The botanical name of Peonies is Paeonia officinalis and the plants are the spring-blooming stars of your garden. Peonies actually have large, showy blooms, heady aromas, and loads of personality. By some estimates, there are as many as thirty-three different species within the genus Paeonia, known collectively as peonies. A lot of them are herbaceous perennials, though a few are woody shrubs. Peony plants are medium-sized, and they have tuberous roots that are a combination of thick storage roots and thin roots that are designed to absorb water and nutrients. Careful handling of these roots is critical to planting or transplanting peonies, as well as when you are dividing plants to propagate them. Peonies actually contain paeonol, which is mildly toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. 

Peony Plant Info

The botanical name: The botanical name is Paeonia officinalis.

The common name: The common name is Peony.

The plant type: Peonies is herbaceous perennial, or woody shrub.

The mature size: Two to three feet tall, three to five feet wide.

The sun exposure: Peonies likes   full sun.

The soil type: Peony plant does well in a well-draining soil.

The soil pH: Slightly acidic.

The blooming time: The blooming time is late spring to late summer.

The flower color: The flower colors are rose, white, red, pink, deep purple, and coral.

USDA hardiness zones: Three to nine. 

The native area: Peonies are native to  Asia, Europe, and Western North America.

Toxicity: The Peony plants are mildly toxic to pets.

Types of Peonies

1.    'Big Ben peonies: The 'Big Ben peonies boasts magenta flowers, five to six inches wide, and a heady aroma. The 'Big Ben peonies grows three feet tall and wide.

2.    'Festiva Maxima' peonies: The 'Festiva Maxima' peonies shows white blooms with specks of magenta, growing about three feet tall and wide.

3.    'Pillow Talk peonies: The 'Pillow Talk peonies offer giant pink flowerheads with touches of yellow and it grows around 2½ feet tall.

4.    'Spider Green' peonies: The 'Spider Green' is a unique peony that has a yellow center and large white, separated petals.

5.    'Sweet Marjorie' peonies: The 'Sweet Marjorie' peonies grow around 2½ feet tall and it presents hearty, dark-pink blooms five inches wide.

Peony Care

The following are the main care requirements for growing a peony plant:

1.    Place the plant in a spot that gets about 6 or more hours of full sun.

2.    Plant the Peony in well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

3.    Provide one to two inches of water weekly.

4.    The plant is hardy to USDA zones three to nine, know that these plants need a chilling period of around 6 weeks of temperatures below forty degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to set spring buds.

5.    Right after blooming, you can feed the plant with a mix of compost and a small amount of fertilizer once a year.

Light requirement

Peony plants need a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun each day and a full day of sun is even better. Without sufficient sunlight, you will get fewer blooms and smaller flowers, and the Peony plants will have a greater risk of fungal diseases.

Soil requirement

Peony plants are very adaptable, but ideally, the plant likes a well-drained, slightly acidic soil (6.5-7.0 pH). If you are planting Peonies in heavy, clay soil, amending with compost or a soil mix labeled for azaleas and rhododendrons will make it easier for your peony plant to settle in. Since peony plants can remain in the same spot for upwards of seventy years, taking the time to prepare the soil before planting is time well spent.

The tree peonies actually like a slightly more alkaline soil than standard herbaceous peonies, and the plant do not want to compete with other shrubs.

Water requirement

The Peony plants need moist, well-drained soil to thrive. Ideally, the plant should receive one to two inches of water weekly. The Peony plants can thrive in relatively wet areas but are not drought-resistant. You can mulch your peonies to help them retain water and lessen the likelihood of weeds.

Temperature and humidity requirement

The Peony plants prefer cooler areas (hardiness zones three to eight) and they do best when they experience cold winters.

Fertilizer requirement

Feed the plant lightly. An annual application of compost mixed with a very small amount of fertilizer around the base of the plant is all that is required. When you do feed with compost and fertilizer, make sure you do it just after the plants have finished blooming.

