Growing, Caring For & Harvesting Your Peonies

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Looking to grow the biggest, blousiest, most beautiful peony blooms? Here is your complete guide to growing and harvesting Peonies so that you can have the most gorgeous peonies year after year. And the answer to the question that I get the most often is how long do peonies bloom

Peonies have a very short flowering season which is why they are so expensive and in demand once they bloom. Each flower left on the plant can last for 7 to 10 days, one plant can grow multiple blooms. Peonies as cut flowers can last 2-3 weeks if you want them to and have the proper storage.

Peonies plants can bloom for over 100 years. The simple secret to extending blooming in your garden is to plant varieties that flower at different times within the roughly 6-week period of proficient blooming.

Peonies are amazing early spring flowers with many different varieties that you can grow right in your backyard. Let’s dive into the specifics on how to grow peonies, how to care for them, bloom time, and how to harvest them for cut flowers.

How to Grow Peony Tubers

Peonies are relatively easy to grow when planted in the right location with proper soil conditions.

Most cultivars grow well in hardiness zones 3–8 and prefer direct sunlight with excellent drainage and good air circulation.

Growers in warmer climates may want to select a location that receives partial shade to shield the peony bushes from the heat of the midday sun. In cooler climates, peonies will enjoy being in a sunny spot all day long.

Peony roots may rot if planted in soil that does not drain well, so select your planting site with care. Raised beds can help alleviate drainage issues, and clay soils will need to be heavily amended to encourage good drainage.

Soil Prep
The quality of your soil is of the utmost importance for any growing endeavor, including growing peonies. Before planting, invest in the time to make sure that the pH is near neutral (6.0 to 7.0) and that nutrients and organic matter are distributed throughout the soil, creating rich soil.

A professional soil test may sound daunting, but it’s actually very easy to procure and will give you the best results for improving your soil. The Cooperative Extension service in your area can review the soil test and provide advice on how to supplement for any nutrient deficiencies as well as how to adjust the soil pH.

Learn More About Soil Testing- How to Test Your Soil

When to Plant Peonies
The gardener’s rule of thumb has been to order peonies in spring and take delivery of them in early fall at planting time. However, the good news is there is some wiggle room when it comes to planting time, depending on your growing zone.

Growers in warmer climate may want to stick with fall planting, as it allows the peony to become well established over winter, before the intense heat of summer kicks in.

In cooler climates, many growers have had success with planting peonies in either spring or fall. If you are unsure, consider experimenting with both spring and fall plantings, and the vigor of your plants over time will let you know what is best for your microclimate.

How to Grow Peonies

Planting Peony Tubers
You’ve probably heard that when it comes to planting peonies, don’t plant them too deeply (or you may get a lot of foliage and no flowers) but also don’t plant them too shallow (or they may not survive winter).

Ideally, the goal is to plant the root in such a way that the “eyes” (or buds located on the root at the base of each stem) are just 1–2 inches below the soil, so they have some protection but aren’t too deeply buried.

When transferring a potted peony into the ground, it should be easy to plant the peony at soil level, as the potted plant should already be planted to the correct depth in the pot. However, with bare root peonies, it’s a little trickier. Each root will look different, and the eyes may not necessarily be as neatly positioned on the root as expected.

In this situation, do your best to get most of the eyes at the correct level, and mother nature will work her magic from there. It’s also vital to backfill soil under the peony root as needed; there should not be any pockets of air left under the roots which could otherwise cause rot from pooling water or cause the plant to sink too deep in the soil.

Some growers plant their peonies in single rows while others plant in double rows, and there are tradeoffs to consider for both methods. Double row plantings help maximize the profitability of the space but will likely result in rows that are densely packed and possibly at higher risk for foliar disease (botrytis blight) due to a lack of air circulation around the plants.

Peonies planted in single rows experience improved ventilation, but fewer peony plants will fit within the area overall, depending on the size of the walkways in between each row.

In addition, it may be easier to harvest cut flowers from single row plants since the entire plant is reachable from all angles when cutting; however, double row plantings have a fullness that is visually pleasing if you will have visitors to your cutting garden.

