The perfect guide to growing Peonies

Who doesn’t love peonies? Their flowers, whether single or double, are breathtaking and among the largest you can grow in your perennial garden. Flowers are often fragrant and range in colour from purple red to white or yellow. Yes, peonies are perennials, meaning they die back in fall to grow back in spring year after year. They are native to Asia, Europe and Western North America and are hardy to Zone 3, however they grow well as far south as Zones 7 and 8.  Peonies are among the most popular garden plants in temperate regions. Herbaceous peonies are also sold as cut flowers on a large scale, although generally only available in late spring and early summer when they flower.

To be successful in growing peonies the rules are simple: full sun and well-drained soil. Peonies even like cold winters, as they need chilling for bud formation. They are very versatile and can be used lining a walkway, as a low hedge, in a mixed border, as mass planting or in containers.

When to plant

Peonies are great for the low maintenance garden as they require little upkeep. The main key is they have to be planted properly and establish themselves; they do not respond well to transplanting. The best time to plant peonies is in the fall: in late September and October, and even later in warmer climates.  A general rule of thumb is that they have to be settled in place six weeks before the ground freezes. If you must move an established plant, fall is also the time. Of course it is possible to plant peonies in spring, however they generally lag about a year behind those planted in the fall.

How to plant

Grow peonies in deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soil that drains well and has a neutral pH. They are not fussy, but choose your location wisely, as they resent disturbance. Provide shelter from strong winds. Plant them away from trees or shrubs as peonies do not like to compete for food and moisture.

Peonies like full sun, and though they can manage with half a day, they bloom best in a sunny spot.

They will benefit from the addition of organic material in the planting hole. If the soil is heavy or very sandy, enrich it with extra compost. Incorporate about one cup of bonemeal into the soil. When planting a container-grown peony, cover it no deeper than it grew in the pot. When planting a bare root tubers put them with the eyes (buds) upward in a hole and cover with 5cm (2”) of soil. Water thoroughly after planting.


Young peonies take time to develop. It typically takes a few years to establish themselves, bloom, and grow. Peonies thrive on benign neglect and unlike many other perennials, they don’t need to be dug and divided. When you work the soil well before you plant, mixing in compost and a little fertilizer will be enough so you don’t have to fertilize anymore after that. Only if your soil is poor, you can fertilize (bonemeal, compost, or well-rotted manure) early summer, after the peonies have bloomed. This only needs to be done every few years. The gigantic flowers can become be too heavy for the stems and may fall down. Peony rings or tomato cages can be used as support; the best time to support in place is in early spring when you see the leaves starting to emerge.

Gardeners often wonder why so many ants crawl on the peony buds. Don’t worry! They are just eating the peony’s nectar in exchange for attacking bud-eating pests. They are attracted to the sugary droplets on the outside of flower buds or to the honeydew produced by scale insects. Never spray the ants; they are helping you by keeping your peonies safe! Luckily, peonies are also one of many deer-resistant plants you can grow in your garden.

Happy Gardening!


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Guest post by Floortje - Bylands Inventory Coordinator & Social Media Communications

I am originally from the Netherlands, where I worked for a municipal parks department and the promotion organization for the Dutch Nursery Stock Industry. My husband and I are still in the process of building our garden as we didn’t like all the plant decisions the previous owners made. Besides gardening there are a number of renovations going on in our house. Not to forget our dog and three cats, who keep us more than busy!