality. Best time to transplant is in the fall, when dormant (see above for more information on transplanting).

  • Planted too deep. Replant with eyes 1 to 1-1/2" below soil surface in southern regions and 2" below soil surface in northern regions.

  • Plants are too young and immature. Let them develop.

  • Excessively hot weather or late frost damage to buds. No remedy, until next year!

  • Buds damaged by disease or thrips. Spray if needed. Consult local garden store for the latest chemical recommendations.

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