Don’t smother the Peony plants with mulch in winter. In the first winter season, you can easily mulch loosely with pine needles or shredded bark, but mulch should be promptly removed in spring.

The tree peonies actually need iron and phosphate and they do well with an annual feeding of sulfate and bone meal in spring. Unlike the herbaceous peonies, they need regular feeding with a 5-10-5 fertilizer.

Pruning Peony plants

Peony plants actually require little pruning. Once yours has finished blooming, you can cut back the dead stems and branches. If a stem appears diseased, you can cut back before the affected part. If two branches rub against each other, you can remove the least desirable branch. When pruning the peonies always cut back to right above the first bud. 

How to propagate Peonies

The Peony plants are best propagated by lifting and dividing the root clump, then immediately replanting the divided pieces. A peony may actually require this after about ten years when it begins to lose its vigor and becomes root-bound. Here, too, fall is the best time for this activity. To propagate peony plants, you will need a hose and a good sharp knife. Follow these steps to propagate peony plants:

-         Just before you plan to divide, you need to cut the foliage of the peony back down to ground level.

-         Just dig up the entire plant and then remove as much soil as possible by soaking with a hose.

-         Using your hands, manipulate the roots into dividable portions, each with 3 to 5 "eyes"—small reddish buds that resemble potato eyes, then use a good sharp knife to cut the tuberous root-clump into divisions.

-         Cut away all the tiny plant roots on each division, leaving only the large, fleshy roots.

-         Replant the divisions as soon as possible, following the instructions above.

Growing Peony from seeds

Growing peony plants by seed takes patience, it can take about 3 years to develop seedlings, and it can take 3 to 5 years for the plant to bloom. For the most success, planting fresh Peony seeds as soon as they are collected in summer or fall will increase the chances of germination. Use black seeds, the red seeds are not viable. The following is how to grow peony plants from seeds:

-         Designate a spot to nurse these seedlings, for 2 to 3 years that has full sun with well-draining soil.

-         Press the Peony seeds ½ inch deep into the soil, spaced one to two inches apart.

-         Cover the Peony seed bed with a layer of fine wood mulch and a sheet of clear plastic. Make sure you secure the plastic by burying the edges under the soil or using rocks.

-         Remove the plastic in early spring, this can be done before the last frost while nighttime temperatures are still freezing.

-         It can actually take up to 3 years for the seedlings to develop, with 3 or 4 true leaves, before they can be moved to their permanent location.

Planting and transplanting Peonies

Peony plants are typically purchased as potted plants in ½- or 1-gallon containers at the nursery or as bare roots, often packaged with peat moss or wood shavings in plastic bags. The peony plants offered at plant society sales or plant swaps are very often the tuberous bare root varieties.

When choosing the potted peonies, make sure you look for healthy specimens without leaf spots or weak-looking stems. When planting from bare tuberous roots, make sure the root clump has at least 3 to 5 eyes. These eyes will eventually elongate and become the plant's stems. A mature peony should be at least 3 to 4 years old before it is divided into bare roots. The tuberous clumps with only 1 or 2 eyes may still grow, but they will take longer to become established blooming plants.

When to plant Peonies

The bloom time for peony plants varies from late spring to late summer, depending on the variety, but all types of Peonies are best planted in the fall, about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to settle in and establish roots before winter. This is especially true when planting bare-root peony plants or when transplanting, but even when planting the potted peonies, fall planting gives better results than spring planting.

Selecting a planting site

Make sure you choose a location that is sheltered from strong winds. The large heavy blooms of Peonies can cause the stems to flop over during heavy rain and inclement weather. Make sure you plant them well away from other trees and shrubs, since they don't like to compete for nutrients and water.

Spacing, depth, and support

Give each of the peony plant enough space to grow to maturity without being crowded. That means a three to four foot diameter for each plant.

The Peony plants like a good chill in the winter. In order to set their flower buds, peony roots should be planted relatively close to the soil surface—only about two to three inches deep. It may feel odd to leave the roots so exposed, but Peony plants actually need this chilling to attain dormancy and set buds.

