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how togrow peonies

There is something magical about peonies. Maybe it’s their stunning looks, their photo-ready appearance or their illusive appeal. Whatever it is, we just can’t get enough of them!

Bring puffball peonies to your garden or outdoor space by growing your own peony plant and make the magic last even longer. Surely with a flower this extravagant, growing peonies is going to be hard work? We’re here to prove you wrong with our step-by-step guide on how to grow peonies.

Why grow a peony plant

We all love the look of a blousy bouquet of peonies sitting in our vase, but imagine how it would feel to enjoy those blooms year after year. Hello peony plants!

Not only will your outdoor space be filled with colour from these gorgeous blooms, but a decadent scent will also grace your garden. As if it couldn’t get any better, these flowers are a real winner with our favourite pollinators, bees! Just make sure you pick the single-flowered variety – the double ones make it too hard to find the centre.

Once these fabulous flowers are in bloom, you can fill your vases with your home-grown talents and give a beautiful peony bouquet to your friends and family.

Now we’ve listed all the reasons to grow a peony plant, read on to find out the steps to grow peonies in your garden

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Types of peony plant

Before you jump in and buy your peony plant, you should be aware that there are three different types - Tree Peonies, Herbaceous and Intersectional peony plants. In each group, you can pick from a choice of flower shapes which include single blooms (with one or two rows of petals), semi-double (with two or three rows of petals), or double (where the petals fill the centre).

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Tree Peony Plants

Tree peony plants are the tallest of the group and have a woody stem – a bit like a small tree. If we were being picky (which we’re not), they are not really trees and, in reality, are small shrubs. However, with their main trunk and abundance of foliage and blooms on top they certainly look very tree-like. They tend to produce large flowers and can range in colour from white to pink, dark red to purple, yellow and even apricot shades

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Herbaceous Peony Plants

Next up are herbaceous peony plants. This lot stays lower to the ground to deliver a domed foliage on top of which sit the showy flowers. Flowers are either early, mid or late flowering which means you can enjoy their display from May through to July. Depending on the variety you choose, the colour of the blooms ranges from purple to white. Don’t worry if your peony plant dies back in the winter, it’s only getting ready for a bigger and better display next spring!

Intersectional-Peony

Intersectional Peony Plants

Intersectional peony plants, also known as Itoh peonies, blend characteristics of tree and herbaceous peonies. Named in honor of Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh, the leaves on these peony plants are lower down to cover the ground and the plant tends to die back in winter. Their larger flowers bloom over an extended period and come in a broader spectrum of colors, including golden yellow, copper, white, pink, bright red, and purple.

A question often asked is if you can you grow peonies in a pot? Don’t worry because even if you don’t have a big garden, it’s still possible to enjoy peonies. Choose your peony plant carefully and go with one that has the smallest height and width.

How to plant a peony

Despite common myths, planting and caring for a peony plant is not actually that hard. They are slow-growing plants, but they do last for a long time. Get ready to be a little patient before seeing a mass of blooms. After planting your peony, it can take a year or two to for the flowers to appear – but they’re worth the wait!

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Planting

So, when is the best time to plant peony bulbs in the UK? Ideally, you want to aim to get your peony plant in the ground in autumn, but if you miss this window, you can also go for early winter or early spring. Just avoid planting in late spring or summer because these plants won’t settle in well if it’s too dry.

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Location

Peony plants thrive in sunny spots yet require shelter from strong winds to protect their foliage and flowers. Adequate spacing, roughly 1m between neighbors, is crucial for their growth. These plants dislike being moved, so choose their location wisely. For container peonies, start with a pot measuring 30 to 50cm and upgrade every three to four years as the plant grows.

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Soil

Peonies can tolerate all types of soil (even clay) but ideally they like a well-drained spot that isn’t too dry or prone to getting waterlogged. Before popping your peony plant in the soil, add in some compost – it will help it to settle in nicely.

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Planting

After digging the hole, examine your peony bulb or root to ensure the buds are facing upwards. Plant them about two inches below the soil surface, avoiding deeper planting to prevent growth issues or flowering problems. Tree peonies require deeper planting; position the notch on the tree peony at least 10-15cm below the soil surface, unlike herbaceous and intersectional varieties.

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Watering

Once in the ground give your peony plant some food with a fertiliser. Now give it a good drink - just don’t overdo it. In the first year, be aware your peony will need a lot more water but after that you can relax a bit. As a deep-rooted plant, they won’t need too much looking after.

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Mulch

Finally apply a layer of mulch to the soil to help the plant keep in the moisture. Just remember to keep it away from the base of the plant otherwise it could rot.

Top tips for caring for a peony plant

Now your peony plant is in the ground, how do you look after it?

During flowering time, herbaceous and intersectional plants might need staking as the heavy heads of the flowers can prove too much.

When the unopened flower buds appear, don’t worry if you see ants crawling all over them. They won’t cause any problems - in fact they help protect the plant from other insects. When the flowering period is over, remove the dead flowers, give the plant a good mulch, and on a tree peony, prune out any dead stems.

One of the big problems with a peony plant is not seeing any flowers come through. First think about when it was planted. They can take a little while to get established with flowers only coming through after the first couple of years. If no flowers are coming through after a few years, you might need to check that you got the correct depth when planting.

If you’ve managed to get blooms but not as many as you like check they have enough sun. Peony plants in shadier positions tend to produce fewer flowers. Although these plants are pretty drought tolerant, extended dry periods may also impact how they flower the following year. You can help your peony plant by adding mulch around the base of the plant watering when overly dry. If the decline in flowers continues, you might need to rejuvenate by dividing the plant.

Luckily, despite their looks, peony plants are pretty hardy and only at danger from one serious disease – peony wilt. Also known as grey mould, this fungal infection will cause the foliage and flowers to wilt and die back. You should be able to revive the plant by removing the infected foliage, stems and buds.

Picking peonies for your vase

Of course, one of the main reasons for growing peony plants is the opportunity to pick a few and pop them in your vase. To get the best out of them there are a few tips to follow:

  • Pick them on either a cool day or early in the morning.
  • Don’t pick open flowers – they won’t last long. Instead look for peonies in bud and then give them a soft squeeze. If they feel like a soft marshmallow, they are ready for picking.
  • Only cut the stems with a sharp pair of secateurs or scissors, and remember to cut the stem at an angle.
  • As soon as you cut the stem, pop it into a bucket of water otherwise the ends seal over. They will like taking a big drink at this stage.
  • Remove any leaves on the stem that sit below the water line and then pop them in a clean vase.
  • Trim the stems and give them fresh water every few days.
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Now sit back and enjoy watching the buds slowly develop into stunning flowers – the blooms should easily last at least a week. We hope you enjoy growing your plant – we’d love to see photos of your peonies in full bloom!

If you don’t have the space to grow your own peonies or aren’t so green-fingered, shop our range of peony bouquets, freshly picked from local British growers.