How to Grow Peonies

Peonies are a classic, old-fashioned flower in northern gardens with a long history in Minnesota. Brand Farms in Faribault had acres of peonies under cultivation in the 1920s, earning the town the nickname the "Peony Capital of the World." There are still several big peony growers in Minnesota, including Swenson Gardens in Howard Lake, Mn., and Hidden Springs Flower Farm in Spring Grove. Once established peonies are an easy-care perennial and, in the right conditions, put on an annual show of blooms that is spectacular.

Peony Types

tree peony bloom

Gorgeous bloom of tree peony

There are three basic types of peonies: herbaceous peonies come up each spring and die to the ground in the fall; tree peonies are shrublike in appearance, with a beautifully shaped leaf, and grow from woody stems each year--you do not want to cut these back in the fall; Itoh or intersectional peonies are a combination of the two traditional varieties--they have the same pretty leaf as tree peonies but die to the ground each year.

Siting and Planting

Peonies like plenty of sun and well-drained soil, so choose one of your sunniest spots in the garden. They will grow in partial shade, but the number of blooms will be smaller and the plants will never achieve as much vigor as they have in the sun. Also, give peonies adequate space so there is good air circulation around them. Peonies can last for decades, so put your plants where they will be happy.

Peonies are usually sold as bare-root plants to be planted in the fall. The roots take their nutrition from below, so prepare a large hole with plenty of organic matter. They also like good drainage, so you may want to lighten the soil around them with peat moss. The root usually includes a thick piece in the middle, with smaller roots coming off it and eyes on top. (Here's a good illustration.) Plant with the eyes 2 inches below the surface of the soil with the eyes point upward. Fill in around the plant, water it deeply and wait until spring.

Care and Maintenance

herbaceous peony bloom

The bloom of an herbaceous peony are lush, a great cut flower.

Like most perennials, you will need to make sure the peony is well watered in the first year -- an inch or so a week from either Mother Nature or the hose. Water at ground level to reduce fungal diseases. If you get flower buds the first year, remove all but one or two. You want the plant to put its energy into forming strong roots.

After bloom time, add a bit of fertilizer around the plant. You could also add bone meal in the fall. Peonies do not need a lot of fertilizing. When herbaceous peonies die back in fall, clean up the foliage to reduce the chance of a disease. Care for tree and Itoh peonies is similar, but you do not cut back tree peonies.

That's about it: Sun, well-drained soil, a bit of fertilizer, good air circulation.

Once established, peonies will bloom for years to come, providing a sure sign of summer each June.


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  1. Chris Merle on September 11, 2014 at 10:35 am

    My mother in law gave me some peopny seeds – how do I make that work? When do I plant them, I have like 6 seeds.

  2. Norma on June 6, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    I want to know if I’m supposed to remove the old buds after flowering? Do I just cut them off so they are stronger next year or leave them on? Thanks

  3. Cara Tollefson on May 2, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    I’m searching online to find out what fertilizer to use for peonies in the spring in Minnesota/Minneapolis. Can you help? Thank you.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 2, 2020 at 8:04 pm

      Peonies aren’t that particular. Assuming you are planting a potted peony plant, I’d throw a little slow-release fertilizer (such as Osmocote) in the planting hole or add some compost to the soil. Peonies don’t do well with a lot of manure, so maybe avoid that. The key thing with new perennials (or shrubs or trees) is to keep them adequately watered during the first year when they get established. Not too much, but at least the equivalent of an inch a week from rain or the hose. With new plants, I water them a little bit everyday for the first week to 10 days, then every other day for another couple of weeks, then as needed to get to the inch a week or so. Once established, poenies live forever! A great plant choice.

    • Barbara Gasterland on May 4, 2021 at 2:43 pm

      I’ve been looking for the same thing Cara and either it’ fertilizing when planting new plants or vague reference to fertilizing but no specifics. Even the Peony Society of MN doesn’t have specifics. I’ve heard that to much nitrogen can increase disease susceptiblity but what is considered too much.

  4. judy peters on June 10, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    I have peony plants that I brought from the midwest to coastal carolina about 10 yeaars ago. . The plants are short, have multiplied, but no blooms. After reading on this site I will transplant them to a sunnier spot. In that case, should I treat them as new plants and remove any buds that may appear next spring?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 11, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      Probably. Be careful on how deep you plant them as well. I found an article from the North Carolina Extension on growing peonies in your area. (In some parts of the south, they will not survive because they need a freeze.) Hope this is helpful.

  5. Lisa on July 11, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    I just received 3 bare root peonies in the mail. I didn’t expect them till September. Should I wait till fall to plant them or should I do it now? I’m in Minnesota.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on July 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      I wouldn’t hold them. They’ll be happier in the ground or possibly in a large container. Follow the planting instructions that came with them and make sure they are adequately watered, especially during the hottest days.

  6. Myron Oftedahl on August 31, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    I purchased a farmsite this spring and the previous owner had not kept the trees from growing in the flowerbed. There are a number of peonies and now that I have cut down all of the trees I am wondering if a light mulching with some old manure around each plant would be a good idea.

    There is a multitude of different flowers in his bed and I am thinking that before everything breaks dormancy next spring, I should spread a layer of sawdust across the entire bed for mulch. What are your thoughts?

  7. Erika Bolin on March 25, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    I bought a house last June and there are peonies next to the garage facing directly East. There is no gutter and the area is always wet, they’re tucked under the soffit so light is cut off early in the day. They were covered in what I assume was a fungus (white haze over the entire plants). I cut them back and removed everything. I have a yard that gets full sun and want to move them. Can I do it now/soon while they’re still dormant? I really don’t want them to suffer another summer in that location. They were pretty sad looking plants and I wouldn’t consider them established. Not sure if they’re newer or if they were just put in a bad location long ago.

    • Erika Bolin on March 25, 2021 at 2:18 pm

      Oh, I’m in Eagan/Twin Cities, Minnesota.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on March 25, 2021 at 3:38 pm

      Fall is best for moving, but that does sound like a very poor area for peonies. You can do it in the spring. Here’s a link to a detailed article on how to move them. Good luck!

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