Peonies have long been favoured by gardeners, and for good reason: They are easy to grow, seldom bothered by pests or disease and are beautiful to the eye and often to the nose. After the bloom has gone, the plants are lovely till frost and very often turn an autumnal bronze. They get bigger over time, but aren’t invasive. What’s not to like? With just a bit of knowledge you too can grow these wonderful statement plants.
Stroll through your neighbourhood in June when peonies are blooming and take in the sights and smells. See what you like. Visit public gardens or take in a peony show. June is great for picking out your favourites but not for planting. Just planning. According to The Canadian Peony Society, fall is the best time to plant freshly-dug roots, but if you bought a potted root, you can plant it in spring once weather is consistently warm.
How to choose a peony
Now’s the time to order peonies from a reputable grower, who will ship your order as bare roots in the fall, which is the ideal time for planting. (And order early, as supplies will be limited.) The Canadian Peony Society has a great list of growers on their website. Their roots will be far healthier and perform better than the potted peonies you find in garden centres in the spring. Choosing will be difficult because the forms, colours and varieties are endless. You can choose peonies with single or double blooms, peonies that do or don’t require staking, and peonies with little or intense fragrance.
How to plant peonies
Pick a mostly sunny location. I always think they do best with a bit of midday shade but that isn’t always an option. Give them space. You don’t want root interference from nearby trees or shrubs. Remember that it will be a big plant one day and plan ahead.
Prepare your bed before planting. You want plenty of good, loose soil and organic matter. Instructions will come with your bare roots as to the depth of planting; generally the eyes (at the top of the root) should be just an inch or two deep.
There is an abundance of wonderful information online to read over the winter while you wait for your first shoots to emerge. Go ahead, Google it, and you will be a pro by spring.
How to care for your peony
Your shoots will appear in early spring. Be prepared: A first-year peony may or may not produce buds—some growers even recommend cutting them off if they do appear to allow the roots to flourish. (That’s a pretty big ask, and it’s OK if you aren’t brave enough to cut them.) Some early buds may fail to thrive: This is normal. It’s the plants way of saying it’s not ready yet. Just pinch them off.
If you have a peony variety that needs staking, a simple tomato cage placed early will suffice for the first year. Later, thin bamboo stakes and string make the best supports. Just add another circle of string as your peony gets taller and by the time the blooms open, they will be well supported.
Originally published June 2015; Updated May 2019.