Peonies are native throughout the northern hemisphere and have been cultivated for centuries both in Europe and Asia.
Like most perennials, they take three years to become fully established in our gardens. They follow the well known truisms: first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap; or first year roots, second year shoots, third year flowers.
You will see some flowers before the third year, but it takes three springs before the plant has a mature and stately presence and is consistently true to flower form. Peonies can live for decades in one place without needing to be moved or thinned.
Potted peonies are typically planted at the beginning of the growing season in May-June. That being said, peonies are very hardy and can be planted almost any season as long as the ground can be dug.
All peonies are best suited to locations that are well draining, never become waterlogged, and are not watered by a daily sprinkler system. They are tolerant of a wide range of pH but prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soils. The overall peony bloom cycle lasts up to 8 weeks.
We have heard for generations that ants are necessary for peonies to flower. This is not true. The ants are simply attracted to the nectar on the buds of herbaceous peonies. Ants keep the garden clean of other pests and will not hurt the flowers or the leaves. Having peonies in your garden is not going to create an ant problem in your house.
To prevent bringing in ants when you cut your peony flowers cut them when they are a tight bud, when they just begin to show color, and the ants can be easily shaken off. This also increases the longevity of your cut flowers as they open more slowly in the cool of your house than the heat of the outdoors.
After the bloom, unless you are interested in seeing if your peony will produce seeds, deadhead your peonies to promote root growth over seed formation.
Peony’s Envy is a nursery and display garden in Bernardsville, New Jersey, offering one of the most extensive collections of tree, herbaceous and intersectional peonies in the Northeast. We thank Kathleen Gagan, owner of Peony’s Envy, for permission to share the above. For more information and to sign up for email updates, be sure to visit their website, www.peonysenvy.com.