Q. How do I plant my peony?
When planting your herbaceous peony, choose a location in full sun, or at least six hours of sun, to ensure vigorous blooms. Plant in fall, not spring, in an area with very good drainage; standing water will suffocate the roots and is the leading cause of plant failure. Raised beds or planting on a slope are ideal. In a few years, your peony will become a large, green, perennial bush 36 in. high, so allow a space of about 3-4 feet between it and other permanent plantings.
Keep the roots shaded and slightly moist until planting. Herbaceous peonies prefer a humus-rich, sandy loam with a pH of 6.5-7.0. Finished compost and lime are two amendments that are always useful to most soils. A very heavy clay soil will also require the addition of sand for drainage. The site you prepare should have good soil at least 18 inches deep and 2 feet in diameter. Herbaceous peonies have fleshy tuberous roots with buds or “eyes” that are planted buds up, no more than 2 inches below ground level.
Mound the soil and spread out the roots. Mix 2 ounces of fish & seaweed fertilizer with 2 gallons of water and "mud in" the plant to prevent any air pockets at the roots. Deep planting impedes flowering, so be careful to check that the plant does not sink as you water it in. After the ground freezes, mulch well with 6 inches of leaves or other material for winter protection. In most climates, this heavy mulching is only necessary the first season to prevent heaving (frost pushing the plant up out of the soil).
In the Spring
Remove the mulch slowly when danger of frost is past. Fertilize with 1 oz. fish & seaweed emulsion to 1 gal. water every 2-3 weeks for maximum growth. It is best to “deadhead” any spent flowers. Water only when the soil feels dry 6 inches below the surface. Water at the base of plant, avoiding sprinkling water on the leaves. In areas of wet, very cool springs, it is best to treat the emerging buds with a biodegradable copper solution This simple preventative treatment will prevent fungus and black spotting on the leaves.
To support large clumps of peonies, carefully lay a flat piece of 2-inch chicken wire, cut to a size of about 2 feet x 2 feet, over the new red shoots in spring. This has to be done early in the season, as soon as the shoots emerge from the ground. Adjust chicken wire to allow one shoot to go into one cell of the wire. As the shoots grow taller, the chicken wire will lift up and be a part of the growing plant, settling under the foliage. Fold down the edges of the wire under foliage so it is not visible. This will support the stems and keep the plant more upright.
About the time of the first frost, the leaves and stems will blacken. Cut down the stems and leaves to a few inches above the ground. Remove debris from the garden to prevent any overwintering of fungus. Plants will emerge from underground in the spring, growing into a larger clump each year. After 5 or more years, you can dig and divide your peony in the fall, to create more plants. This is the way these plants are currently propagated.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service