How to Grow Peonies

These delicate, striking flowers thrive best in the right garden location.

Close-up of pink peony in garden, Calverton, Nottingham, UK
Phil Carpenter / 500px / Getty Images

Peonies produce huge, delicate blooms that often seem to appear out of nowhere. One day, they’re a tight-knit ball of green, busting at the seams—and the next, they’re as big as your hand featuring layers of colorful petals. 

Although peonies are often short-lived flowers—sometimes just making it days before they begin to droop—they are still one of the most beloved and sought-after blooms among gardeners, especially as a cut flower. There are dozens of varieties and colors available, and even when the blooms do end, peonies still offer great foliage in a garden bed, going from green to red by the end of the growing season.

Below is a growing guide for peonies, including everything you need to know to get these gorgeous flowers to blossom year after year.

Botanical name Paeonia spp.
Common name  Peonies
Sun exposure  Full sun 
Soil type  Loamy, well-draining 
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom time  Spring and summer 
Flower color  Pink, purple, red, white, yellow
Hardiness zones 3-8 

How to Plant Peonies

Once peonies get going in the garden, they are hardy and reliable. Give yourself an advantage by starting with a strong plant and the right location.

Growing From Seed

Most people don’t grow peonies from seed because it can take a few years to get them established. However, this is a great option for cultivating unique varieties or growing from existing plants. Either start with peony seeds or collect your own from existing seed pods (usually best collected in late summer). Then, sow directly in the ground in fall.

Growing From Starter Plants

You can find peony starter plants at garden centers, both in spring and fall. It’s also common to find bare-root tubers. You might think peonies should be planted in spring—after all, that’s when they bloom—but they’ll actually have a much better chance of getting established if you plant in fall. Whether using tubers or start plants, choose a location with good sunlight and well-draining soil. Plant tubers a few inches deep. For container plants that you’re moving into the garden, plant about as deep as they were growing in the container. If your area has harsh winters, consider adding some protection in the first year to help your peony get a good start. 

What Are Tubers?

Tubers are plant structures used for carbohydrate storage. They develop on the roots or rhizomes or on the underground portion of the stem. Tubers are not true root vegetables, like carrots or beets.

Transplanting

Fall is the perfect time to transplant peonies. If you have a friend willing to share their plants, it’s a great way to extend your own garden on a budget. Dig into the plant while preserving as much of the root system as possible (so, dig deep). Then break into clumps, making sure there are three to five buds within each one. Relocate the clumps to a sunny location with well-draining soil. While fall is definitely the ideal time for transplanting, you can also dig up and transplant in spring. Just make sure you do so early before plants have sprouted. 

Growing Peonies in Containers

You can grow peonies in a container, but it needs to be large in size. If you buy a peony in a pot, chances are you’ll need to upsize so it has room to keep growing and thriving. In addition, you’ll probably want to give it extra protection in winter or even bring it into a garage or shed. Then, it’ll be ready to grow and bloom again next spring.

Peony Care

The trickiest part of growing peonies is finding the right location and planting them at the right time. Here are a few other care tips to keep in mind as you get these flowers established.

Light

Peonies like full sun, but they can also tolerate partial shade. A good rule of thumb is they prefer about 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. By choosing a sunny location, you’ll get more and bigger blooms.

Soil and Nutrients

Rich, well-draining soil is best for peonies. Like many other garden favorites, they benefit from organic matter added to the soil. 

Water

When establishing peonies, water them deeply so they can settle into their new garden home. Throughout the season, they benefit from thorough waterings. So it’s not so much about frequency, but more around watering well when they need it.

Temperature and Humidity

Peonies are hardy (zones 3-8), and it’s best to space them a few feet apart if you are planting more than one. This will allow for good circulation among plants. Humid conditions are unideal, but you should be fine if you give each plant space. This is also why it’s good to divide and share plants as they get established and start spreading.

Common Pests and Diseases

One of the reasons so many gardeners love peonies is that they’re considered a deer-resistant plant. For gardeners who have frequent deer problems, planting peonies might be a solution. As for diseases, these flowers can succumb to things like blight and stem rot. If you suspect your peony has a disease, take good pictures and consult a local garden or extension expert for advice. If you notice ants crawling all around your peonies, don’t worry and let them be—more often than not, they’re actually helping by eating other pests.

Peony Varieties

Close-Up Of Pink Peony Flowers Blooming In Garden
Piero Intraligi / EyeEm / Getty Images

Most of the peonies you’ll see at garden centers or in backyards will likely be herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), which are also known as garden peonies. However, if you want more of a traditional shrub, look for tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). These have woody stems that stay above ground year-round, whereas garden peonies die back each year and start fresh in spring. Among the garden peonies, there are a few popular bloom styles to look for.

  • Single: These peonies have just a couple of rows of petals, and you can easily see the stamen in the center. While they are more simple in style, they tend to last longer overall.
  • Semi-Double and Double: Semi-doubles have more rows of petals than the singles, yet you can still see the center. Doubles are completely filled out and are probably the most common and popular peony to grow in the garden. They are so dramatic in the way they fill out and look like a pom-pom. They do sometimes require staking though because of how heavy the blooms are. Keep this in mind as you select a peony to grow.
  • Japanese: These are gorgeous blooms with large petals on the outside, which frame an inner layer of long, ribbon-like petals. These peonies often vary in color, making them look like a little art piece in the garden. 

How to Overwinter Peonies

Cut your garden peonies back to a few inches above the ground. Then cover the area loosely with bark or pine needles. When spring rolls around, remove this layer so the plants have plenty of room to grow. If growing in containers, cover your container or move the plant to a place where it can go dormant for winter.