Your Peony plants will benefit from some type of support staking.


If an established peony needs to be moved, transplanting should be done very carefully to avoid disturbing the roots any more than necessary. Peonies can thrive in the same spot for decades, but moving one hastily can bring about its demise. As with any planting, fall is the best time to actually move a peony. To transplant, you will actually need compost or peat moss, a good sharp spade, and a tarp. The following is how to transplant a peony plant:

-         At the new planting site, till up the soil twelve to eighteen inches deep, and mix in a four inch layer of compost or peat moss.

-         Make sure you water with one inch of water a day or 2 before transplanting. Your peony plant must be well-hydrated before moving it.

-         Dig around the root ball of the peony plant using a good sharp spade, getting as much soil as possible. Slide a tarp under the root ball to keep it intact, then lift the Peony plant from the ground and carefully carry or slide it to the new location.

-         At the new location, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the peony's root ball, and exactly as deep as the root ball. Plant the peony at exactly the same depth as it was in its old location.

-         Backfill around the Peony plant. Tamp the soil down with your hands, but do not pack it too tightly.

-         Water the plant thoroughly. Add a three inch layer of compost or mulch around the base of the Peony plant. This will keep the plant roots moist and cool while the Peony plant gets established in its new location.

Potting and repotting Peonies

The Peony plants are not usually grown in pots. The plant have large root systems requiring a pot at least eighteen inches wide and deep, need full sun, and demand more water. The dwarf varieties actually are the most suitable peonies for pots. To overwinter, move the pots to a garage or sheltered patio to shield them from the elements, and cover the roots with mulch to protect the Peony plants from freezing.


Before winter you can easily cut the peonies down to ground level and then remove the leaves and debris. This will help reduce fungal spores from lingering into spring to re-infect your peonies.

How to Get Peonies to Bloom

Bloom Months

The Peony plants typically bloom in early spring and summer between April and June.

What do Peony flowers look and smell like?

Peony flowers can range widely in color, form, and scent. Flowers can be three to six inches in diameter with petals in single, semi-double, or double forms. Blooms can be rose, white, red, pink, purple, and coral with a heady fragrance or no detectable scent. Fragrant peonies can smell like spice, roses, citrus, or slightly sweet. 

How to encourage more blooms

Make sure your Peony plants get at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, and they are planted no more than two to three inches deep, and they are fed lightly once a year. Lack of sunshine, smothering the roots and eyes, and too much nitrogen can stunt blooming.

Pests and disease

The Peony plants are especially prone to gray mold (botrytis). To combat, make sure the Peony plants are not planted too closely to each other, making sure air circulates between plants. Using copper soap fungicides can help as well.

Most gardeners often find peony blossoms covered with ants which are attracted to nectar secreted by the highly fragrant flowers. The ants don’t harm the plant and in fact they can act as a deterrent to other floral feeding insects that might carry disease or otherwise cause damage. The ants are likely an unwelcome addition to your cut flower bouquet. Simply give your cut Peony plants a gentle shake before bringing them indoors for decoration.

Common problems with Peony plants

1.    Gray mold: Gray mold on flowers, leaves, and stems can actually indicate botrytis blight, a fungus that can grow in cool, rainy weather. You can easily remove and destroy the affected parts of the Peony plant. Cut down to the base if necessary. Remove debris, use ground irrigation, and improve air circulation. You can also use a fungicide as a preventative.

2.    Powdery leaves: Powdery Mildew can grow on the Peony plant leaves when there’s too much shade. Peony plants need at least 6 hours of full sun.

3.    Brown or black spots: the Peony plant with dark brown or black spots on the leaves, sometimes including the root and crown rot, could have phytophthora blight, which stems from poor drainage. You can easily remove the affected parts of the plant, improve drainage, and also avoid overwatering.

4.    Dark splotches on leaves: Hot, humid weather can actually cause peony leaf blotch. You can cut the peony down to ground level in fall or early spring, try and improve air circulation, and also use ground irrigation.

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