11 Tips For Beautiful Peony Blooms This Season
Did you plant some peonies this season, but want to find out how to get the most out of their blooms? These prolific bloomers can be the star of any garden, with proper care. In this article, certified master gardener and peony enthusiast Laura Elsner walks through her top tips for big, beautiful, and blooming peonies!
If you’ve planted peonies this season, you likely want to maximize their bright, beautiful colors, and keep them blooming as long as you can. There are many different types of Peonies, and all of them are fairly low maintenance flowers. Their blooms can be absolutely stunning with just a little TLC.
Unfortunately, most peonies are fairly short lived once the heat of the summer hits, and flowers only last about 10 days before they start to perish. But, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can prolong their bloom period just a little bit, and have some very bright flowers gracing your garden this season.
So, what steps should you take? Keep on reading, as I’m going to share some of my favorite tips that I use each season to get better blooming peonies. Each of these tips help me keep my peonies blooming longer, and brighter. Let’s jump in!
Peonies are a flower type that’s very sensitive to planting. If they are planted at the wrong depth they will not bloom. Make sure to plant them exactly at their crown (where the stem meets the root). No higher, no lower. If you have established peonies that aren’t blooming they may have been planted incorrectly.
Scrape back some soil from the crown of your peony. Or, if you have to, as a last resort, lift the peony (peonies hate being moved). Only do this if it is really sunken into the garden bed. It may take an extra season to get it to bloom if you have to lift it. But it will be worth it in the long run to get blooms.
A peony will grow and get really leafy and bushy and look healthy, but will not bloom if it is not planted at the correct depth.
Peonies are actually a great choice in a water wise garden. I’ve seen them live and bloom without irrigation and constant watering. However, for more blooms, consistent watering is best. Healthy peonies produce more flowers.
Watering slowly and deeply is optimal. Peonies have a very long tap root to soak up water from deep down. Use a drip hose at the base of the plant. I will turn on the drip for a couple of hours once a week. The amount of water your peonies need will depend on how much rain has fallen.
A short-lived thunderstorm rolling through and blasting a pile of water on your garden is not the same as a nice slow drizzle of rain. A half an inch of rain over a 24 hour period is much more than that amount in a 24 minute period. Keep this in mind when watering.
It is also important to water a newly planted peony. They need more water for the first season they are planted. Again, low and slow is best. Perhaps twice a week depending on rain and heat.
Maintain Healthy Soil
Peonies can actually grow in some of the worst soils. Clay, rocky, and awful soil and there will be a peony growing lovely. However, if you want more bloomson a single plant, look at the health of your soil.
I get asked from time to time what I fertilize my garden beds with. Nothing. I amend my soil. I get good quality compost and spread about 1″ of it on my beds every spring. If I had a larger garden I would spread it thicker and only once every 2 years. I just top dress it and water it in and the nutrients will seep down.
Be careful, when putting compost on, remember they don’t like their stems being buried. Put the compost around the stem, not on top of it.
I also use an all natural soil conditioner to boost the good microbes in the soil. I use a local product that is a 0-0-6. A worm compost tea would work great.
Always Deadhead Spent Blooms
After your peonies are finished blooming, snip the seed pods off of them. I cut the stem to underneath the main plant. Cutting these off forces the peony to focus on putting energy into root growth for the next season instead of seed production. This will mean bigger and better blooms in the seasons to come.
Give Them Plenty of Sun
Last year we had a really early heat spell. I pretty much blinked and peony season was over. The heat sucked the life out of the blossoms. Some afternoon shade would have protected those blossoms. Watch for the sun and shade patterns in your garden when considering a location for your peony.
If you can provide a bit of dappled shade in the heat of the afternoon. Even if it is just from the shadow of a larger perennial or shrub, this will protect the blossoms and keep them fresh for longer.
On the other side of this, make sure your peony is getting enough sun. They will grow very long and stringy and have few blooms (if any) that are reaching towards the light if they are planted in a shady area.
Since peonies dislike being moved it is important to take the time deciding a perfect spot for it. Full sun, but with some dappled afternoon shade. A peony might be in that spot for a hundred years so take your time choosing!
Plant in a Protected Location
My neighbors have a row of the most gorgeous Kansas peonies along their driveway. I remember when we first moved in I thought, wow when those bloom it will be heaven. Then bam they bloomed and finished in two days!
They are planted along a driveway with no protection from wind or rain. First the rain sops then to damp rags and then the wind picks up and rips their blossoms across the driveway and they are done.
