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April 19, 2021

Peony Care Guide: How to Care for Peonies and Growing Tips

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Start off the spring season with a new addition to your garden! Peonies are the perfect spring flower to brighten up any outdoor space and are also great to mix into your floral bouquets. These flowers are beautiful in bloom from spring to summer — featuring lush foliage all summer long.

Below you’ll learn proper peony care, including sun, water, temperature and other care needs so you can begin nurturing your peonies. We’ve also included different types of peonies, some frequently asked care questions and a bonus section on peony bouquet care.

Peony Overview

peony care guide

Peonies are well-known perennial flowers native to Asia, Western North America and Europe. These imperial flowers have also been reported to have dated back to 1000 BC in the gardens of China and by the eighth century, they had reached Japan who are major producers of the peony. In Europe, the history of peonies are a part of ancient Greek mythology and are highly regarded for their medicinal properties. They are also Indiana’s state flower!

Peonies feature vibrant and large fragrant flowers in a wide range of colors, forms and sizes — they can even bloom for 100 years or more if properly cared for. These low-maintenance flowers thrive in sunny conditions and from late spring through early summer and will bloom for up to 10 days.  However, depending on your location and the variety of peony you’re growing, the conditions may vary. Generally, peonies can thrive between zones 2 and 8.

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Types of Peonies

There are many different types and varieties of this popular spring flower. Peonies belong to the genus of plants named Paeonia and they are in the Paeoniaceae family of flowering shrubs. The three types within this family include Itoh, herbaceous and tree peonies — herbaceous being the most common bloom during spring and early summer.

  • Herbaceous: As the most common variety, herbaceous peonies thrive in zones 3-8 and feature a bushy shrub that grows to about three feet tall. This variety also has broad, glossy leaves that turn bronze in the fall.

  • Tree: Tree peonies tend to bloom before the herbaceous variety (around April) in zones 4-9. They are also more fragrant than the herbaceous variety and grow between three and seven feet.

  • Itoh: This variety is created by crossing an herbaceous peony with a tree peony — they thrive in zones 4-9 and bloom around late Spring. Generally, Itoh peonies are showier and produce 50 plus flowers on thick stems which do not require support due to their short nature.

Although there are many different varieties and types of peonies, here are a few below that could make a beautiful addition to your home or garden.

Bowl of Beauty Peonies

Bowl of Beauty peonies are a Chinese herbaceous variety of peony that’s identified by its vibrant pink blooms and clusters of white petals in its center. The blooms can grow up to eight inches in diameter and add a stunning pop of color to any garden or floral arrangement.

bowl of beauty peony
  • Blooms around: Mid-spring

First Arrival Peonies

first arrival peonies

First Arrival peonies are an Itoh peony and feature ruffled pink-lavender flower petals. The petals become a darker red and surround a bright yellow center supported by a strong and sturdy stem. This type of peony also features a fresh rose scent.

  • Blooms around: Early spring

Rock’s Peonies

rocks peonies

Rock’s Peony is one of the most popular examples of the tree peony variety. This type features a large flowering shrub that produces fluffy blossoms of white petals. These paper-like petals form a saucer shape that cups a yellow center with black or dark purple markings. These are also one of the most fragrant peonies, so they’re perfect for livening up a spring garden!

  • Blooms around: Early spring

Coral Charm Peonies

coral charm peonies

Another member of the herbaceous variety is the Coral Charm peony. These pink flowers are one of the earlier bloomers and have striking coral colors that fades into a soft white towards the center. The center of a Coral Charm peony usually features golden-yellow stamens.

  • Blooms around: Late spring

Bartzella Peonies

bartzella peonies

Bartzella peonies are an Itoh variety of peony that produces stunning golden yellow petals in the spring. These flowers have a large, ruffled look and can grow up to eight inches wide. Additionally, these white peonies have a contrasting scarlet center, making them a striking addition to your garden.

  • Blooms around: Late spring

Fernleaf Peonies

fernleaf peonies

Fernleaf peonies are a more unique type of peony in the herbaceous variety. These blooms are characterized by their silver and green foliage and small, bright red flowers with a fuzzy yellow center. Unlike other peonies, this type has needle-like leaves rather than broad and dense leaves.

  • Blooms around: Late spring or early summer

How to Care for Peonies

Peonies are a simple plant to grow and require minimal maintenance. Here are some plant care tips and tricks to help keep your peony plant at its healthiest.

Sunlight

Peonies do well in full sun — around six to eight hours each day. Since peonies with large blooms can become top-heavy, ensure they’re sheltered from strong winds to prevent breakage.

