Caring for Peonies

Discover what you need to know about caring for peonies, including tips on fertilizing these pretty perennials.
By: Julie A Martens

Dig into simple tricks and techniques for growing beautiful peonies. Caring for peonies starts with choosing the right planting spot and making sure soil is exceptionally healthy. Once you take care of that, maintaining healthy plants depends on the basics: watering and fertilizing peonies. Less frequent chores, like deadheading peonies after flowering and cutting back peonies in fall are not demanding tasks but play a key role in keeping this perennial productive.

Make the most of your peonies by planting them in a sunny, well-drained spot. Peonies flower best when they receive at least six hours of sun each day. In hottest regions, morning sun is ideal. Plants perform best when you protect them from sizzling afternoon sun. One part of caring for peonies is making sure you avoid planting them too close to trees or shrubs that could shade them or steal nutrients from soil. Both of these situations can later be responsible for peonies not blooming.

Follow recommended spacing when planting peonies. If you plant these long-lived perennials too closely, you rise experiencing peony problems later on. Many peony diseases are fungal in nature, and symptoms often develop when plants are located too close to one another so that airflow around and between plants is limited.

Prepare the soil in planting beds by digging deeply—12 to 24 inches—and mixing in plenty of compost and other organic matter. Compost helps to nourish peonies and creates the type of footing they need to thrive for many years. Compost won’t replace peony fertilizer forever, but it will give plants a solid start and a soil that drains well, which is an important part of caring for peonies.

If you add ample compost to planting holes, you likely won’t need to tackle fertilizing peonies for a few years. How soon you’ll need to feed your beauties depends on what kind of soil you have. Looser, sandy soils release nutrients faster than heavier soils with some clay in them. In any case, you want to avoid applying too much fertilizer for peonies because over-fertilizationcan reduce flowering and lead to plants that die prematurely.

The right time of year for fertilizing peonies is after flowering, when you have removed all spent blooms from plants. The right place for applying peony fertilizer is roughly 6 to 18 inches from where the stems originate from soil—that spot is known as the crown of the plant. There aren’t feeder roots in this area. Instead, the roots extend into that 6- to 18-inch-wide zone around the plant. Choose a standard slow-release fertilizer for landscape plants or bonemeal.

As far as watering goes, spring rains usually provide sufficient water for established peonies. If several weeks pass without rain, be sure to water plants. If a drought continues, water roughly every other week. Follow that same schedule during summer, if regular rains don’t occur. Peonies form their new eyes for the next season during summer, so it’s important for plants tostay hydrated to ensure a strong show next year.

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