The Complete Guide to Peonies

Peonies are lush, colorful perennials that are popular in many gardens, and it’s no secret why – these beautiful flowers bloom every year to provide stunning decoration to any garden, yard, or house, and when they’re not blooming, they look as dignified as any other neat shrub. Are you ready to get your hands on some of your own?

What do you need to know about Peonies? 

  • Peonies come in several colors and varieties, like red, pink and white;
  • Peonies grow best in zones 2-8 (zone 2 is one of the coldest zones and zone 8 is one of the warmer zones);
  • Peonies need 6-8 hours of sunlight per day except in the South;
  • Peonies should be planted in the early fall, and late fall if in the South;
  • Peonies bloom in April through June;
  • Peonies can last 7-10 days in a vase after being cut.

If you’ve been caught by the peony bug (and we totally understand why), then this guide is for you. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about peonies – from choosing them, to planting them, to taking care of them, to cutting them – so you can enjoy everything they have to offer.

Choosing and Planting Peonies

Before you jump right in and begin planting and caring for your peonies, you’ll need to choose which ones you’d like.

In order to choose which peonies you think will be best for you and your garden and home, it’s helpful to know a bit more about peonies, like the different varieties, colors and smells they embody.

Peony Varieties and Types

One of the amazing aspects of peonies is just how many varieties and types there are. Most nurseries will sell peonies that are early, midseason, and late-blooming varieties. This simply means that you can choose a variety of peony that blooms earlier or later than others.

There are six flower types of peony you can choose from so that when your peonies finally do bloom either in the early season, mid-season, or late season, you can actually choose the type of flower you want to see.  

The six flower types of peonies include:

Flower Type Description
Single Peonies One or more rows of large petals that surround the center of a stamen, which bears pollen.
Japanese Peonies The stamen has transformed to look like small, thin petals, surrounded by rows of large, wide petals; the stamen is usually not pollen-bearing.
Anemone Peonies Somewhat resembles the Japanese peonies, but there are no anthers of any kind.
Semi-Double PeoniesMore than one row of petals which come from the crown of the flower; the crown of the flower stays exposed, and pollen-bearing anthers are visible.
Double Peonies Multiple rows of petals which come from the crown of the flower; the crown of the flower is covered by petals
Bomb Double Peonies Made of a substantial amount of petals with no pollen visible; take on a smooth, ball shape

If you want to know more about the type of Peonies, check out this website.

Peony Colors

Not only do peonies come in a large variety of types, but they also come in a large variety of colors. Let’s take a look at some of the different peony varieties by name, color, and some of the other traits they have.

Name Color Bloom Season Flower Type
Early Scout Red Very early bloom Single
Karl Rosenfield Crimson Midseason Double
Elsa Sass Pure White Late-season Double
Firelight Pale Pink Very early bloom Single
Norma Volz White Midseason Double
Bartzella Yellow Late midseason Semi-double to double
Coral Charm Coral-Pink Early Semi-double
Prairie Moon Soft Ivory-Yellow Early Single to semi-double

If you want to see some of these colors, look here.

Do Peonies Change Color?

Many people have been told that peonies change color, and peony owners or soon-to-be peony owners often wonder if that’s true. So, do peonies change color?

According to HGTV, peonies can and do change color, but it’s probably not in the way you may think.

Peonies don’t change in bloom color, meaning, for example.  If you’ve planted crimson peonies, they won’t mysteriously turn pink or white one day. When peonies seed, their seedlings will often grow and bloom a different color. So, it can be confusing to distinguish which peonies are the (original) parent plant and which peonies are the new seedlings.

Peonies themselves won’t change color, but the seedlings they produce may be a different color than their parent plant(s).

Planting Peonies

With all the different choices and varieties of peonies, it can be difficult to choose just which one (or ones) you want to plant. When you’ve finally made the decision, you’re ready for the next step: planting.

Quite a bit goes into planting just about any flower or plant, and peonies are no exception. However, once you know where peonies grow best, how deep the soil should be, what soil to plant them in, and how far apart to space them, planting your peonies will be a breeze!