Water

For proper peony care, water your peonies as new growth emerges in the spring if there is no rainfall for longer than two weeks. Irrigate lightly twice a week, providing enough to moisten the top four to six inches of soil but too much that results in standing water. Provide about one inch of water weekly when there is no rain so the top 6 inches of soil remain evenly moist.

Temperature

Peonies do well when they receive a good chill in the winter before spring arrives. Generally, peony plants need around three weeks of nighttime cold (around 32°F) or lower to bloom. To achieve this, peonies are best planted in the fall, six weeks before the ground freezes.

Toxicity

The roots, seeds and flowers of peonies are toxic. If ingested, peonies can cause diarrhea, tremors, accelerated heart rate, skin irritation and nausea. These symptoms can also occur in animals if consumed, so keep these plants away from your furry friends.

Pests & Problems

Peonies are targeted by a pest called Thrips in the spring as flower buds begin to form and new leaves start to mature. These insects will suck the liquid of the plant cells located in the leaves and buds of the peony, resulting in shriveled and discolored foliage. To avoid thrips, simply spray infested plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Similar pests that also affect the peony plant include mealybugs, bulb mites and Hoplia beetles.

Common Problems

Peonies can occasionally suffer from some disease problems. One of the most common diseases is botrytis blight, also known as gray mold. This problem is most common in the damp and rainy seasons and can cause the plant to become covered in soft and brown masses of fungal spores.

If this infects your peony plant, immediately remove the plant or prune back the affected area. To prevent further spread of the disease, wash your garden clippers after treating the infected plant.

Repotting

The best time to repot your peony plant is between October and March when the plant is dormant. While repotting, be sure to dig away from the roots and let them dry out before repotting — this allows a callus on the root to form that helps prevent rotting.

Create holes big enough so peony roots easily fit. Plant the roots two inches below the soil surface in cold regions and one inch in warm zones.

Propagation

Peonies can be propagated by division during the autumn season. Cut the faded foliage back and lift the plant with a garden fork. Remove as much of the garden soil as possible and with a knife cut off sections of the crown. Each section should have at least three buds and plenty of roots. Replant straight away in the garden or planter.

Peony FAQ’s

peonies in a garden

Although peonies are a simple plant to grow and maintain, you may still have some questions that come up throughout the plant’s life cycle. Below are a few commonly asked questions when it comes to planting and peony care.

How come my peonies don’t bloom?

Oftentimes, planting your peonies too deeply in the soil can prevent them from blooming. Ensure the buds of the plant are located no more than a few inches below the soil (two inches max).

Additionally, if you’ve recently transplanted your peony, it will take a few years to bloom while it works on establishing a new roots system. Over-fertilization of your peony plant can also hinder bloom growth.

When should peonies be cut back?

Once your peony plant begins to brown or yellow in the fall season, it’s time to cut it back. Cutting your peonies in autumn or after the first frost is ideal for removing any diseases that are present on the plant and reduces the chances of infection for the following year.

Why are my peonies bending?

Many peonies, especially peonies in the bomb variety become very top-heavy and can cause the stems to bend — this can also happen after a period of rain. To prevent bending and breakage, place a plant support next to your peony bush and tie the stem to the support. Be sure to set up the plant support early in the growth cycle before it becomes too large.

When can a divide or transplant a peony?

The best time to move or divide a peony is from late August through September. Doing it during these months allows the peony plant to establish its root system before winter. After peonies have been established, they don’t require regular division as other perennial plants do since they can thrive in the same location for decades.

Why are ants on my peonies?

If there are ants on your peonies, they’re most likely there for the sticky and sweet nectar from the peony buds. If you plan to cut and bring them indoors to make a bouquet, just shake ants off or rinse blossoms under cool water.

Peony Bouquet Care Tips

peony bouquet care tips

Not only do peonies make a beautiful addition to your spring garden, but they also make a wonderful bouquet! Whether you’re using your peonies as fresh decor for your space or saving them for a later date, learn how to make a bouquet of peonies with these simple tips so your peonies can bloom and flourish.

  1. 1. Cut peonies when they’re in the bud and before they start to open. You’ll know they’re good to open when the flower buds are showing color and are soft in the center.

  2. Once cut, remove extra stems and foliage. Then, place immediately into vases of water. If you need to save your peonies for an event at a later date, place the bouquet in the refrigerator.

  3. If you plan to store your peonies in the refrigerator, the leafless stems should be wrapped tightly in clear plastic or moist paper towel to keep them hydrated until the day of your event. With proper peony care and storage, they can stay fresh for several weeks.

To prep for your event, remove the peonies from the refrigerator, recut the stems, and place them in a vase of water to open up the petals.

Whether you’re using your peony as a houseplant or as a beautiful spring addition to your garden, this peony care guide will ensure it thrives for years to come — not to mention, it will make for the perfect bouquet or floral gift!

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