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Peony Care Guide: How to Care for Peonies

Gardener inspecting yellow peony bush

With layers and layers of voluminous, ruffled petals, it’s no wonder that peonies are popular flowers for bouquets and gardens alike. And with flowers ranging from yellow to pink to white, everyone can find a peony they love. We’ll cover peony care for the garden and home so you can get the most out of your peonies.

Caring for Cut Peony Flowers

If you want your vase of peonies to last as long as possible, proper peony flower care begins before you even bring your flowers inside. Starting with peony flower buds that are just beginning to open will lead to a long shelf life. Cut a few peony flowers from your garden in the morning or evening, or order peonies online from The Bouqs Co.

Once you have your cut peonies in hand, it’s time to place them in a vase that will make them happy. Starting with a clean vase is a must, as is using fresh water. Adding a bit of flower food will help the flowers stay fresh longer. If you don’t have flower food at home, you can mix one tablespoon of lemon juice, one tablespoon of sugar, and one teaspoon of bleach into a quart of water.

Give the flower stems a fresh trim before placing them in the vase so they can take up lots of water. Grab a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors and cut at a 45° angle. You only have to remove about a quarter of an inch of stem.

Now that your flowers are in their vase, place them in a location where they’ll remain happy. A cool area is best, but you must keep them out of direct sunlight. Keeping the peonies away from heating vents and fireplaces will also help them last as long as possible.

Change the water every other day to limit the growth of bacteria and remove discolored and wilted petals. As long as you start with fresh flowers and provide the proper care, your cut peonies should remain fresh for at least a week.

Caring for Peonies in the Garden

When spring rolls around, gardeners everywhere look forward to seeing their peony plants covered in oodles of beautiful and fragrant flowers. But proper peony care involves more than just placing a plant in the ground and snapping your fingers.

Transplanting Peony Plants

First, consider your growing zone. Peonies are cold-hardy plants that perform best when winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing. If you live in zone nine or above, opt for another type of flowering shrub.

The easiest way to add a new peony plant to your garden is by transplanting a bare root plant or potted transplant. Early to mid-fall is the best time to plant, but early spring also works.

Before you start digging, take a minute to choose a good location. Full sun or partial shade is ideal, and larger trees or buildings can serve as windbreaks and protect the delicate flowers. Peonies also like well-draining soil, so check to see that the soil is loose. If the ground seems compacted, loosen it with a shovel or digging fork and mix in a few handfuls of compost. 

Peony roots are sensitive, so be careful when handling your transplants. Gently place the plant in a hole with the buds facing up, cover with just a few inches of soil, and water well. If you plant your peony tuber too deep, it will find it difficult to produce flowers.

Temperature and Humidity

Most types of peonies are hardy in zones three through eight, meaning they can thrive in much of the United States. If you live in the South, look for varieties that can withstand more heat and drought. Peonies can also handle a wide range of humidity.


Peonies require a moderate amount of water meaning they aren’t drought-tolerant but they don’t require constantly wet soil. Providing one to three inches of water per week is generally sufficient. Water at the base of the plant to avoid wetting the leaves and encouraging the development of fungal disease.


Since peonies are flowering shrubs, you’ll want to avoid a fertilizer high in nitrogen. These products cause lots of vegetative growth but can limit the number of flowers. Instead, look for a fertilizer that’s designed for flowering plants. Apply this fertilizer once in the early spring and again in mid-spring. You can also apply a few handfuls of compost around the plant’s roots to provide a boost of beneficial microbes that will help the plant absorb nutrients and fend off disease.


The type of peony dictates how you should prune your plant. Herbaceous peonies produce new vegetative growth each spring, so you can cut off all the foliage after the last frost arrives. 

Tree peonies produce woody growth that remains from year to year. Pruning this growth can help keep the plant healthy and alter its shape and size. The early spring or later winter (before new growth emerges)  is the best time to prune a tree peony. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut off dead wood just above the top live bud. You can also remove any small and spindly growth at the plant’s base.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Peonies are pretty hardy plants, but they’re still susceptible to attack from various pests and diseases. Knowing the types of bad guys to look out for can help you treat issues as soon as they occur.

Botrytis, also known as gray mold, is a fungal disease that often occurs during wet conditions. It can lead to wilted stems, rotten shoots, gray or black flower buds, and brown spots on leaves. The best way to prevent botrytis is to plant your peony in well-draining soil, remove old tissue in the fall, and plant resistant varieties.

Powdery mildew is another fungal disease that infects peonies, but it causes the plants to look like they’ve been covered in a white powder. It’s most likely to occur in cool and humid conditions. Removing dead foliage and debris at the end of the year can help prevent powdery mildew.

If you see ants on your peonies, don’t worry. The insects flock to drink the flower’s sweet nectar but aren’t harmful.

Growing Peonies in Containers

If you don’t have access to a garden or want to grow a peony on your porch, plant a peony in a container. Since peonies are larger plants, choose a pot that’s  at least ten gallons. The material doesn’t matter, but ensure the container has drainage holes on the bottom.

Select a well-draining potting mix that’s rich in organic material. A potting mix with a peat moss or coco coir base works well. You can also mix in a few extra handfuls of compost to store-bought potting mix.

Planting and growing potted peony plants is similar to growing peony plants in the ground. Choose a location that receives at least six hours of sun, water a few inches a week, and fertilize with a flowering fertilizer.

If you live in a cold area, zone four or below, you may need to protect your plants so they can survive the winter. One option is to bring the entire pot into a cool but protected area like a garage or covered porch. Another option is to mulch the top and sides of the container with straw, woodchips, or another insulating material.

Popular Peony Varieties

Gardeners break peonies into three categories: herbaceous, tree, and Itoh. Herbaceous peonies grow as small shrubs that die back in the winter and remerge each spring. Tree peonies are medium to large shrubs that produce woody growth. Itoh peonies, also known as intersectional peonies, are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies. You can further separate peonies based on their flower shape, species, and cultivar.

You can choose from thousands of peony cultivars, but these are some to consider.


  • Paeonia ‘Jan van Leeuwen’: herbaceous peony with fragrant yellow flowers
  • Paeonia lactiflora ‘Alexander Fleming’: herbaceous peony with bright pink double blooms
  • Peonia ‘Scrumdiddlyumptious’: Itoh peony with light pink to yellow double flowers
  • Peonia ‘Buckeye Belle’: herbaceous peony with deep red semi-double flowers
  • Peonia suffruticosa ‘Hai Huang’: tree peony with yellow flowers and red centers


Keep Your Plants Healthy

Now that you know how to care for peony plants, pick up some tips caring for other flowers and plants. Whether you’ve just picked up a new houseplant from The Bouqs Co. or ordered a fresh bouquet, you can count on us for care tips. If you don’t know where to start, check out our guide on caring for poinsettia and brush up on the basics of kalanchoe plant care.

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