Peonies in the Garden and the Home

Oh, happy days–the Peonies Are Blooming

Take a late spring stroll through your neighborhood almost anywhere in the U.S., and you will find short shrub-like plants filled with large white, pink, peach, to deep crimson blossoms. Hooray! The peonies are blooming!

Enjoy the blooms in your home—but don’t steal the neighbor’s flowers

Envious of the fluffy peonies on the lush bush in front of your neighbor’s home? Happily, they aren’t just for gardens. Mid-May through June you can find these classic flowers highlighted in bouquets for Mother’s Day and spring brides.

Keep an eye out at your local farmers market and at the little flower shop on down on Main Street in your town for the chance to bring the beauty of peonies home.

Choose the perfect fresh cut peony

Peonies in vase in homePeonies usually last about seven to ten days in a vase, and because they are so big, you only need a few stems to make a simple bouquet. They don’t even require company outside of their own kind. The simplicity of just a few stems is enough when it comes to these flowers. The blooms are usually somewhere between five to six inches wide when fully open. Some varieties even reach twelve inches wide! They come in single, semi-double, and the very popular double petal variety.

You will, however, want to choose your stems carefully. The best way to get the most out of your fresh cut peonies is to choose buds that are soft to the touch, like a ripe peach. If you buy buds that are too hard, chances are they won’t open for you. If you really want the instant gratification of a few open flowers to go along with the buds, just be sure to avoid the fully opened flowers—especially if they have downturned petals. These will fall off easily, and you will only be able to enjoy your peonies for a day or two. With a soft bud, the blossoms will gradually open in the vase, delighting you each day as they reveal more of their pretty colors.

Grow your own peonies

Peonies in the home garden

Peonies bloomingIf you have a space for a garden, peonies make a great, nearly year-round plant. During late spring and early summer, you can enjoy their full blossoms (and be the envy of your neighbors). As the temperatures rise, the flowers will die and fall off, leaving you with a green shrub that lasts all summer. In the fall, the leaves will turn red to dark purple. And by cutting them back in the fall, they will survive even a harsh winter, only to return in the spring.

If you don’t currently have peonies, you can plant them in the spring, but it is better to wait until fall. Be aware that they do take three to five years to mature, so you will have to be patient and committed. They need full sun (4 to 6 hours a day) and very little mulch. They also don’t need to be planted too deeply—just a few inches beneath the soil will do. If you choose a mixture of early, mid, and late-blooming varieties, you can enjoy them all summer long. And when you decide to bring a few blossoms inside or surprise a friend with some, make sure you don’t cut off more than one-third of the flowers. If you cut too many at once, you run the risk of the plant not producing any more blooms that year.

And don’t kill the ants! You will find that ants love your peonies as much as you do, crawling all over the closed buds and in and out of the open blossoms. True, they are attracted to the sweet nectar of the blossoms, but they are also attacking the little beasties that will eat your buds. Let them have the nectar, so you can have your flowers.

Peonies in the container garden

No dirt for a garden? No problem! Peonies do really well in containers on your patio or balcony.
The best time to plant peonies in containers is early spring. They have big roots, so you are going to need a big pot—1 ½ feet deep and the same width (or wider). Putting the pot on casters will also improve drainage and make the pot easier to move around. Plant the roots “eyes” up about 1 ½ to 2 inches deep. Since they are drought-tolerant, it is very important to use loose, well-draining soil. Their biggest problem is root rot, so instead of regular potting soil, use a 65% topsoil and 35% perlite mixture. Also, as your peony matures, you will need to prop it up. Those huge blossoms get heavy! Chopsticks or bamboo skewers work fine in the early stages, and you can move on to plant supports like tomato cages as the plant grows.

You should only need to water your peony about once a week, when the first few inches of soil are dry. Peonies in containers will need more water than a plant in a conventional garden, but be careful not to overwater it. They hate being soggy. If you notice wilting leaves, even though the soil is wet, back away with the watering can! This means you are on your way to root rot. Let the plant dry out a bit more.

You can also fertilize your peony at the beginning and the end of the blooming season—when the leaves first unfold and when the last bloom dies. Just be sure not to apply the fertilizer directly to the roots. This can kill your beautiful, flowering friend.

As long as you live in growing zones 3 to 8, you should not need to bring your peony inside during the winter. You will, however, need to find some shelter from the snow. Cold temperatures are a must in order for the plant to flower the following year. However, a deep freeze will kill it.

Old is hot

You may not believe it, but this popular flower has been around for a very long time. There are even people on forums like The Old Farmer’s Almanac who claim to still be raising peonies propagated from their great-grandfather’s 114-year-old plants! Don’t have a hand-me-down peony plant? Take a tour of our website and find out where you can get one in your area. Or connect with a local florist we’ve discovered and bring some freshly cut peonies home today.