Herbaceous Peonies are my favorite flower. Whether in the garden, a photograph, painting or as a cut flower, the lush petals and voluptuous blossoms mesmerize me and take me back to my childhood where nearly every farm had a few random peonies planted here and there. As a child, I took great interest in the ants that marched all over the flower buds. Everyone believed the ants were necessary for the buds to open. We now know this is only a myth. The ants are simply attracted to the nectar that forms on the outside of the bud. I will admit, it’s still fun to imagine those little guys are somehow responsible for all the gorgeous blooms.
We have planted nearly 30 peonies at Sutherland over the last three years. Some inherited, others selected from the vast inventory at Peony’s Envy. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kathleen Gagan, proprietor of Peony’s Envy and purchased two more white historic cultivars to add to our collection. The bare roots from Peony’s Envy are packed in peat moss and shipped when they are dormant (spring and fall). A beautiful label identifies the variety by name and displays a lovely color photograph of the bloom. The label also contains pertinent information such as shape and color description, bloom time, size, and hybrid provenance.
Fall and early winter are excellent times to plant bare-root peonies. You can plant up until permanent frost or in spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Site selection is important too. Peonies need sun to bloom- at least 5 hours of full sun a day. Plant in less sun and they will take longer to mature and flower.
Peonies can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions including clay, so long as it is not constantly wet. Sandy soils are not ideal because nutrients leech out of the soil easily. Sandy soil should be amended with clay and compost to create a suitable growing condition. Regardless, the soil must drain well. Peonies do not tolerate wet feet!
I’m always surprised when I see bare-root stock. As gardeners, we are often so focused on what is happening above the ground that we forget what is going on beneath it. The root divisions from Peony’s Envy are a good reminder of this phenomenon. Each division contains three to five eyes, pink or white buds located on the crown that will become next year’s stems, and a substantial tuberous root system.
Let’s Get Planting
Don’t be intimated by the strange gnarled clump of root. Start by inspecting it for size. You will need to dig a hole about 1 foot deep by 10 to 12 inches wide. Remove any rocks and loosen the soil that has been removed from the hole breaking up any clumps. If you have heavy clay soil, you may want to amend your soil with some good compost. You may also add a slow release fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, such as bone meal or bulb tone.
Hold the root in the hole and lower it until the top part (also known as the crown) is ½ to 1 inch beneath the ground surface. Here’s a tip: Lay the handle of a shovel or rake across the hole to create a surface-level guide. Reminder: Keep the crown facing upward and tubors (carrot-like shapes) pointing downward. With the root centered in the hole, gently backfill with the loose soil keeping the root position as vertical as possible. As you backfill, gently press down to remove any air pockets around the roots. If the top sinks beneath the desired depth, lift the root so it does not settle below 1.5 inches.
Once planted, water in well and avoid mulching over the crown. Mulching changes your planting depth and can insulate the plant causing it to not flower. Planting too deep is a very common mistake. Over the next two growing seasons, make sure you give your peonies a good soaking every two or three weeks if it is not raining regularly. This allows the roots to develop and send out a healthy fibrous system. Be careful not to overwater because the plants will not tolerate wet feet. Allow the soil to dry out fully between watering.
Note about Planting Depth & Hardiness Zones: Herbaceous peonies grow well in zones 3 to 8. Peonies should be planted deeper in lower numbered zones and more shallow in higher numbered zones. In Indiana (Zone 5) we plant at a 1 inch depth.
What To Expect
Blooms on a young plant are typically not true to their form. It takes about 3 years for a plant to fully establish. Removing first year buds will promote the best root growth. With a little patience and care, you’ll have gorgeous peonies blooming for decades.
For a sensational selection of Herbaceous, Intersectional and Tree Peonies, visit peonysenvy.com.
Ants, bouquet, and spring progression photos copyright Peony’s Envy.