If you don’t have a BIG garden plot where you can plant many peony tubers consider planting them in containers. We do this with great success. Learn More –

Within a row, plant peonies with at least two feet between each plant, which sounds like ample room but is very close once the plants mature. It is certain that the leafy foliage of healthy peonies will be touching within the first few years of growth when planted at two-foot increments.

For better air circulation between plants, consider planting your peonies further apart as space allows, and offset each plant when growing in double rows. Raised beds should be a minimum of three feet wide so that roots can spread in all directions within the growing space.

Caring For Your Peonies

Irrigation for your Peonies
Peony plants are highly susceptible to certain diseases, in particular, botrytis sp., which thrives in high humidity, low airflow environments.

Because of this, one of the best preventative measures you can take against foliar disease is to drip irrigate your peony plants so that you are watering the base of the plant instead of the leaves.

The idea of installing irrigation is new to a lot of growers, but there are many affordable and easy-to-use systems on the market that can be set up very quickly and will last for years. The time that you spend installing drip irrigation will pay dividends in time saved and potential disease mitigation down the road.

If you are watering on a slope, then you’ll want to use an irrigation line with pressure compensating emitters, so that your plants are watered evenly. If you are on flat ground, simple drip tape is very affordable and, although thin, may last for multiple seasons if holes are mended each spring.

Staking Your Peonies
Once established, peonies will flower abundantly for years – the ones we have at the farm are close to 20 years old and healthier than ever! Sometimes when they have large blooms that require the plant to be staked, especially double-flowered types because their blooms are so massive and heavy.

There are specific peony cages that can be super helpful in this; if you have a very established plant just make sure the cage is sturdy and can hold the weight of the plant. If you have a smaller bush you can use a tomato cage as support by turning it upside down and cutting it down to size with a pair of wire cutters.

Additionally, you can use bamboo stakes and some roping for staking! The roping is just going around the outside of the bush to help keep the stems from splaying outwards.

Heavy spring rain can flatten your plants in a matter of minutes so it really is important to provide proper support for the stems!

Peonies on the Flower Farm

Young Peony Plants: 1-3 years
A peony cutting garden develops slowly, and the plants must be allowed to establish themselves before harvest can be taken. It is normal for a peony plant to flower very little or not at all within the first three years.

However disappointing this is to the grower, it can be a good thing for the plant to have time for root growth rather than the development of flower buds, which are technically for reproduction. Many professional growers will remove all the buds from their plants during their first few years, hoping to encourage the robust development of the roots.

That said, there can be an argument made for letting one flower open per young plant to confirm that the root you received is true to the cultivar that you ordered from the supplier.

Mature Peony Plants: 4+ years
Around the fourth year of growth, many growers report that their peony plants really take off. It’s an exciting time, as all of the care that has been put into the plants finally begins to show!

Peony plants are usually easy to maintain once established, just remember to perform a few key steps every season:

Collect an annual soil sample to monitor nutrient availability over time.

Work amendments into the soil as indicated by the soil analysis (rather than guessing!).

Watch your plants for disease and pests.

Keep the peonies weeded and well-watered (note: although they do not like to have their roots in standing water, peonies do need to be watered thoroughly and regularly).

Ants on Peonies
We are asked all the time about the relationship between ants and peonies. The truth is, ants (like bees) visit the closed peony buds to collect the nectar that is extruded on the outside of the peony bud. The nectar is a source of carbohydrate for the insects that collect it; however, peonies are capable of blooming without the assistance of ants or any other type of insect.

Deadheading Peonies
If you are letting some flowers stay on the plant, don’t forget to deadhead. This idea with this is that you want to tell your plant to send energy back to the roots. Tubers start their process of energy storage right after they bloom, if you do not remove the spent flower stem you are telling the plant to send energy to make seeds. This is kind of pointless because it would take YEARS for you to grow a peony from seed and because they are cultivars, you would not get that same peony, you would get stock ones which are just not as cool!

Learn more about Deadheading Cut Flowers – HERE.

Harvesting Peony Flowers

Picking peonies definitely requires some prep and basic knowledge for the best results. That being said they are excellent cut flowers and a peony bouquet looks amazing on any table.