When planting a peony try to provide protection from the elements. Obviously this isn’t entirely possible. But even if there was a big shrub or some tall grasses to offer a bit of protection the blooms would last longer. Peonies are delicate flowers. If you don’t have the perfect space in your garden, then container planting is also an option.
I like putting them in garden beds nestled in with other plants for the most protection. Near the house or by a fence would also provide some protection.
Use Cages or Stakes
This one is a big one, especially if you want the big double blooming ones. Peony blossoms get so big and heavy they need to be staked or caged. Do this in the early spring before they get too big and crazy.
There are lots of ways to cage and stake peonies.
You can buy the metal peony ring. These work on smaller, newer peonies. Make sure to get the cages on them when they are still just red stalks coming up in the early spring. Do not attempt to put these on once they have grown into full plants. You will wrestle with the cages and end up snapping off the stems and buds.
Bamboo poles and string works great. Put the stakes into the ground around the base of the peony. How many poles will depend on the size of your peony. You will need at least three. Once the posts are inserted into the ground wrap the string around the stakes boxing the peony in.
This method works great if you forgot to put the cage on in the early spring, or if the plant is much too big for a standard cage. I will add an extra bamboo pole here and there to prop up particularly heavy stems full of buds.
Iron half hoops are probably my favorite. The really solid ones, not the cheap bendy ones. I just use these to prop up any stems that need a boost. They also have ones that are an iron stake with a swirl pattern, or a round grate. These ones work great if they are put in in the early season and the peony can grow into it.
I’ve seen all sorts of crazy peony staking set ups. At the of the day what matters is keeping the blossoms upright so they aren’t flopping and falling on the ground.
If this all sounds like too much work, choose a variety that doesn’t require staking. An itoh peony such as ‘Bartzella’ is a good choice for a peony that doesn’t require staking.
Stagger Bloom Times
At The end of the day, no matter how many blooms and how protected the peonies are, this is a short blooming perennial flower. A great way to have peonies that bloom longer is to actually grow different varieties of peonies that all bloom at different times. You’ll get a bit of overlap between different varieties that will make it seem like you have peonies in bloom for longer.
There are early, mid, and late blooming peonies. Do a quick check to see what category a peony you plan to purchase falls under to prolong your peony blossoms.
An example of this would be planting an early spring variety like a Fern Leaf Peony, followed by a mid season peony like peony ‘Chocolate Soldier’. After this a peony ‘Karl Rosenfield’ can take over as a late season bloomer with its glorious double red blossoms.
Choose The Right Varieties
Some varieties naturally hold their blooms longer. The big heavy double blossom peonies like ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ do not last as long as a simple single blossom peony like a wild lactiflora peony.
If you want the beauty of a double peony, make sure to read over tips 6 and 7. Cage them and plant them in a protected location. This will help keep that big heavy blossom intact for longer.
The longest blooming peonies are tree peonies. These are deciduous perennial shrubs and the blooms can last for over two weeks if they are protected.
Itoh peonies are a hybrid of tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. Their blooms typically last longer than herbaceous peonies and shorter than tree peonies.
Cut Them Back in Fall
After peonies finish blooming they actually have a nice mound of foliage. Do not cut them to the ground as soon as they are finished blooming. I see people doing this and I want to run and stop them. The plant needs to grow and gather energy through its foliage for next year. Leave them alone! Plus they have pretty red foliage in the fall.
On the other side of this however, do cut them down in the fall. I am not a huge advocate for fall cleanups. I think it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people like a tidy appearing garden over the winter.
I leave most of my plants up because I like how they look with snow sparkling on their dried stalks. It also keeps my beds moist and teeming with beneficial insects. But, I always take the time to cut my peonies down.
This prevents diseases from being trapped in the dead fall and infecting or reinfecting a peony the next year. Once the frost hits them and they turn droopy and brown, it is time to cut them.
Do not cut tree peonies. These are deciduous shrubs. They only need to be pruned to keep their shape and maximize blossoms.
Patience, Patience, Patience
Unfortunately, this one is the most important of them all. Peonies are long-lived perennials. Some live over 100 years. So it takes them time to get established and blooming.
Do not expect big glorious blooms the season you plant a new peony. Not even the season after that. If you try and rush them, you’ll end up dealing with more issues later on. They take three years to get comfortable and will get bigger and better from there.
Peonies are a gardener’s pride and joy. They are the big classic garden flower that adorns paintings and bouquets. Getting your peony to have the most blossoms and having those blossoms last as long as they can only make sense. Hopefully, with these tips, you can keep your peonies blooming for as long as possible!