Plants & Growing

Peonies Care & Growing Tips In The UK

pink flowering peonies
Written by Chris Lee

Peonies, also known as “Polish Roses”, are recognisable by their gorgeous fluffy blooms which come in varying shades of colours, shapes, and sizes.

Popular among brides for bouquets and table decorations, these flowers are effortlessly romantic and often have a wonderful fragrance.

Peonies are perfect for border displays and though they are slow-growing, these popular plants are absolutely worth the wait. They’ll reward you with unrivalled charm and elegance.

What are peonies?

Peonies are long-lived perennial plants meaning they will come back year after year. In fact, some peonies have been known to thrive for over a hundred years.

Blossoming from late spring to early summer their flamboyant flowers come in many shades including white, pink, coral, maroon, red, yellow to name but a few.

There are three common types of peonies: tree peonies, which are tall and woody; herbaceous peonies which will die back each winter; and intersectional peonies which are hybrids crossed between the two.

Though not all types are scented, as with the colour, peonies also have a wide range of fragrances, from soft and sweet, to citrus, and even somewhat spicy.

Choosing the right peony for your garden

The best way to choose your peony is by choosing which flower shape and colour you would like.

Peonies have four arrangements for their bowl-shaped blooms, so you have a choice of how simple or extravagant you want to go.

Single

This peony’s bloom is mostly cup-shaped with no more than one or two rows of large petals that curl inwards, surrounding its large yellow stamen. 

a dark red early scout peony
An Early Scout peony showcases its cup-shaped bloom

Semi-double

The semi-double peonies are close in appearance to the single peonies, but instead, have two to three inward-curving rows of petals.

Paeonia 'Rockii' in an English garden
Note the inward-curving petals

Double

This variety differs in the fact that the flower is larger and more rounded, the petals overlap, and in their thin and sometimes-ruffled appearance. Because of their shape, the stamen is almost invisible.

a giant pink peony peeping through lush greenery
A double-form Pink Giant peony in all its glory

Anemone-form

This type can have either single or semi-double blooms. The centre stamens are surrounded by thin, ripped petal-like structures.

bowl of beauty flowering in Yorkshire, UK
The gorgeous Bowl of Beauty anemone-form peony

When and where to plant your Peonies

Now that you are familiar with the types of peonies available, hopefully you have found the perfect one for your garden.

The good news is that all peonies require the same care and maintenance so whichever variety you have chosen, the rest of this guide will still apply to you.

When to plant your Peonies

Choosing when to plant is dependent on whether you are planting from a shop-bought potted peony, or if you are planting from bare-root divisions. 

If you are planting from the pot then we recommend doing so in late spring. If, however, you are planting from bare-root divisions then your best bet is to do so in late autumn. 

Where to plant your Peonies

All peonies thrive in full sunlight and also require moist, well-drained soil. Though they grow well in many varieties of fertile soil, you can help them along with compost or well-rotted manure. Being such a hardy plant, they do not require protection during winter.

Keep in mind that peonies are large plants, they will require at least one square meter of space in order for them to flourish.

Planting out your peonies

Once you have found the perfect spot for your peonies it’s time to get planting.

Peonies are actually remarkably easy to plant and take no more than a matter of minutes, just be careful not to plant them too deeply as this can lead to a decrease in flowers.

Step 1

First, you need to take care to space the plants at least one metre apart. Different varieties may grow taller and may spread further so make sure you research exactly what your chosen variety needs.

Step 2

Now, using the root ball or division to measure, dig a hole to that exact depth but twice the width.

Step 3

Using a spade, carefully draw back the soil and then, using the heel of your shoe, press the soil down firmly around the plant.

Step 4

As previously mentioned, planting the plants too deeply can reduce flowering so use the bright red buds as a guide and cover them with no more than 2.5cm of soil.

Step 5

Now water your plant to settle the soil and continue watering regularly. In the hotter months, and particularly for your peonies’ first summer, check the soil and water often to maintain the soil’s moisture.

Caring for your peonies

Now that you’ve planted your beautiful peonies you will need to give them ongoing care to help them survive and thrive.

Watering

For the first year after planting and while they are establishing themselves, regular watering is key. However, being such a deep-rooted plant, when fully established, regular and routine watering will not be necessary and you only need to focus on them in particularly dry weather.

water falling from a watering can
Water peonies well for a year, then they will take care of themselves

Food

Simply applying a general-purpose fertiliser each year in springtime will give your peonies the boost they need to flourish. Follow the instructions on your chosen fertiliser, usually 70gms per square metre will be sufficient to encourage good flowering and growth.

We also recommend that you then add a layer of garden compost or manure, this will help preserve moisture and prevent weeds. Take care to avoid covering the centre of the plant to prevent damage to the buds.

Staking

Staking is optional and won’t be necessary for all peonies but for varieties with large flower heads, using a stake to support them will prevent the stems from bending and breaking.

Deadheading

Deadheading should be done with secateurs after flowering. Almost all tree peonies are hybrids and therefore do not set viable seed. If indeed they did set seed then these would not be true-breed and the flowers would not be the same colour.

Care during winter

Peonies are extremely hardy little plants. They die back in autumn and will then lie dormant until spring, and so do not require any additional care during the winter months.

Older plant care

Peonies are long-lived plants, and a well cared for peony could easily outlive you!

If in an older plant you find the flowering is less reliable then you can give it a new lease of life by lifting and dividing in late winter.

Pruning

Being a herbaceous plant peonies’ foliage will die back in autumn. When this occurs we recommend you cut the foliage at ground level, this will help prevent infection from peony wilt disease.

Share the love through propagation! 

Once your peonies are thriving you may want to share them with friends and family or plant a few more elsewhere in your garden.

pink peony in focus on background of peony flowers
Peonies are the perfect present

Because peonies do not breed true, the best way to increase them is through division which should take place in late autumn.

Peonies that are grown from division will be identical in colour, shape and fragrance to their parent plant and you can expect them to begin flowering around two years after dividing.

Sharing the love of your peonies through propagation is relatively straight forward.

Step 1

Once divided, remove all foliage and lift the clump with a spade, leaving as many roots intact as possible.

Step 2

As carefully as you can, gently wash off the soil, exposing the roots and buds.

Step 3

Using a sharp knife or secateurs remove sections of the crown, leaving each section with a minimum of three dormant buds as well as some roots attached.

Step 4

Share with your friends and family, or choose the perfect spot in your garden and replant. The buds should be 2.5 cm below soil level.

Peony problems

Being so hardy, if conditions are right, peonies will rarely run into trouble. That said there are a few things you may come across so we’ve put together a list of problems and solutions.

Deep planting and shade

If planted too deep or in shade your peonies may not be able to produce flowers. If this occurs then wait until autumn and then proceed to move your plant to a more suitable position and take care to plant them no deeper than 2.5cm. This will ensure your peony has a chance to thrive but do be aware that once moved it may take up to two years for your peony to flower.

Prolonged drought

Though hardy, if your peony experiences long periods of drought, this can cause poor flower bud growth and buds may not even open. If a long dry spell occurs then mulch around the base of your plant and water regularly.

Peony wilt

This is the only serious disease and presents itself with wilting and dieback of the foliage. If you notice this occurring then immediately remove the dead and damaged foliage and this will help prevent the spread.

My Little Peonies

Hopefully this article has filled you with all the inspiration and knowledge you need to plant and grow the perfect peonies. 

For such a low maintenance plant they are easily one of the most rewarding, with their many varying shades of colours and beautifully unique scents.

Just remember to give them space and sunlight they need and before you know it you will have your very own, gorgeously thriving, peonies.

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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