When to Harvest?
Peonies bloom in late spring – early summer, starting in April and through the months of May and June. Therefore, to fill your garden with continuously blooming peonies throughout the season to up to 6 weeks, you may plan to plant a variety of peony, from Very Early- to Very Late season bloomers.

You can pick your peonies as open as you like but I prefer to cut them when they are in a specific bud phase called “soft marshmallow.” What does this mean? Basically, if you gently squeeze the bud and it feels like a squishy marshmallow, it’s ready to be picked! If it feels harder than a marshmallow, let it ripen a little more but keep your eye on it. Peony buds are known for going from hard to soft marshmallow in a matter of hours!

I pick them at this stage because it gives me the longest vase life and they actually open. If you pick buds too soon and the petals haven’t finished fully developing you’ll get a wonky-looking half-bloom if anything at all. If you pick the flowers too blown out and open it’s no big deal, they are still gorgeous, you just won’t get as long of a time out of them in the vase.

How to Harvest?
Have your bucket of room temperature, CLEAN water ready with flower food already added so you can put the stems directly in them. When I am using my stems right away I give them an immediate drink, if you need to pick but are not using them right away scroll down for my tips on delaying them from opening and instead of preserving them in the fridge!

Remove ALL foliage and minor buds right then and there immediately after cutting from the plant. I know it seems counterintuitive to remove potential flowers but these minor/side buds are only sucking life away from your main bloom and will cut its vase life down significantly if left on the stem. They also won’t open in water because they are not developed enough.

It is imperative to remove all foliage not only because if it sits in water it will rot (this is true for all cut flowers, by the way!), but also because again these leaves are sucking energy from the main bloom and will cut down its vase life. I cut all foliage and unnecessary buds of my blooms immediately – right after I cut them from the plant before I put them in the water bucket.

As far as stem length, I suggest cutting as long as possible! I tend to cut them at about 24″ long so that I have wiggle room for whatever height I want them to be in their final vessel. Another trick I’ve learned is to give the stems a second cut while under the water. So the initial cut is when they are taken off the plant but give a second cut, under the water, as you put them in your bucket. You should be using CLEAN and sharp snips (I use THESE by Fiskars) to get the best cuts, just spray or dip the blades in rubbing alcohol prior to use. Cutting at a 45-degree angle is best for water absorption.

That said, when harvesting, be sure to leave at least 2 sets of leaves on stems that remain on the plant so that it can continue to grow and store food over the summer.

It’s best to cut peonies in the early morning or late in the afternoon/evening. Cutting them in the heat of the day will only stress them out, make them open faster and shorten their vase life. This is true for cutting pretty much all flowers – do it either in the cool morning or evening!

How and When to Cut Peonies

How Long Do Peonies Bloom?

Peonies plants can bloom for over 100 years. The simple secret to extending blooming in your garden is to plant varieties that flower at different times within the roughly 6-week period of proficient blooming.

How Long Do Peony Flowers Last?
Peonies have a very short flowering season which is why they are so expensive and in-demand once in bloom. Each flower left on the plant can lasts for seven to 10 days, one plant can grow multiple blooms.

Peonies as cut flowers can last 2-3 weeks if you want them to and have the proper storage.

Once cut, different peonies will open at different rates. For example, Coral Charm, Festiva Maxima and Karl Rosenfeld are quick, while Sarah Bernhardt is slower. Regardless, cooler temperatures will always extend their vase life. If you want to really slow down the opening, keep your cut blooms in the fridge in a vase of water, you can just take them out when you’re ready to display or use them.

If you do not have the space for a vase of peonies in your fridge don’t worry! You can store them by bunching the stems together, drying them off with a clean towel and slipping them into a plastic bag with a few paper towels wrapped around the base of the stems. The paper towels will both absorb excess moisture and keep the stems just moist enough to live. Take care to make sure there is no moisture on the blooms or leaves though!

Where to Buy New Peony Plants

If you are looking to get into the world of Peonies and want to start small I suggest buying Peony Tubers from Easy Grow Bulbs they have lots of varieties and are affordable. Peony season is one that I look forward to every year. They are one of my favorite flower!! 

Learn More About Growing Peonies-

Peonies on the Flower Farm

How and When to Cut Peonies

Caring for Peonies