10 expert tips on growing peonies

The Editors
·7-min read
Photo credit: Isabel Pavia - Getty Images
Photo credit: Isabel Pavia - Getty Images

Peonies are big, beautiful and, although delicate in their makeup, are bold in their presence. It's no wonder they are one of the most shared flowers on social media and are popular cut flowers. But how can we grow and care for peonies to get the most of their short but sweet blooming season? Here, we look at where peonies come from, how to make them last longer, and a few popular peony varieties.

Where do peonies come from?

Peonies (Paeonia) are native to Asia, Europe and North America. In fact, the peony holds great cultural significance – it is the floral symbol of China and the state flower of Indiana.

There are approximately 33 different types of peony and they are thought to represent good fortune and happy marriage. That's why they are very popular in wedding bouquets and are the official 12th wedding anniversary flower.

Photo credit: Manuela Schewe-Behnisch / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Manuela Schewe-Behnisch / EyeEm - Getty Images

When do peonies flower in the UK?

Peonies have a very short flowering season which is why they are so expensive and in-demand once in bloom. In the UK, peonies flower between late April and early June, with the month of May when they are at their best.

Each flower lasts for seven to 10 days and one plant can grow multiple blooms.

How to grow peonies: 10 expert tips

Claire Austin is an award-winning plantswoman, a specialist in herbaceous peonies, irises and perennials, and member of the Peony Society. With her mail-order nursery in Wales offering over a hundred varieties of herbaceous peonies, it's safe to say that she has a wealth of knowledge about these glorious flowers.

We asked her to share her no-nonsense tips for how to grow the perfect blousy peonies

1. The best time of year to plant peonies

The best time for planting peonies is between October and March. Some sources advise against planting in December, but in 30 years and eight different gardens, I've never noticed a difference.

2. How deep to plant a peony and shallow planting tips

The important thing is how deep you plant them – too deep and they will fail to flower. Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with the eyes (the budding stems) no more than 2cm beneath the surface of the soil.

3. Where do peonies grow best?

Despite the myths that surround them, peonies are easy plants to grow if the basics are in place. They need plenty of water as long as they don't get waterlogged at any time in the year, so plant your peonies in soil that drains well. Clay is fine as long as it doesn't stay wet.

Peonies also love to be in full sun and will flower at their best in that position, but they will tolerate light shade.

4. How long does it take for peonies to flower and how long do they live for?

Peonies may take three years to hit their stride and be flowering freely, but then they will live for up to 50 years. If you move house, simply take your precious peonies with you and they'll adapt to new surroundings.

5. How to move and replant peonies

The best time to move them is when the plant is dormant, sometime between October and March. Dig around the roots, disturbing as little of the rootball as possible and transplant them to their new home. Peonies can even be divided to make new plants when you lift them. Be sure to cut them cleanly with at least three clear eyes (stem buds) on each section.

Photo credit: Loop Images/Tamsyn Morgans - Getty Images
Photo credit: Loop Images/Tamsyn Morgans - Getty Images

6. How to cut peonies and use them for flower arrangements

Peonies make wonderful cut flowers and last longer in a vase than garden roses – up to 10 days. The blooms are large, soft, silky and romantic.

If you want to grow peonies for cutting, patience is needed. Generally it will take up to 3 years for the most cut varieties to produce enough blooms for cutting. But as the flowers are large, the average vase really only needs one or two flowers to look both beautiful and opulent.

7. How to get rid of ants on peonies

People often ask how to get rid of ants on peony flower buds. The answer is: don't. In my experience, ants do no harm. Appearing as the bud swells, they feed on the sugary substance it exudes, and may even help the bud to open properly. As soon as the buds start to open, the ants disappear.

8. Take a walk on the Intersectional Side!

A quiet revolution has been taking place in the peony world. Breeders have crossed tree peonies with herbaceous peonies to produce what are known as Intersectional peonies.

These new introductions are rare and are more expensive than herbaceous peonies, but they have twice the flowering period, wonderful green, leathery foliage and appear completely disease-free.

Keep scrolling to see varieties.

9. Consider their scent

Many peonies are fragrant. In some varieties the scent is light, in others it is released only after the flowers have been picked and placed in a vase. The scent depends on the time of day, the temperature and, of course, on your nose!

10. Use peonies to deter rabbits in the garden

If you have rabbits that like nothing better than to nibble from your borders, get planting peonies! Rabbits do not like the taste of plants with large, blousy flowers such as peonies, irises, lupins, oriental poppies and kniphofia, and won't be tempted to snack on their roots, stems or blooms.

Photo credit: Phil Carpenter / 500px - Getty Images
Photo credit: Phil Carpenter / 500px - Getty Images


What causes a peony not to flower?

The most common reason for a peony not to flower is because it's been planted too deeply. Herbaceous peonies need to be planted with the eyes (the budding stems) no more than 2cm beneath the surface of the soil. When planted too deeply, peony foliage will still grow but it will not produce any flowers.

If this is the case, wait until autumn before carefully uprooting the plant and replanting it in a shallower position.

The best varieties of peony

THE BEST PEONIES FOR SCENT INCLUDE:

  • 'Alexander Fleming' (pink)

  • 'Edulis Superba' (pink)

  • 'Raspberry Sundae' (pink)

  • 'Festiva Maxima' (white)

  • 'Krinkled White' (white)

  • 'Laura Dessert' (cream)

  • 'Honey Gold' (yellow)

  • 'Tom Eckhardt' (fuchsia pink)

THE BEST INTERSECTIONAL PEONIES INCLUDE:

  • 'Bartzella' – large, gentle lemon-scented, frilly, yellow flowers with a flare of magenta around the delicate stamens

  • 'Julia Rose' – rose-pink flowers with an inner glow of gold emanating from the depth of the petals

THE BEST PEONIES FOR CUTTING AND FLOWER ARRANGING INCLUDE:

  • 'Monsieur Jules Elie'

  • 'Festiva Maxima'

  • 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Photo credit: Kathrin Ziegler - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kathrin Ziegler - Getty Images

Do peonies have any health benefits?

Peonies are thought to have a number of benefits when it comes to our health. Because of this, Bloom & Wild have named them a 'super flower'. The word peony, comes from the Greek god, Paean, who was the god of healing.

The main health benefit of peonies is their ability to help heal inflammation, according to traditional Chinese medicine. One particular species, paeonia lactiflora, has been used in Chinese medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, hepatitis, dysmenorrhea, muscle cramping, spasms and fever.

The Chinese boil and fry peony petals for a crunchy and sweet snack. They add them to summer salads and mix them into punches. More modern Chinese medicines have made peony extract available as a supplement as they also believe that the peony can help people with cholesterol problems and diabetes, as well as reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Before you go eating them…

You should always consult an edible flower expert or your GP before eating any flower, and remember that plants and flowers could pose a choking threat to young children and animals.

Do not feed peonies to dogs and cats as they are known to be poisonous to them.

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