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How to Care for Peonies in Spring

May 17, 2021
Written by Aaron

Peonies are some of the most beautiful and sought-after spring blooms, and while their elegant appearance might suggest a high-maintenance temperament, learning how to care for peonies is actually quite easy! They're one of the last plants to bloom in spring, ushering in the summer with a showy display of luxurious petals. Follow our spring care guide to choose the best peonies for your garden. 

yellow peonies in garden

How to Choose the Best Peonies in Spring

Before choosing your peonies, it's essential to understand the differences between the three different kinds: herbaceous peonies, tree peonies, and Itohs. Herbaceous peonies grow in a lush, mounded form but often require staking and support to keep their heavy flowers off the ground. Tree peonies are like small trees or shrubs, so their upright, sturdy build allows them to grow without requiring support. Itohs are a hybrid of the two—their shapes more like the herbaceous variety but with a sturdier structure that doesn't always require staking. Itoh's often last longer, sometimes blooming until the end of summer.  

The price differences among peony varieties will likely factor into your decision quite a bit. Itohs have many qualities that make them especially popular, but that comes at a significant price markup! Herbaceous peonies tend to be more budget-friendly. 

Choose a peony plant with healthy, perky leaves that show no signs of pest damage or diseases. You can successfully transplant a potted peony, but some people find they have more success with bare-root plants.

How to Plant Peonies

The best time to plant peonies is actually in fall, but they sell out fast, so many people put their orders in during spring! You can still plant your peonies in the spring once the ground has sufficiently warmed up. It’s crucial to choose a great spot to plant your peony that has lots of sun exposure and room for the plant to grow—peonies don’t take well to moving!

Use a transplant fertilizer for an easier transition into the ground. Remember to water your plant a little extra for those first two months after planting to help the roots establish.

Ensure the soil is loose, has good drainage, and mix in plenty of organic material like compost; this is such an essential part of peony care because if the soil isn't draining, your plants will suffer. Taking the time to ensure excellent soil quality will make peony care much easier in the long run!


How Much Sun Does a Peony Need?

Herbaceous and tree peonies need direct sun—at least 6 hours a day. Itoh's, on the other hand, prefer dappled sunlight and can tolerate partial shade. A spot underneath a leafy tree canopy would be a perfect spot for an Itoh, but for all other varieties, you'll see the best blooms if you plant in the sunniest spot in your garden.

Watering Your Peonies

When you're learning the basics of caring for peonies, one of the first things you need to do is resist the urge to overwater. Peonies don't like sitting in soggy soil, and while having good drainage can help prevent root rot and other issues, overwatering can still do some damage. You only need to water your peonies every week or two—maybe a little more if it's been a sweltering, dry summer. Remember to water the soil directly instead of watering the plant overhead, which helps prevent mildew.


Do You Fertilize Peonies In Spring?

You might be surprised to hear this, but peonies are better off without all the extra bells and whistles like fancy fertilizer and mulch. The transplant fertilizer you'll use when planting should be more than sufficient to keep your plant fed. If a soil test indicates that your soil is depleted of nutrients, you can use an all-purpose fertilizer in late spring.


How Big Do Peonies Get?

Herbaceous peonies reach around 2–3 feet tall and 2–4 feet wide, with super fragrant, large blooms. You'll find that the large blooms start to flop over, so remember to use supports early on to keep the flowers upright and off the ground. We recommend grow-through rings, which support the stems in a much more natural manner than stakes and don’t need to be checked on and adjusted as often.

Tree peonies usually get to around 4–6 feet tall. Itoh peonies are generally wider than they are tall, so they only reach about 2.5 feet tall, but they have humongous flowers!

peony and roses in vase

How to Care for Cut Peonies

Peonies are a go-to for romantic bouquets and wedding arrangements, so it's always tempting to snip a few peonies off your plant to make a cut arrangement. The key to long-lasting peony bouquets is to cut the flowers just before the buds open; this allows them to bloom indoors where you can enjoy the full lifetime of each flower!

The basics of how to care for peonies in a vase are pretty much the same as your typical flower arrangements—cut the flower stems at an angle, place them in a vase with room temperature water, and make sure there are no leaves submerged. Add some flower food to keep them nourished, change the water every three days, and keep them out of the direct sun or cold drafts. 

Now that you've learned the ins and outs of how to care for peonies, you can bring some of these gorgeous spring beauties home! Visit Eising to see all our peonies for sale in Simcoe ON, and feel free to ask our staff for more helpful insights on how to look after a new peony plant.

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