Planting Peonies

Dig into the basics and learn how to plant peonies, including timing tips on when to tuck these beauties into beds.
By: Julie A Martens

Botanical Names: herbaceous peony (Paeonia lactiflora), tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)

Got questions about planting peonies? Learn how to plant a peony from start to finish. These easy-growing perennials aren’t demanding to grow—and they’re equally simple to plant. Learn the basics about planting peony tubers by answering the key questions of when, where and how to plant peonies.

Because peonies live for decades, it’s important to choose the right planting spot. As you ponder where to plant peonies, ask yourself a few questions. First, do peonies need full sun? In most climates, the answer is yes. The exceptions occur in hottest areas, like the Desert Southwest,Southern California, Texas and the Deep South. In these regions, peonies grow best with morning sun and afternoon shade. Next, is it okay to plant peonies near young trees? Again, the answer is yes, but make sure you plant peonies outside the area that will be shaded by the tree as it matures.

Knowing when to plant peonies is really as simple as knowing when the plants are dormant. The ideal time for planting peonies is when they’re not actively growing—when leaves have died back in fall. This is also the time of year when most commercial peony growers offer bare root tubers for sale. Dormant planting is true for both herbaceous (Paeonia lactiflora) and tree (Paeonia suffruticosa) peonies.

Occasionally you’ll see peonies for sale in spring at nurseries and garden centers. When you get these plants home, it’s okay to tuck them into planting beds. Be sure to keep peonies watered through the summer months. Many professional peony growers, however, recommend leaving potted peonies in their containers all summer and then planting peonies after leaves die back and plants are dormant.

Prepare the planting area for peonies with extra care. Because these perennials are long-lived, you need to invest effort into amending soil. Many peony planting experts recommend digging a hole that’s at least 12 inches wide and deep. Deeper is even better. Add ample amounts (a few shovels) of organic matter to planting holes. Use materials like compost, composted manure or other locally available materials. Organic matter helps create well-drained soil, which peonies prefer, and also provides a nutrient boost.

Space peonies anywhere from two to four feet apart. Wider spacing allows plants to form large clumps that are almost shrub-like. Closer spacing works well when you’re planting a hedge of peonies or incorporating them into beds with other perennials. The trickiest part of how to plant peonies is not burying tubers too deeply.

Peony tubers, sometimes called peony bulbs by gardeners, have growing points or eyes. Usually the eyes are whitish or light pink in color. Bury the eyes too deeply, and your peonies may never bloom. In coldest regions, proper peony planting places eyes about 2 inches below the soil surface. In warmer zones, peony eyes should be 1 inch below the soil surface. In coldest zones, mulch newly planted peonies for their first winter. Established plants don’t need winter mulch.

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