Peony – Part 2

— Written By Shannon Newton and last updated by
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Site Selection, Planting and Maintaining Your Peony

Site Requirements: Peonies grow best in full sun. They will tolerate light shade but must have a minimum of 6 hours of full sun. The planting site should have protection from strong winds, but be well aerated to reduce diseases problems. Peonies prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Roots will rot quickly in poorly-drained soil; consider planting in a raised bed if your soil has lots of clay or stays wet. Try to avoid locations where peonies have been grown before.

Chill Hours: Peonies require between 500-1000 winter chilling hours. This means the number of hours between 32-40 degrees F to flower successfully. Peonies grow in USDA hardiness zones 2-8.

Peony divisions: As with all things, you get what you pay for. Peonies with 3 to 5 eyes and a healthy rhizome will do best. Smaller divisions will take several years to bloom.

Bloom period: Early blooming and single or Japanese cultivars generally perform better in North Carolina than other types.

Planting: Fall planting is best for peonies. Roots will grow throughout the fall and winter, allowing the plant to be established before the first flush of growth in the spring. Dig a hole 12 to 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Make a cone in the center with soil and set the roots on the cone. Do not plant eyes deeper than one inch. If planted too deep, this can reduce or eliminate blooming. Fill hole and tamp. Water thoroughly. To encourage deep rooting, water deeply as required. Once established peonies are drought resistant. Tree peonies should be planted so graft union is an inch below the ground.

Maintenance: Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter in the spring. Apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Use about ½ cup of 5-10-10 or equivalent per plant. Over application of nitrogen can reduce flowering, as all growth goes into plant growth. Soil test every 2 to 3 years to ensure you have adequate nutrients.

Winter Care: Never cut back tree peonies. They are shrubs and will not grow back if cut down to the ground. After frost, cut back stems of herbaceous peonies to the soil surface, as this will help reduce disease problems. Be sure to take a soil sample and follow results for fertilizer and lime. Winter pruning information

Cut flowers: If you enjoy having peony blooms in your home, visit the
Guide to Peonies as Cut Flowers.

Dividing Peonies: Peonies are very long lived, but sometimes you want to move or divide your plant. In the fall, after foliage has started to die down, carefully dig your plant with a garden fork. Be sure to dig well away from the roots. Gently, move the plant back and forth to loosen the root system. Be careful, as the root system is brittle. Lift out of the soil. Wash away all soil and remove leaves and stems. Cover with a damp towel and let rest overnight. This will soften the roots and make them easier to divide. Using a knife, carefully cut sections with 4 eyes and plenty of roots. Replant, water and enjoy.

Adapted in part from Peonies for the Home Landscape NCSU and Peonies Clemson University.