How to Plant Peonies in Autumn? 

Peony roots

At this time of the year, it’s quite tricky to find a blooming peony flower (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). Peony aficionados like us still need to wait a few more months to see our favourite flower. However, those of us who have gardens and grow peonies know three things: 

  1. Peony leaves often have beautiful colours at this time of year and look stunning in the garden.
  2. Their seed pods also look quite attractive - it’s all about noticing small things!
  3. Now is the perfect time to plant peonies so that we can enjoy them in spring! 
Beautiful tree peony leaves

Stunning colours of the autumn leaves

Although you can also add peonies to your garden in the spring, autumn is the best time to plant them. Here is why: contrary to their looks, these stunning flowers are pretty tough and like to have a little bit of frost - we touched the subject lightly with Billy Carruthers in one of the previous episodes of “Peony of the Month Chat Show”.

Cold temperature triggers the root growth - it’s 
their genetic programming - and gives the plant a chance to establish herself well in the ground and build a robust root system to transport water and nutrients later. Peonies planted in the spring don’t have that much time to grow a strong root system, so they often struggle to get through a hot summer and might take longer to produce flowers. To put it shortly: an autumn peony plant will be stronger. 

In this article, we present our recommendations - prepared together with Binny Plants - about maximising your chances of having beautiful peony blossoms in your garden next spring! 

Herbaceous peonies

Without a doubt, it’s the most popular type to grow and buy as cut flowers. They come in many varieties and are found in gardens and parks all over Britain. Herbaceous peonies are characterised by having stems and leaves that die down before winter and stay dormant before the next blooming season. 

Peony Festiva Maxima

'Festiva Maxima'

One of the examples of herbaceous peonies is Festiva Maxima - a classic, old French variety with beautiful, cream-white flowers and petals that look as if dipped in raspberry jam. We chose her as our Peony of the Month and wrote more about her in July - click here to read the full storyIn our “Peony of the Month” project, other herbaceous varieties we featured were: Lovely Rose, Early Windflower, Buckeye Belle, Green Lotus, Blushing Princess, Goldilocks

So, how do we make sure that when spring comes, our garden is full of blossoms?

If you don’t have a peony plant, you need to get some peony roots first! The easiest way is to find a good, reliable grower to get healthy, chunky roots with at least a few pink growth buds (‘eyes’) on them - like shown in the photo below. That way, you can ensure that you will have at least one stem in the spring!

Peony buds growing from the roots

Pink buds that your roots should have

As soon as you receive the roots, put them in the ground. The best place to put the roots is in a sunny area of our garden - the blooms in the spring will need plenty of light. Don’t place the roots too deep - just a little bit under the surface so that the pink buds are left above the ground level. As we mentioned before, the cold is necessary to activate them - that’s why they need to be open to the air.

Bare roots in the ground

Buds should be slightly above the ground

When the peony buds start to come up - like in the photo below - they will need some boost to prepare for the flowering season. We suggest fertilising them with some light feed.

After the flowering season ends, you can take some steps to ensure you have blooming, healthy flowers again in the following spring (or early summer, depending on the variety). In order to do that, deadhead the peonies to redirect the resources into roots and give them another portion of fertiliser. 

Peony sprouting

Healthy sprouts we all want to see!

Tree Peonies

They are stunning, magnificent and long-lived shrubs, and can produce many blooms. There are tens, if not hundreds of varieties, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. They have pretty flower buds and stunning leaves that will change colours in the autumn.

Tree Peony Shunkoju

Stunning 'Shunkoju'

Planting them using bare roots is a similar process - you just need to make sure you’re getting high-quality roots. The thing about tree peonies is that they thrive quite well in partly shady parts of the garden so you don’t need to worry about placing them in full sun. However, make sure that they don’t have to compete with the roots of other trees or shrubs for resources. Another important thing to remember is not to overwater them

If you already have a tree peony plant in your garden - or you know someone who has - you could also try to grow a new plant from seeds. This process requires more patience - it might take three to five years to see the blooms.

Seed pods in the autumn

Seed pods in the autumn

If you decide to try to grow a new plant from seeds, after the flowering season, wait for the seed pod to turn green-brown - usually in August - signalling that the seeds are fertile. When the pod starts cracking, that is the perfect moment to harvest seeds! Just put them in the ground in a cold spot. They won’t necessarily germinate right away, but don’t lose hope! It took Siyuan five years to have her first tree peony ‘Shunkoju’ blossom. She was so elated to have this beauty in her garden that she created a botanical painting preserving this unique moment, and ‘Shunkoju’ became our “Peony of the Month” June

Intersectional peonies

The last type are intersectional - or Itoh - peonies. A cross between tree and herbaceous peonies, they have many varieties in all colours and shapes. Oftentimes, you can see their seeds in the middle of the flower, creating an interesting effect - like for our April Peony of the Month ‘Garden Treasure’. However, these seeds are not fertile and cannot be used to reproduce your plant. The only method is by splitting the roots, following the steps that we described above. 

Intersectional Peony Fawn

Intersectional 'Fawn'

Apart from ‘Garden Treasure’, we also featured another intersectional peony variety - ‘Hillary Itoh’.

And that’s how peony lovers should plant bare root peonies and seeds! While we cannot wait for the spring to see the beautiful blossoms in our garden again, we do have something to make the waiting a bit more bearable - our peony art! Our peony paintings and fine art prints, including botanical art prints, will bloom all year round and, like live flowers, come in all shapes and colours. Click here to browse them all

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