Growing Peonies

Peonies are swoon-worthy with over-sized, fragrant, ridiculously showy blooms that every garden needs. Peonies are herbaceous (non-woody) perennials and woody (tree peonies) that thrive with almost total neglect. Peonies are long-lived—some decades and even centuries old, it’s common to hear of them as family heirlooms. An old-fashioned favorite for cottage gardens and wedding bouquets, they are deer resistant, super cold hardy, easy-to-care-for and disease and pest free. Plant them together as a hedge, as a focal point, or a back-drop for spring blooming perennials. Their bloom time is short, so plant early, mid-season, and late-season varieties and keep blooms going for up to six weeks. They are so worth the real estate in your yard.

And, in case you’re wondering if it’s pe-o-ny or pe-ony, click here for the pronunciation.

Basic Cultural Care for Peonies

  • Full sun, 6+ hours a day of direct sunlight/tolerates a half day of sun (4 hours) but blooms best in direct, full sun.

  • Zone 3-8. Pick cultivars that bloom earlier or later if on the outer edge of the zone.

  • Well-drained, moist, humus-rich soil, neutral alkaline soil. (6.5)

  • Plant in a wind-free place as flower heads are heavy, and winds can damage them, causing flowers to flop.

  • Per the above, use peony rings to help flowers stay upright. Place over plants as shoots are starting to come up in spring. Peonies make beautiful cut flowers, cutting blossoms to bring indoors also helps with the weight of peony blooms, keeping them off the ground. Some newer cultivars have stronger stems and flop less. Look for these if that is preferred.

  • Peonies do not like to be moved, so choose the spot understanding that it is permanent. (For those of us who want to “rearrange” plants.) If you must transplant peonies do so in September and follow these guidelines.

  • Skip the fertilizer, side dress with compost.

Here are a few tried-and-true favorites you’ll find at the store now and as spring trucks continue to arrive.

Sarah Bernhardt’ peony, an old-fashioned tried-and-true pink favorite that blooms mid-spring. Peonies are very drought resistant and fuss free after being established.

Sarah Bernhardt’ peony, an old-fashioned tried-and-true pink favorite that blooms mid-spring. Peonies are very drought resistant and fuss free after being established.

‘Karl Rosenfield’ is an herbaceous, mid-to-late spring blooming peony. Peonies need little fertilization. Side-dress with compost in spring.

‘Karl Rosenfield’ is an herbaceous, mid-to-late spring blooming peony. Peonies need little fertilization. Side-dress with compost in spring.

‘Bartzilla’ peony (Itoh peony). Itoh peonies are a cross between herbaceous and woody peonies, giving them stronger stems, prolific and upright blooms. They are herbaceous and need cutting back in the fall. Fragrance is strong and these make excellent cut flowers.

‘Bartzilla’ peony (Itoh peony). Itoh peonies are a cross between herbaceous and woody peonies, giving them stronger stems, prolific and upright blooms. They are herbaceous and need cutting back in the fall. Fragrance is strong and these make excellent cut flowers.

‘Dr. Alexander Fleming’ peony, a dark, pink double that produces side buds for longer bloom. Peonies are nostalgic, charming additions to your garden.

‘Dr. Alexander Fleming’ peony, a dark, pink double that produces side buds for longer bloom. Peonies are nostalgic, charming additions to your garden.

‘Festiva Maxima’ is an herbaceous, old-fashioned white peony that makes a great cut flower. It is fragrant and a prolific bloomer. A best seller.

‘Festiva Maxima’ is an herbaceous, old-fashioned white peony that makes a great cut flower. It is fragrant and a prolific bloomer. A best seller.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.