Peonies can be divided into three main groups:
Double or Chinese peonies are the most popular type of peonies grown. They feature massive fragrant flowers (pink, red, or white) that resemble huge roses. Japanese peonies, a related species, have single flowers with distinctive centers featuring a puff of short, modified petals.
Early hybrid peonies have huge flowers (up to 8 inches across) and bloom a week or two earlier than the Chinese peonies.
Fernleaf peonies are rare and very unique looking. They have deep crimson flower atop fine, fern-like foliage.
Varieties with large, heavy flowers (especially doubles) usually need staking. Support should be in place before the leaves unfurl. Single flower types don't capture and hold as much water and are less prone to flopping over from heavy spring rains.
When: Autumn is the best time to plant peonies, whether they are newly purchased or simply being moved. Plant them at least six weeks before the ground is expected to freeze in your area. Make sure new plants have plenty of time to make new roots before growth stops for the winter.
Where: Peonies are "long-haul" plants. They perform best after being in the same place for a long period of time. Select a site where they can grow and remain undisturbed for years to come.
Choose a location where peonies will receive at least 6 full hours of sun each day. Shadier locations will result in less blooms and weaker stems. Peonies do not tolerate standing water, so make sure the site provides ample drainage. Space multiple plants at least 36 inches apart.
How: If you're digging up and dividing a clump, start by cutting off and discarding the spent foliage. Dig up the roots carefully and gently remove any loose dirt. Cut the clump into sections, leaving at least three to five eyes and a good portion of root system on each one.
Dig planting holes roughly twice as deep and wide as the peony roots. Prepare the soil by working a little compost, peat moss, or well-rotted manure in with the soil you remove. Add in a handful of bone meal or green sand as a source of potassium to stimulate strong root growth and flower set.
Replace some of this soil mix and set the plant in on top, making sure the budlike eyes are no more than 1 to 2 inches below the ground. Deeper planting will result in failure to bloom.
Back fill gently (don't tamp the soil around the plants). Water in, then top off with additional soil if necessary.
In the spring (April/May) peonies will appreciate a generous application of compost and a shot of a low nitrogen organic fertilizer (5-10-5 or 5-10-10). Feed them again when their buds reach the size of peas.
To keep peonies looking their best, deadhead individual stems right after blooms fade. This puts the plant's energy back into growing roots and food storage instead of wasting energy on trying to produce seeds.
When cutting flowers for arrangements, leave at least 3 leaves below where the stem is cut to help produce food for development of next year's blooms.
Like many plants, peonies will make larger flowers if forced to make fewer of them. Disbudding is a technique commonly applied to peonies and other flowers which have clusters of buds on each stem. This technique is often used by growers who show peonies in flower exhibitions.
Peonies have several buds, some primary (lead buds) and some secondary (smaller buds branching off from the lead buds). A large number of secondary buds require the plant to put lots of energy into growing a large number of (smaller) flowers. By removing several of the secondary buds, the plant puts the same amount of energy into fewer (bigger) flowers.
Have you ever been told that ants are necessary to open peony buds? Not true. Peony buds will open with or without ants, but the two do share a special relationship.
Peonies have tiny, specialized tissues (nectaries) at the edge of their bud scales that secrete nectar. These microscopic nectaries may go unnoticed by humans, but not by ants. This highly nutritious blend of sugars, proteins, and amino acids makes an ideal meal, and is the reason ants are always seen crawling over peony buds.
In exchange for the nectar, ants offer peonies a valuable service-protection. Any bud-eating pests that arrive on the peonies are quickly attacked and discarded.
After the first frost, stems on mature peonies can be cut off at ground level. If there was any sign of leaf spot of other disease problems during the season, the foliage should be placed in the garbage or burned, and not added to the compost pile.
After the ground is frozen 3 or 4 inches down, add a protective layer of mulch to protect plants from frost heave in the winter.
By Ellen Brown
How long will they bloom before dying?
As a whole peonies don't last very long, probably just a few weeks. They usually bloom around Memorial Day. The whole plant doesn't die, just the blooms. When the blooms are done, you can cut the dried up part off and still have nice looking foliage. They used to be used a lot on graves for Memorial Day. Before cemeteries became so fussy people used to plant peonies, iris, etc right on the graves. I have even seen lilac bushes planted on the graves.
How can I grow Peonies without paying high prices?
Hardiness Zone: 7a
By pattitwins from Roanoke, VA
They are easy to transplant, although I don't know which is the best season to divide Peonies. I would think any season, but especially early spring and late fall for the best success. Just find someone who will divide theirs and share. Well established plants will have lots of new plants under and around the tall plants. You can take these or take your spade and cut right into the parent plant.
After I got mine from a friend several years ago, they did not produce for the first year or two, but that's okay, now I have so many to enjoy. They were white for many years, but this year I have some that are a light pink. Something I have noticed is that every year when my Peonies are blooming, we have rain and the rain soon washes the petals off. I try to enjoy the cuttings before the rain does this. This year we have had the rain but mine bloomed later so the rain hasn't gotten them yet but I expect it to as the blooms mature.
I shared some of mine this year for the first time through yahoo's group FWgardenclub. Search yahoo groups for garden clubs in your area, and you can find and share just about anything at no cost.
I live in Ohio (zone 5) and my peony bush is not blooming. Someone else I know is having the same problem. I water it regularly and it is in direct sun. Any thoughts on this? It looks healthy, nice and green and sturdy, but no buds or blooms.
By Kathy from Sylvania, OH
If they are not setting buds then they are planted to deep. Peony need to be planted shallow. If you can see some of the root when planting that is ok. So you need to break up the roots and replant. You will probably have plants left over to give away. The earlier post is correct on the ants. Ants help them to bloom.
My peonies stopped blooming after I moved to another house, ten years ago. They just grow, but no more blooms.
Check out much sun they get. When some trees that wasn't very big at my place grew up. They blocked my peonies and thus we no longer got the pretty blooms we used to; in fact the last couple of years there wasn't a single bloom. We have to move them at the end of the year to a place that will get full or at least several hours of sun. I think they need at least 8 hours, but not sure. I always before had them in full sun or planted under a red bud tree. It was always thin so they got lots of sun.
I planted a peony, but it has not bloomed. Any suggestions?
How old is your peony? To bloom, a couple things are necessary. The tuber needs at least three eyes to bloom. Also, don't plant the tuber so deep that the eyes are covered. And do not get rid of the ants! Some gardeners say the ants are necessary for the buds to open.