Choosing a Location: Where Peonies Grow Best

You read briefly in our introduction that peonies grow best in zones 2-8. These zones, of which there are 11, are parts of the country that have been broken up into and rated for plant “hardiness.”

Each zone is 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer (or colder) than the next, and help show where plants grow the best. The USDA has created a Plant Hardiness Zone Map that showcases all 11 zones, so gardeners can tell what plants will thrive in their area or “zone.”

The National Gardening Association has a copy of the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, in which all the zones can be seen. Zones are divided by colors ranging from periwinkle to deep red.

Zones 2-8 are, respectively, most of the continental United States – with the exception of the far west coast, the far southern parts of Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida – meaning peonies can grow in most of the United States (even Alaska!).

Further, peonies grow best in sunny areas in soil that haven’t been recently disturbed. It’s preferable for peonies to be grown in an area in which they are protected from strong winds if possible.

Peonies should also be planted in an area that’s situated away from trees or shrubs because they grow much more and much better if they don’t have to compete with other plants. 

What Season to Plant Peonies

Peonies should be planted in the fall, specifically late September to early or mid-October.

However, for those that live in the South (most specifically Zone 8), peonies need to be planted even later in the year. Those in the South may need to plant their peonies in early to mid-November.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, peonies should be in place and settled about six weeks before the ground freezes.

Also, don’t worry about the ground freezing, because when it comes to peonies, it’s not a bad thing (at all!). Peonies actually need to freeze for about a month to ensure they bloom the following season.

How Much Sun Peonies Need

Peonies, like a lot of plants (and some humans), love the sun. Peonies should be in full sun if possible, ideally in an area that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day.

However, if you’re in an area in the South or in an area that’s far west (both Zone 8) that’s very warm, peonies should be planted in an area that gets some afternoon shade if possible. This helps the flowers last longer on the plant when in bloom.

Soil and Space for Planting Peonies

It’s also important to know about the soil for planting peonies, like how deep the soil should be, the soil you should use, and how deep to plant your peonies.

How Deep Soil Should Be

The soil should be fairly deep for planting peonies – at least 2 feet deep. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends digging a hole to plant your peonies in that is at least 2 feet deep and 2 feet across.

Make note that it doesn’t mean your peonies should be planted 2 feet deep because they definitely shouldn’t be. More on that later on.

Soil Type for Peonies

Peonies thrive in well-draining soil and thrive even more in soil that’s rich in organic matter. If the soil in the area you plan to plant your peonies in is heavy (not well-draining) or sandy, you can use extra compost to enrich it.

How Deep to Plant Peonies

When it comes to planting peonies, roots should be buried about 2 inches deep. It’s recommended to plant the roots with the eyes (the buds at the top of the roots) pointing upward, then cover the roots with one to two inches of soil.

If in the South, peony roots should only be covered with one inch of soil, and no more. If the eyes of the peonies are set deeper than is recommended, the peonies may not bloom!

It’s essential not to plant peonies too deep to ensure they bloom.

If you’re planting container-grown peonies, they should be planted no deeper than they were planted in the container.

How Far to Space Apart Peonies

Another aspect of planting peonies is just how far apart to space them. Peonies should be spaced at least 3 to 4 feet apart to give them ample air circulation and room to grow.

You can also prop up your peonies with a peony hoop after they’ve been spaced out. Peony hoops are a tool much like a tomato cage; they help support top-heavy peonies so that they stay upright and don’t flop over.

Cutting and Preserving Peonies Once They’ve Bloomed

Once the leg work is done and the peonies have been chosen and planted, you can move on to taking care of your peonies and ultimately harvesting and cutting them to enjoy their look and scent wherever you please.

But first, there are a few key things to know, like when peonies bloom, how long peonies last after they’re cut, and how to properly cut peonies once they’ve bloomed.

When Peonies Bloom

It can be tough waiting in anticipation for your peonies to bloom, but it’ll pay off when they do!

Peonies begin blooming in April and bloom throughout May and June. Gardeners who want to enjoy continuous peony blooms throughout the season can plant a variety of early, mid and late-season blooming peonies.

