Romantic, sumptuous peonies are resurfacing as easy-care, easy-to-love plants. Their ruffled petticoats are so luxurious, so coveted, who'd guess that they'd thrive without a bit of coddling? Follow our planting guide and your peonies will wow for decades.
With a blooming season from early spring to mid-summer, it's easy to forget that peonies should be planted in the fall. Set into the ground just as the trees begin to turn, they'll produce a few flowers next spring before returning for a full round of blooms the second year.
-Rich, well-drained soil
-Full sun (partial shade in the warmest regions)
-Good air circulation
-Shelter from intense wind
Peonies come in several flower forms. Some look like hefty corsages, while others are light and delicate. Depending on the variety, the flower may be bowl, saucer, or cup shaped.
Singles: At least one row of petals and a center of yellow stamens
Semi-doubles: Full with a tuft of stamens, sometimes with petals intermixed
Doubles: So full of petals the stamens usually are not visible (see 'Douglas Brand' at left)
Japanese: Five or more outer petals and a center of stamens that look like thin petals
Bombs: Outer petals and a pompon of inner petals
Double varieties that bloom mid- to late-season are poor candidates for mild climates; they may produce flower buds, but warm weather usually keeps them from opening properly. For best results, choose early blooming single or double-flowered peonies or Japanese types (the early-, mid-, and late-season varieties all do fine).
'Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt'
'Doreen, Fairy's Petticoat'
'Silver Dawn Mix'
Flag the position for the tubers 30 inches apart throughout the bed using a yardstick (or tape measure) as a guide.
Dig a shallow hole for each tuber and sprinkle in a handful of fertilizer. The hole should be only slightly deeper than the height of the tuber it will hold.
Plant the tubers with their eyes (growth buds) pointing up, under no more than one inch of soil in mild-winter climates and two inches in cold climates. If you plant them too deep, you will have foliage but no flowers.
Hold the tubers at the appropriate depth and add soil. Wait to water until you have firmed the soil around and above the tuber; this prevents them from settling below optimum planting depth.
Adding two inches of winter mulch -- straw, dry leaves, or compost -- is necessary for peonies in the first year. This prevents frost heaving (partial lifting of a plant out of soil and/or damage to crown and roots caused by soil's rapid freezing and thawing). When you see green tips emerge in the spring, remove the mulch.