Peonies are a classic ingredient of the perennial border and have been in cultivation for over 2000 years. Beloved for the beauty of their exquisite flowers and their handsome foliage, which often turn shades of rust and orange in the fall, Peonies require little maintenance as long as they are planted properly and establish themselves. They do not respond well to transplanting, so choose your planting location carefully!

Peonies: Planting

Peonies may be planted in the fall, so the plants may become established before the first hard frost.
Peonies grow best in cool climates (Hardiness zones 3-8). They need a pronounced period of winter chilling in order to bloom well. In the southern states, choose early-blooming varieties, plant them about an inch deep, and provide some shade.
Peonies need at least a half-day of sun (minimum of six hours of sun a day). Full sun is better as Peonies bloom best in sunny spots except in the South, where afternoon shade is appreciated and will help the flowers last longer.
These plants require good drainage. If your soil is heavy or very sandy, enrich it with compost. Incorporate about 1 cup of bonemeal into the soil.
Peonies love deep, fertile, humus-rich, moist soils. Soil pH should be neutral (pH 7.0) or at the most, only slightly acidic.
Space Peonies three to four feet apart (90-120 cm) to ensure good air circulation. Plant them away from trees or shrubs as peonies don't like to compete for food and moisture. Provide shelter from strong winds.
Dig a hole about two feet deep and two feet across. Add a 4 in. layer of organic matter (10 cm) such as compost, pine bark, or well-aged manure. A half cup of a good plant food (10-6-4), bone meal or superphosphate should be mixed into this layer.
Set the root, so the eyes face upward on top of the firmed soil, placing the root just 2 in. (5 cm) below the soil surface.
Backfill the hole, making sure that the soil doesn't bury the root deeper than 2 in. (5 cm) or your Peony may not bloom. Water thoroughly.
Peonies do not flower the first year of planting, and may take up to two years to produce their showy, fragrant blooms.

Peonies: Care

Peonies almost thrive on neglect. Unlike most perennials, they don't need to be dug and divided.
Peonies require regular, deep watering, specifically during the dry summer months.
Apply a spring layer of 2-4 in. (5-10 cm) organic mulch to help to preserve the soil moisture. This mulch must be removed and destroyed before winter and a new, fresh winter mulch of loose straw or evergreen boughs added, to help control disease.
Staking may be required as the large flowers tend to arch toward the ground and may be driven to the ground by hard rain.
Remove spent flowers as they fade, cutting to a strong leaf so that the stem doesn't stick out of the foliage. Cut back after the foliage has died down in the fall to avoid any overwintering disease.

Peonies: Pests & Diseases

Few insect pests bother Herbaceous Peonies.
Peonies are prone to Verticillium wilt, ringspot virus, tip blight, stem rot, Botrytis blight, left blotch, Japanese beetle, and nematodes.
Never spray the ants crawling on the peony buds as they are protecting them against bud-eating pests.

Peonies: Fertilizer

Peonies should be fed in early spring and again halfway through the growing season.
Cultivate a half cup of low nitrogen fertilizer (5-10-10) into the soil when new growth about 2 or 3 in. high (5-7 cm). Make sure not to damage the roots, and try to keep the fertilizer from direct contact with them.
Over-fertilizing, especially with a high nitrogen plant food, results in weak stems and reduced flowering.