Additionally, blooming times for peonies can be different depending on the climate and area they’re grown in. For example, peonies grown in areas like California or Northern Florida tend to bloom much sooner than peonies that are grown in areas like Ohio or Illinois.

Blooming periods can fluctuate, too. Blooming periods last longer in climates with colder weather while blooming periods in climates with warmer weather will be brief and profuse.

It’s also important to note that peonies may have few or no flowers (blooms) in the first year after they’re planted. Peonies can take a year or two to settle in and produce heavy, prominent blooms. So, if your peonies don’t bloom much during their first season, that’s normal!

What If Peony Leaves Turn Brown?

Peony owners have often noticed that the leaves on their peonies have turned brown or developed brown splotches. Why is that? What can be done to prevent and treat it?

Unfortunately, peonies with brown leaves or leaves with brown splotches could be experiencing some issues like:

  • Care problems – exposure to very high temperatures and periods with insufficient water
  • Overfertilization
  • Leaf Blotch – blotchy patches on peony leaves as a result of the fungus Cladosporium Paeonia
  • Peony Wilt – a disease caused by the fungus Botrytis Paeonia
  • Phytophthora Blight – a disease caused by the fungus Phytophthora cactorum

The best prevention and management of many of these issues is to ensure your peonies receive an ample amount of water and have shade from high temperatures during the day if they need it.

Additionally, any infected parts of the peony should be removed and burned as quickly as possible to avoid spreading or worsening of the conditions. If an entire peony is affected by a fungus or disease, the entire plant should be removed and burned so as not to affect the other peonies.

Adequate air circulation and fast-draining soil can also help prevent any issues and diseases with peonies. 

Ants: What They Have to Do With Peonies Blooming

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, ants have something to do with peonies blooming? How? Aren’t insects harmful to most plants?”

On the contrary. You might just need ants to help make your peonies thrive and bloom.

As much as we dislike having ants in our homes and other places, ants are a great friend to peonies. They eat the peonies’ nectar, and in exchange, attack other pests that may eat the buds of the peonies.

Ants help keep peonies safe and help ensure that they can bloom fully and properly.

How Long Peonies Last After Being Cut

Peonies can last quite a long time after being cut – 7 to 10 days, to be exact!

For best results, and for the longest-lasting cut peonies, it’s recommended to cut long stems in the morning when the buds are still fairly tight.

Preserving Peonies After Being Cut

If you don’t want to use and display your peonies right away, you can wrap the freshly cut stems in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.

Then, when you’re ready to bring out your peonies, you can remove them from the refrigerator and place them in lukewarm water to wake them up.

Once you’ve preserved and brought out your peonies, their use and display is all up to you to get creative with!

How to Properly Cut Peonies

Again, The Reluctant Entertainer recommended cutting peonies early in the morning when the buds are still fairly tight. You may notice that the bud is barely opening or looks and feels like a marshmallow. That’s great timing!

Peony stems should be cut at an angle, nearly diagonally, with sharp shears. The stems should be cut longer than you think you’ll need for a vase or arrangement, and most of the leaves should be stripped off.

You can cut all of the stems when cutting peonies, but if you do, make sure not to cut all of every single stem. This can affect the growth of your next season’s peonies.

Final Thoughts

Peonies are beautiful and come in a huge variety of types, colors, and blooms. It’s no wonder so many people love to plant and grow them!

When getting started with your own collection of peonies, it’s important to know just what type of peony you want to plant, how and when to plant your peonies, and of course, how to cut and preserve your peonies for further enjoyment. No matter what type and variety of peony you’ve chosen to plant and grow, you’ll be enthralled to enjoy all their beautiful looks and enticing smells!

Eyerly Family

The Eyerly Family is a family of 8 that loves gardening. Over the past several years we have been applying what we learn about gardening to our own 16x16 raised back yard garden. Our garden is very prolific and we grow a wide variety of vegetables which we love to eat! Click here to learn more about the Eyerly Family.

Recent Posts