With their impressive colours, blooms and fragrance, peonies are adored by amateur and pro gardeners across the globe. Whether you opt for intersectional, herbaceous or tree peonies, there is a style, size and shade to suit all tastes too.
Asides from their timeless elegance and the sheer size of their blooms (some of which outweigh dinner plates), peonies are perfectly positioned for those looking for a low-maintenance plant that promises to add interest and allure to the home garden.
With colours spanning from white and yellow, to purple, pink and numerous shades in between, as well as double, semi-double and single blooms, there is a variant to suit every garden. But just how do you go about growing them at home?
Top tips on growing peonies
When it comes to growing peonies at home, there are several key rules to take into consideration to ensure your plants can thrive.
- Avoid planting your peony too far into the ground. For best results, make sure the tuberous roots are positioned no more than 2.5cm below the soil’s surface. Any deeper, and they likely won’t flower! They’ll still showcase a sea of delightful foliage, however, the main reason to invest in this plant is because of its impressive blooms. If you want foliage as majestic as the flower, opt for intersectional peonies, such as ‘Julia Rose’ or ‘Bartzella’ AGM. Both species feature delicately cut leaves, which turn a hot shade of crimson in the spring and autumn. Alternatively, choose a herbaceous or garden variant – both boast strong, vibrant red stems, which are perfectly complemented by soft, light green foliage.
- Place your peonies in a position that benefits from a good deal of sunlight. Although several variants, including ‘White Wings’ can tolerate the shade, the majority of peonies will struggle to flower without plenty of daily sunshine. These are an extremely popular option for borders, adding instant colour and fragrance to the garden space.
- Use free-draining, fertile soil when planting your peonies at home. You can opt for clay or chalk options, but water must drain away. Peonies are not a fan of sitting in water, especially in the cooler winter months. This can stunt their growth and can also cause root rot. If planting herbaceous peonies, opt for slightly alkaline or neutral soil. Tree peonies on the other hand can withstand acidic soils, yet necessitate a sheltered position.
How to plant peonies
Whether you’re a peony veteran or just getting started, it’s important to give these beautiful blooms the home they deserve. Once you have chosen the perfectly sun-drenched position and well-drained, rich soil, it’s time to begin the planting process.
If planting bare-root peonies, you will need to put them in the ground as soon as you get them home. The planting process should take place between autumn and spring. To ensure they thrive, combine plenty of well-rotted organic matter with the soil before planting, and use a balanced fertiliser in the spring.
Steer clear of overwatering peonies that have just been planted though. This is one of the most widespread causes of failure. You will also need to invest in several plant supports, as when in full bloom, these plants become rather heavy!
Caring for peonies
In autumn, you must prune herbaceous peonies by cutting them back to ground level. Tree peonies on the other hand don’t necessitate pruning, although you should remove the faded seed heads. There’s no need to remove the faded foliage, as this will fall off of its own accord.
When tending to borders, be careful not to step on any new plant buds. It’s common for herbaceous variants to form suckers around the base of the plant, which can be easily damaged when weeding.
Herbaceous peonies can be propagated by segregation during the autumn. Begin by pruning the faded foliage, then gently lift the plant using a garden fork. With a knife, remove as much soil as possible, cutting off sections of the plant’s crown. Each section necessitates a total of three buds and lots of roots. Once removed, replant the cuttings immediately.
Pests and diseases
As with the majority of garden plants, peonies suffer from a few ailments, although not as many as you may think! Provided that you plant them in the correct position, they’re one of the most pest-tolerant plants. Here are a few common problems that you may come across:
Limited blooms: If planted too far into the ground or in a shaded position, your peonies may lack blooms. To resolve this issue, move the plant to a position that benefits from regular bouts of sunshine in the autumn, making sure to replant it in the shallower ground. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see blooms straight away, as when moved, peonies can take a year or two to begin blooming again.
Grey mould or peony wilt: This is perhaps the only serious ailment to watch out for, and causes dieback of both the buds and the foliage.
Peony blotch (Septoria Paeonia): If your peonies are suffering from this disease, the foliage will showcase brown-grey spotting, tinged with red. Often seen in the spring just before the plant blooms, it’s best to remove any unsightly foliage while being careful not to add it to the compost pile.