I adore peonies. Their heavy fluffy flower heads are always so eye-catching and impressive it’s hard not to love them. My only complaint is I wish they lasted longer in the garden! They are a welcome addition to any spring garden. The recommendation is to plant peonies in the fall, but you can plant in spring. We have a complete guide on planting peony roots in spring to get the most out of your flowers and to ensure healthy growth in future years.
So, Can You REally Plant Peonies in the Spring?
Someone just offered up some peony bulbs, and it’s spring. So you look online, and you find out that the best time to plant is in autumn, and while this is true, you can plant those peonies in spring!
I’ve personally done it in a frigid growing zone (3A Canada), and although they were not stellar the first year, they were undoubtedly show stoppers three years later.
If someone offers you bulbs, tubers, rhizomes in spring, take them!
Growing Peonies for Spring Gardens
Peonies are one of the most popular spring-flowering bushes. They are valued for their showy flowers and solid and hardy stems. When flower buds appear in early spring, you know winter is finally behind you.
Peony shrubs look lovely planted in a border or around a foundation for curb appeal. Their huge white, pink, yellow, or red blooms make perfect cut flowers. In addition, the woody stems are strong and can make a powerful floral arrangement.
- Height – Peonies grow to 3-4 feet in height
- Spread– 3 feet – 5 feet depending on the type.
- Peony Flowers – 3-5 inches across in late spring and early summer.
- Peony Foliage- The leaves are deeply divided and are a deep dark green and remain green and lush throughout the summer even after the flowers die back.
- Fragrance: Peonies have fragrant flowers that smell a little like jasmine, rose and gilly flower.
The Right Environment to Grow Peonies
Peony plants, once established, require very little care and are almost fuss-free.
- Hardiness: Peony plants are hardy to USDA zone 5.
- Sun Requirements: For best blooms plant peonies in full sun. The plants can tolerate partial shade but will not flower as well and may have weaker stems. Morning sun and afternoon shade are best if planted in the shade. In deep shade, the foliage will come back year after year but plants will not bloom.
- Soil Requirements: For best results plant your peony plant in rich well drained soil that is well prepared and contains lots of organic hummus. It is essential to plant in well-draining soil. If you have heavy clay soil amend the planting hole with lots of organic matter, compost or leaf mold to help with drainage and aeration.
- Bloom time: Late Spring to early Summer
Learn More: See The American Peony Society
How to Care for Peonies
- Water requirements: Plants should receive at least 1 inch of water a week from rain or manual watering.
- Fertilizer requirements – A spring application of compost at the base of the plant will help feed the peony all season long. Granular slow-release fertilizer can also be used at the start of the season.
- Planting time: For best results plant in fall – but you can plant your peony root in spring! They may not form flowers the first year, but they will the second year.
- Staking: It’s a good idea to stake your newly planted peonies to protect them from strong winds.
- Deadheading: Remove fading flowers regularly through the growing season.
For more information about growing peonies, check out the American peony society.
How to Plant Peony Roots in Late Spring
Spring planting bush peonies don’t differ from fall planting, but there are a few things you can do to get your peony roots off to a good start in spring. Here’s how to plant peony bulbs in spring:
- Choose a planting site: In spring find a growing site that is semi-sheltered to protect the peonies from strong winds. Choose the planting site carefully because peonies do not like to be moved once they are established.
- Bare roots: If you received bare root peonies soak them in water for an hour before planting.
- Prepare the hole: Once the site is picked, dig a hole and add a cup of bone meal.
- Planting the crown: Set the crown in the hole an inch or so above the soil surface. It is very important that any budding roots are planted no more than 2 inches below the soil surface. Planting too deeply is one of the primary reasons peony plants fail to bloom.
- Watch that spacing : Space each peony plant about 3 feet apart so they will have plenty of room to expand and won’t crowd or need dividing for many years. Crowding will impede air circulation and can be a catalyst for fungal diseases.
