Planting peonies: when, where & how?

Lukas
Lukas
Lukas
Lukas

I studied agricultural sciences with full conviction - an obvious choice for me, as I grew up on my parents’ farm and learned early on to find joy in taking care of plants and animals.

Favourite fruit: grapes, mangos and bananas.
Favourite vegetables: brussels sprouts, spinach and potatoes

Planting peonies should be done meticulously in order for the flowers to unfurl in all their glory in early summer. We show you how to do it right.

Pink blossoms of the peony
When planting peonies, take care when choosing the location

If you want to get the queen of ornamental plants, the peony (Paeonia), into the garden, then it is important to prepare its arrival well. As a matter of fact, this plant is actually known for its uncomplicated care. However, a good foundation should be a prerequisite for everything to thrive in later years.
Whether you have chosen a perennial, shrub, or hybrid peony – the first crucial thing is the right location. If you are still struggling to choose the right peony, you will find all the information about the most beautiful peony varieties and species here.

When should you plant peonies?

Peonies should be planted in autumn. The plants will then have enough time to take root before winter. Planting in autumn also increases the chance of flowering the following year.
If you were to plant or transplant in the spring, there is a risk that the tender shoots that are then forming would be injured and the peony would suffer damage that would inhibit its development.

Peony shrub with closed buds
Planted in autumn, peonies can still form roots [Photo: konzeptm/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting peonies: suitable locations

Peonies need a sufficiently large and “quiet” place. Once the plants are planted, they should not be moved again – they do not tolerate relocation at all. It often takes even a few years until the peonies then fully bloom again. You should therefore think carefully when choosing a location.

If you still want to transplant your peony, we have summarised everything you need to know here.

Above all, the space should be large because peony bushes can grow up to 1.3 m in length and width. Perennial plants also like to have enough space to develop – 60 x 60 cm is required here. It should also be noted that the peony can reach heights of up to 1.80 m and beyond. It is best to choose a place that has not been previously occupied by a peony. However, if a peony has previously lived in the selected place, it is advisable to generously replace the soil, so that there are enough nutrients for the new plant from the beginning and no diseases that have remained in the soil can spread to it.

The ideal soil should be loose and permeable to prevent waterlogging. Peonies are deep-rooted and do not grow very quickly. Therefore, it promotes their development if there are no plants with strong root growth nearby, such as forsythia. Peonies, whether perennial or shrubs, love the sun. However, they enjoy a little partial shade at midday but otherwise they do not mind the heat. If the site is then also somewhat protected from the wind, this provides the ideal conditions for welcoming a peony into your garden.

Pink peony plant in the garden
It is best to choose a location where there have been no peonies planted before [Photo: maryna kulchytska/ shutterstock.com]

Planting peonies: step-by-step instructions

The planting hole should be about 35 to 40 cm in diameter on average, depending on the size of the plant ball. For the depth, you can go by the height of the pot in which the plant was delivered. However, if a drainage layer consisting of a layer of clay granules must be inserted due to the required soil permeability, then the excavation should be 10 cm deeper.

Please do not mix compost soil into the planting hole, otherwise the peony will have too much organic matter available and that is not good for the plant. Just as with waterlogging, it would then be much more susceptible to fungal diseases. Peonies love well-drained, loose soil. Slightly humus-enriched, loamy soil is ideal.
They require little to no additional fertilisation during their first year. Find out how to optimally care for them afterwards in our article on fertilising peonies.

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When planting peonies, you should distinguish between shrubs and perennial plants. Shrub peonies are planted 12 to 15 cm deep and a tip of the stem should stick out the top. The excavated material is refilled and carefully pressed down.
The root ball of perennial peonies is only 3 to 5 cm deep under the ground. Again, lightly press the filled soil.
Please make sure to leave enough space between each plant. Shrub peonies need up to 130 cm in width to develop optimally while perennial peonies need 60 cm.

Foot on a shovel digging in mud
Peonies prefer well-drained, loose soil [Photo: Poprotskiy Alexey/ Shutterstock.com]

Last but not least, the freshly planted peony must be well watered. Although it does form deep roots and can survive well for a long time later without regular watering, it takes a good year to get to that point, during which it should be watered regularly. Even in later years, it should always be well watered at flowering time and during long dry spells.

Caring for peonies after planting

Even though the peony is very frugal, it still requires a little care during the year. We reveal below how to optimally care for your plant.

Overwintering peonies

If one or more peonies have made their way into your garden, these plants should be protected before the onset of their first winter outdoors even though they are actually hardy. The first winter is always a special challenge for a young plant. Therefore, it is advisable to cover the fresh seedlings with leaves and brushwood. In later years, shrub peonies should be protected from kinking due to too heavy snowfall by tying the branches together with a tight rope.

Secateurs being used to prune a peony
Leave the woody stem bases of hybrid peonies in place [Photo: photowind/ Shutterstock.com]

Pruning peonies

Depending on the type of peony, pruning should be done separately: perennial peonies, like other perennials, are cut back to ground level in autumn. To provide ideal winter protection for the shoot buds, which are particularly close to the ground, you can also leave the withered leaves until spring as insulation for the rootstock. However, you then need to be quite careful not to injure the shoots, which may already be pushing, during pruning.

Shrub peonies generally do not require pruning at all. This is only necessary if branching is not progressing well and needs to be stimulated by pruning. If the main shoots are damaged, of course, you may resort to clippers.

Intersectional hybrid peonies are cut back to just above ground level, similar to perennial peonies. Only the approximately 10 cm high woody stalks remain.

If you would like to learn more about caring for peonies in a vase, you can continue reading our special article here.

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