How to grow Peonies

Peonies are a clump forming herbaceous perennial grown for their fabulous showy flowers. The most commonly grown Peonies flower in early summer and have large saucer like flowers, some with multiple ruffled petals and a central boss contrasting in white or yellow. some varieties of Peonies are scented, and have multiple flower blooms. In many ways, Peony are an ideal border plant.

How and where to Plant Peony

Peonies need to be planted in a sunny spot with good humus rich, well-drained soil. Gardening advice often states Peony needs to be grown in soil which tends to be Alkaline. Don't let this put you off growing them in your garden, I have successfully grown Peonies in acidic soil without any problem. 

What is most important when planting a Peony is not to plant the crown too deep. The crown should be around 2.5 and 5 cms below soil level, so quite shallow. If Peony tubers are planted too deeply, there is a risk of lots foliage but no flowers. The planting depth is important: too deep and it will inhibit flowering. If you mulch, take care not to mulch over the crown. 

if you have a Peony which is not flowering, it could be because it's been planted too shallow. Dig it up and replant to the correct depth, more information below. 

How to move Peonies

It is said that Peonies dislike to be moved, which I think is a garden myth. 

The best way to move a Peony is early in the season before the plant has developed too much leaf, and quickly, with plenty of the existing soil attached to the roots to cause as little disturbance as possible. Dig up the plant and keeping it as intact as possible and transfer straight away, re plant at the correct evel and water well. You can also move in Autumn.

The key to moving a Peony successfully is as little root disturbance as possible.

emerging peony by the sunday gardener

How to Stake a Peony

I always stake  Peonies, and its  better to stake early and let the plant grow into the support. Ideally Peony should be supported as the new growth emerges and before too many leaves are formed. Depending on growing conditions, this means staking Peony around late March/early April. You can use custom made Peony supports such as the metal one illustrated below. This can be moved up the Stake shaft as the plant grows and will support the large blooms. 

Alternatively, you can use organic material such as off cuts, branches, saved from pruning and these look natural, and are free. The video below shows How to Stake a Peony, and other perennials.

There is a slight downside to growing Peony. If there is poor weather,  because of their large blooms, which are their very attraction, they do not fare well in heavy rain or winds. Staking, which supports the flower heads, can help ameliorate the worst effects of weather.
It's best to stake early, to avoid  the nerve-racking task of trying to thread leaves and flower stalks into the plant support without breaking anything. Peonies only flower the once, so if a flower head is snapped, it will not flower again. 

I have labelled Peony amber wheel barrow showing medium effort and maintenance. Peony are not fool-proof, but they return reliably every year. 

At the end of the season, the foliage can look unsightly and it is best to cut it down. As a herbaceous perennial Peonies die right back to bare earth in the winter; the emerging spring growth is attractive, see image below right.

Staking a Peony using metal supports

Best Peonies to Grow

When selecting a  Peony choosing one which has the RHS garden merit award is always a good guide. With the RHS award and illustrated above (centre) is the lovely showy red flower of a Peony officinalis 'Rubra Plena' . Also with the RHS award is 'Bowl of Beauty' which has lovely delicate pink petals with a dense centre of creamy white, illustrated left; P. 'Duchesse de Nemours' which has large fragrant white flowers; P. 'Sarah Bernhardt'  lovely double rose like pink flowers which scented and illustrated above right ; and P. 'White wings' also scented, and as you can imagine white a single flower with yellow boss.

Crocus have over 15, excellent showy varieties of Peony for sale, including many mentioned here. Click here to link to Crocus Peony selection.

Peony flowers come in four shapes: a single flower head which has a large central boss; semi double, which is similar to a single but with more petals; double which has more petals, often ruffled, filling the centre and with no discernible boss; and the anemone form which has single or semi-double flowers with the centre filled with petaloids, such as in the 'Bowl of Beauty' which makes it very attractive.

Peonies are medium difficulty to grow, mainly because they do need to be staked to support the flower heads. They also need to be planted in the right place to start with as moving a Peony can be tricky.

Last updated 25.5.2023