How To Plant And Grow Peonies In The UK

Peony Flower

A classic cottage garden plant, that is also used as a cut flower indoors. Once established in your garden they will last you decades.

There is a popular myth that Peonies are tricky to grow, but that is not true if you know how to plant them properly.

Choosing the right position in your garden and planting them at the right depth are the secrets to success with Peonies, and once they are established in your garden they’ll virtually look after themselves.

Types Of Peonies

Broadly speaking there are two distinct types of Peonies;

Herbaceous Peonies

Peony Flower

Herbaceous Peonies die back to ground level each autumn and their beautiful red stems will reappear the following spring.

Tree Peonies

Tree Peony

Tree Peonies are shrubbier and produce permanent woody stems that lose their leaves in winter but the stem itself remains intact above ground level.

How To Plant Peonies

Peony Flower

How you plant your peony will depend on which type you have.

Planting Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous Peonies need a sunny spot where they will receive at least six hours of sunshine a day.

Herbaceous Peonies appreciate moist fertile soil that is rich in organic matter. Try to avoid planting them in soggy soil because this can cause the crown of the plant to rot.

If your soil is less than perfect you can improve it by adding plenty of compost or well-rotted manure before planting to improve the moisture level and soil fertility.

Before planting you need to check where the highest bud is on the crown of the plant.

The highest bud needs to be planted just two inches below soil level. It is very important not to plant them too deeply as this can delay or even prevent them from flowering.

Dig your planting hole with this in mind, making sure that the crown sits two inches below soil level, tap the soil down gently and don’t forget to water the plant in after planting.

In the first year of planting your Peony, you should expect lots of red shots with just one or two small flowers. But by the third year, your peony should be producing a plentiful amount of large blooms.

Planting Tree Peonies

Tree Peonies enjoy a sunny or semi-shaded position that is sheltered from strong winds and shaded from the early morning sunlight.

Like herbaceous Peonies, they also enjoy a rich fertile soil.

Before planting your Tree Peony you need to look at the base of the stem for a bulge where the woody stem is grafted to the rootstock. This is important because this graft determines how deeply your tree peony needs to be planted.

You need to dig a hole that is deep enough so that the graft is 4 to 6 inches below the ground level, this is much deeper than when planting a herbaceous Peony.

Don’t worry if this means that most of your plant is hidden below the soil surface leaving only a couple of stems with buds on top that are visible.

This is much better than shallow planting and once established your plant will be far more productive for having been planted properly.

If you have purchased a pot grown Peony the hard work has already been done for you, just plant your Peony the same depth as the pot that it has been grown in.

With a pot grown Tree Peony just check that the grafted bulge is below the soil surface.

All Peonies need to be planted where there is good airflow. If they don’t have enough air circulation they can suffer from a fungus called botrytis or powdery mildew.

How To Deadhead Peonies

Peony Flower

The main reason for deadheading your Peonies after the blooms are spent is to stop the plant from wasting energy by producing seeds.

You want your Peonies to instead use that energy to establish a bigger better root system that will produce more flowers next year.

Take a clean sharp pair of secateurs and go into the foliage below the canopy of the plant and just snip off halfway between the internodes.

When deadheading a Tree Peony you have to be careful not to cut off next year’s flowers buds. So the best way to deadhead a Tree Peony is just to sip off the spent flower.

How To Feed Peonies

Peony Flower

Peonies are a hungry plant and you can use a slow-release feed which you spread at the base of the plant to the dip line around 3 to 4 weeks before they start to bloom.

Or you can use a much faster acting liquid feed which you put straight into the ground using a watering can.

Peonies FAQ

Peony Flower and Bee

Why Is My Peony Not Flowering?

The most common problem with Peonies is the failure to flower and the main reason for this is because the plant has been planted too deeply.

If you Peony is planted too deeply wait until autumn and raise the plant to the correct level in the soil. Peonies should only be planted a couple of inches below the soil surface.

Another reason for your Peony not blooming is if you have moved or disturbed your plant. Your Peony will not be happy and will thank you by not flowering.

Why Are My Peonies Tall & Skinny?

The main reason for tall and skinny Peonies is because they have been planted in a position where there is too much shade and they are searching for the sun.

Peonies need to be planted in a place in your garden where they will receive at least six hours of sunshine a day.

Why Are My Peonies Covered In Ants?

Peony With Ants

This is not a bad thing the ants are feeding on a sweet sap given off by the flower buds.

Why Are My Peony Flowers So Small?

To help your peony produce beautiful big blooms give them a mulch in the autumn and a regular feed and water during the growing season.

When Should I Cut My Peonies Back?

Peonies should be cut back to ground level after the first hard frost in the autumn.