How to Grow Peonies in Your Garden for Absolutely Stunning Blooms

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When it comes to fresh cut flowers, peonies are always a top pick. After all, they’ve been cultivated for centuries for their exquisite beauty and powerful fragrance. But they’re even better making a statement in your garden, as their magnificent blooms appear in late spring and last for weeks, and the plant itself can live for decades. (Which also makes them a great investment if you’re just starting or expanding your perennial beds.)

Peonies grow best in USDA Hardiness zones 3 to 8 (find your zone here) and require a cold period below 40 degrees for at least six weeks, so they won’t grow in hot climates. If you plant several different types, you can enjoy flowers from May through June. They also make lovely cut bouquets to enjoy indoors, where the flowers will last about 5 to 7 days.

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Here’s everything else you need to know about how to grow peonies in your garden:

What Kind of Peonies Should I Grow?

Read the tag or plant description so you know what you’re buying. There are three main types:

  • Herbaceous, which die back to the ground in winter, though their foliage remains green all summer
  • Tree, or woody, peonies are taller and more shrub-like, and they don’t die back to the ground in winter
  • Itoh, or intersectional, peonies, which are a hybrid of the first two types; they have short woody stems but also die back to the ground in winter

How Do I Plant Peonies?

You’ll find peonies as bare roots (with no soil attached) or in pots. Find a spot in full sun, which is considered six or more hours of direct sunlight per day. If you give them shade, they won’t produce flowers, though the plants don’t mind some afternoon shade in warmer regions.

They also need plenty of room to spread and don’t like being crowded by other plants or trees because they don’t compete well for moisture and nutrients. Make sure the spot has well-draining soil, too, because their roots shouldn’t stay soggy.

For bare roots, which are best planted in the fall, plant the tuber about an inch or two below ground. Planting too deeply will cause the plant not to flower—a common mistake. Plant potted peonies in a hole about twice as wide as the pot and at the same depth in ground as it is in the pot. Get them in the ground as soon as you buy them. Top with a slow-release granular fertilizer after planting. Water well and during dry spells.

FYI: You may get flowers the first year you plant, if you’re lucky. But peonies sometimes take a few seasons to get established enough to bloom. Be patient! They’re worth the wait.

Do Ants Hurt Peonies?

You may notice a lot of ants crawling around on your peonies as they begin to bloom—no worries! They’re just visiting to collect nectar from the buds, and by the way, the flowers don’t need the ants in order to bloom. That’s a gardening myth. Just shake or rinse the cut flowers if you plant to bring them indoors.

When Can I Cut Peonies for the Vase?

Cut peonies before the blooms are fully opened, when the round buds feel soft and sort of mushy (but not too mushy), known appropriately as the “marshmallow stage.” Even a single bloom is striking in a vase, so snip one for your nightstand or end table to enjoy its beauty up close. You also can deadhead faded blooms to keep the plant looking neater overall.

How Do I Divide Peonies?

Herbaceous peonies don’t need to be divided very often, unless they’re getting crowded by other plants or you want to make more plants. But you can divide these perennials fairly easily. In the mid-fall, cut around the plant with a garden spade and lift up a clump of plant with a garden fork. Use a sharp garden knife to divide the roots into sections so you have three to five eyes, which look like little pink nubs on each root. Replant in a new location. You also can chunk a piece off the edge of the plant, too. Be patient with your transplants because they also may take a few years to bloom.

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About the Author:

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce, and many other national publications.

She also trials new plant cultivars and field tests garden products to evaluate practicality and durability.

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Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...