BONNIE’S GARDEN – Peonies, The Most Beautiful Flower

“Roses, as big as cabbages,” said Marco Polo when he first saw peonies.

Peonies are native to Asia, southern Europe, and the western United States. They have been cultivated in China for more than 2,500 years and are considered a symbol of good fortune. In Chinese, the word for peony is ‘sho yu’—meaning ‘most beautiful.’ They are the national flower of China and the state flower of Indiana.

How to Plant These “Most Beautiful” Flowers

To plant peony roots, dig a hole about two feet in diameter and work in a little compost—our grower does not recommend manures at this stage. Plant the roots with the eyes covered only one to two inches deep. If you plant roots too deep, the plant will come up but will not bloom well, if at all. Try to plant peonies in a spot where they can live for years because they resent being transplanted or moved.

Care and Feeding

Feed peonies with a lower-nitrogen fertilizer (I use Bulb-tone) when the foliage begins to unfurl in the spring. Feed again, lightly, in late summer. Never remove peony foliage until it dies back on its own. It needs a chance to send all its energy to the roots for next year’s flowers.

To prevent any problems, keep the base of the peony plant free from debris (keep mulch about 12” from the crown of the plant), remove the leaves in the fall as soon as they die back, leaving a three-inch stem. Avoid overhead watering, if possible.

Ants Are Your Peonies’ Friends

Ants love peony flowers. They eat the nectar the buds produce. Garden legend says that the ants eat the waxy coating on the buds so the flowers will open, but this is a myth. The buds will open with or without help from the ants. However, in order to protect their nectar sources, the ants will fight off other insects that might damage the buds, so just leave them alone.

Perfect for Your Garden!

Remember, not only are peonies beautiful, they are tough, durable, deer resistant, most are fragrant, and all are very long-lasting perennials—living a hundred years or more.

Speaking of being a symbol of good fortune, fresh locally grown peony roots have just arrived here at the Great Big Greenhouse. How fortunate is that?

Come in and let me help you select your “Rose—as big as a cabbage!”

To read more from Bonnie, visit our blog

14 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – Peonies, The Most Beautiful Flower”

  1. Hi,
    You said how to plant peonies, but not when to plant. I love them. They are so beautiful, but I have never planted them.

    • Hi Fran,

      The best time to plant the roots is in the fall when they’ve been freshly dug and divided. If you buy them in a pot (hopefully, in the spring) then plant them right away, but be careful to remember that because they have not had a chance to root in, they are going to need a little more attention over the summer because they don’t have a good root system established. They are so easy to care for–and deer don’t like them–a big bonus in my yard!


  2. Good article, but it could have been more informative. You missed references to tree versus herbaceous peonies. Significant difference. I like both but prefer tree peonies because they don’t flop over right at blooming time. Though, you can stake them. I put cut-down tomato wire cages around them as they’re emerging. See how your article could have been better?

    • I love tree peonies but we don’t have tree peonies in at the moment. I’ll likely do a blog on them in the spring.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Hi Agnes–Peonies are full sun lovers–six hours or more of direct sun. I’ve seen them survive only four hours, but they won’t bloom well, I’m afraid–and with flowers so gorgeous, you definitely want them to bloom!


  3. How many of the peonies in your Plant Finder section are available through Meadows Farms? How many in one of the locations around here? How many must be ordered and shipped? Any info on prices?

    I’d like to get some!

    • Hi Kathryn–Availability will depend on the variety. This year is a pretty crazy year. We do get freshly dug and divided LOCALLY grown peonies in September. Right now, we do have certain varieties in containers. Which varieties are you looking for?

  4. I planted nine peonies this past fall. They are growing, but most of the stems appear stunted at less than a foot in height, and I only have one flower and a few additional buds so far (mid May). I was very careful to plant them shallow, but I fear I went an inch too deep…sigh. Do I need to dig them up and replant, or will the roots adjust over a season or two?

    • If you planted them too deep or mulch and leaves have collected in the center. we have to address it if we want them to bloom well. Yes, if you planted too deep, correct the situation. When you plant peonies, give them a year or so to “adjust”. Yours are likely doing just that.

  5. I knew they are touchy on transplant, but I got 2 plants from a friend who dug all her Peonies up to move with her to New Hampshire, she gave me two. In this first spring, one had one bloom, and a small one. I was surprised it bloomed months after transplant. A second bud appeared but dried up vs. blooming. Thank for this info. I will feed end of summer and make sure to remove the dried leaves and prune back to 3″ and see what happened next year!

    • They are tough durable plants. Give them a little time. 20 years from now you’ll still be enjoying them like I enjoy the one I got from mygrandmother–more than 20 years ago.

    • Actually,yes. However because their roots are now above ground, you need to rmemember to water them over winter if we get into a dry spell. You also need to protect them if we get unusually cold–four or five years ago we got into the minus temperatures.

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