How to grow Peonies

How to grow and look after Peonies

Is there any flower in the world more beautiful than a Peony?

Peony Festiva Maxima
Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’

Herbaceous Peonies are the most well known type of peony and probably the most converted Wedding Flower ever.

Here are my top tips on how to grow Herbaceous Peonies.

These magnificent blooms arrive perfectly just as the Spring bulbs are ending and before the Roses properly begin.

Peonies may be fleeting but once established these perennial plants are extremely long lived and need very little attention.

Peonies take time to mature which makes plants relatively expensive, but if you buy them as bare root plants huge savings can made as well as a bigger choice of varieties…

Its best to plant bare root peonies in the Autumn while the soil is still warm but you can also plant them in Spring as we head back into the warmer months. The Autumn planted peonies will have the edge on getting established.

Container-grown peonies can be planted at any time of the year but due to all that care and growing they can be a lot more expensive. But very good for an instant display.


Peonies prefer heavier but not waterlogged conditions so I add lots of rich homemade compost to my planting hole. For those gardening on clay then add a generous layer of horticultural grit to the bottom of the planting hole.

Peony 'Bowl of Cream'
Peony ‘Bowl of Cream’

Don’t plant too deep. The buds (eyes) of the peony should be no lower than 3-5cm below the soil surface. Any deeper and they may not flower.

For the same reason, avoid mulching as you will gradually bury the crown over time.

Plant Herbaceous Peonies in a spot with plenty of sunshine. Over time trees can grow plunging a once sunny spot into shade.

(Note: Woodland Peonies and Tree Peonies are separate species)

I often start newly purchased roots off in pots, because they take a few years to settle in and I can use the ground for something else while they grow. Peonies will ultimately outgrow it pots. I am using 15L pots and will move to a permanent location within a year or two.


Peony 'Coral Charm'
Peony ‘Coral Charm’

Peonies planted in the ground won’t need watering unless it’s a very dry spring but you will have to keep an eye on any planted in pots.

Always keen to reuse and recycle I sprinkle potash rich wood ash from my stove in early spring. Wood Ash is soluble in water so its not worth doing this before then. I also use it on my bulb borders in winter.

Peonies do not really suffer from pests and diseases, requiring little care or attention once established.


Peony Festiva Maxima
Peony Festiva Maxima

Peonies may take a few years to bloom, but if you are lucky enough to get a flower be careful NOT to pick the stem. It might be the only stem your plant has and the leaves photosynthesise and feed the root through summer and early autumn. If you cut if off you will damage and may even kill your plant.

Cut the flower by all means but only as far as the first leaf. Use a bud vase to display or float the flower in a shallow bowl.

For established plants never cut more than 1\3 of the foliage for the same reason, flowers are usually still long enough (before the leaves) for most table displays anyway. I make a point to never cut lower than I need.

Peonies are thirsty cut flowers, fill vases to the brim and top up daily!


How to grow Peonies

Cut back foliage at the end of the year. We burn our peony foliage to reduce the risk of botrytis which can cause peony wilt. Peony wilt causes buds to look mouldy and the stems to wilt.

One plants are cut down we place Peony hoops over crowns ready to support new growth next Spring.

We use half sized versions of Neil’s Hoops, click her for more information on how to make our own. 

Peonies may take three or more years to hit their stride but then they will live for up to 50 years. So while it may be tempting to purchase cheap tiny plants available in Spring, you know they ones, hanging in plastic bags in hot shops. My advice is to buy well, from a reputable grower to be sure of success in your garden.

Lots of love

Zoe x

Zoe Woodward, Swan Cottage Flowers © Ferri Photography