In early fall, it is time to cut back the plants. Removing the spent flowers and foliage in fall will help reduce pathogens that create infections and foliar diseases. Removing vegetation will also help prevent pests from overwintering.
To prune, use a sharp pair of shears, cut off all the growth at the soil level, and discard.
In colder climates where the ground freezes, you may wonder if you should take any additional precautions. Peonies are incredibly cold-hardy and require 700 hours of chilling time to bloom the next year. Protecting those peonies may do more harm than good.
If appropriately spaced during planting, Peony clumps will not need to be divided for 10-20 years. You can, however, separate them earlier if you want more plants.
Fall is the ideal time to divide plants. First, dig the clumps and, with a sharp sanitized knife, cut the root into sections leaving, at minimum, three eyes on each section. Replant immediately.
Peonies as Cut Flowers
Peonies make wonderful cut flowers. They don’t even need filler plants!
Early in the morning, cut just opened blooms with a sharp sanitized knife. Plunge the peony stems into warm water for an hour to condition them before arranging.
Add a teaspoon of floral preservative or sugar to the water to prolong blooming.
Peonies bloom for 7-9 days.
Troubleshooting Problems with Peonies
Peonies have a couple of unique cultural challenges:
Peony plants that produce buds that only develop to the size of a pea but fail to grow further likely have bud blast.
Numerous environmental factors can cause bud blast—drought, low temperatures when the buds form, and lack of potassium.
Flowers fail to bloom
There are many reasons why peonies fail to bloom. However, the number one reason we have already mentioned is planting the crown too deeply.
Peonies that have not been divided for ten years or more may also fail to bloom.
Planting in deep shade will also cause peonies to fail to bloom.
If you have any of these issues, you can dig up your crowns and replant them.
Common Pests Of Peony Bushes
In addition to the pests mentioned below, peonies are often infested with ants when they flower. The ants are attracted to the sugary nectar and do not threaten the plants.
The large rose chafer beetles and Japanese beetles will eat the plant roots.
It’s best to hand pick off the beetles and add them to a bucket of soapy water; for heavier infestations, spray infest plants with diluted pyrethrum and isopropyl alcohol—mix one tablespoon of alcohol for every 2 cups of light pyrethrum mixture.
You can also control Japanese beetles with pheromone traps.
Flower thrips will feed on stem tips, buds, and flowers. Infested plants will present distorted blooms and petals with brown, white, or red dots.
Thrips are difficult to control because they bury into the stem and leaves of the plants. Set out yellow ticky traps about a month after the last frost. When you spot thrips on a lure, spray plants with insecticidal soap every 3-4 days for 2 -3 weeks until the infestation is controlled.
Common Diseases of Peony Plants
Peonies have very few diseases to worry about, provided their environmental needs are well met. You can prevent most infections by ensuring the plants have adequate spacing to ensure good air circulation and good drainage. Plants that are waterlogged or sit in soggy soil are prone to rot. Be sure to avoid over-watering.
The most common disease of peonies is botrytis blight. A gray mold causes the condition. The disease will be first seen in early spring when shoots are about 12 inches tall. After that, shoots will suddenly fall over and die.
Remove and destroy any plant parts as soon as blight appears.
Planting Peonies in Spring
If someone offers you peony divisions, don’t say no in spring! You can plant those divisions in spring and have healthy plants as long as you follow the environmental and care advice mentioned above.
Although it may take longer for your spring-planted peonies to hit their full stride, you can be assured that they will hit full maturity.
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- How to Grow Azaleas in Pots and Keep Them Blooming!
Editorial Note: This post was originally published on March 2, 2022, and was updated on February 4, 2023.
Herbaceous peonies are perennials that will die back to the ground each year and reemerge in late spring. Tree peonies are deciduous shrubs with woody growth that lose their leaves yearly.
Peonies have been known to last for up to 100 years! Make sure you care for your peonies properly, and replant or divide them as needed, and they will stay happy for decades to come!
Yes! Deadheading will ensure that your plant has the energy to focus on new blooms.