How to Grow and Care for Peony Flowers

Peonies are low-maintenance perennials with big, beautiful blooms. Learn essential peony care and growing tips for these popular flowers.

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Peony Flower Care: How to Grow Peonies

scarlet heaven peonyVia Eden Brothers
Scarlet Heaven peony
  • Peony (Paeonia)
  • Zones 3 to 8
  • Size: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet tall and wide
  • Light needs: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-draining

Add three seasons of beauty with this old-fashioned favorite. Without a lot of effort and care, peony plants are reliable performers that offer plenty of backyard benefits—including large, often-fragrant flowers. Their bloom time may be brief, but it’s nothing short of spectacular.

The foliage also provides interest for multiple seasons. Watch as the leaves emerge with a reddish tint in spring, turn deep green for summer and finish off the growing season with purplish red shade in fall. Select varieties with stiff stems that do not need staking like Scarlet Heaven.

Prepare the soil before planting, as your peony may stay in place for 50 years or more. Make sure the eyes, the growing points at the base of the stems, are no more than an inch below the soil surface. Plant peonies in the fall; place them in sunny borders. Water regularly and deeply until new plants are established.

Are Peonies Perennials That Come Back Each Year?

peony careCourtesy Dianne Wagner
Yumi (Beauty) itoh peony

Peonies are long-lived, low-maintenance perennials that grow best in plant hardiness zones 3 to 8. They need a period of chilling with winter temperatures at or below 40 degrees in order to form buds and bloom the following growing season. Do peonies need ants to bloom?

When Do Peonies Bloom?

Bnbbyc17 Judith Bishop 1Courtesy Judith Bishop
With proper care, peony plants burst into bloom in springtime.

In late spring, bushy peony plants dazzle gardeners with lush, showy white, yellow, red, coral, purple or pink blooms that make this flower a popular choice to use in colorful beds. As cut flowers, they make gorgeous bouquets.

Enjoy pretty pictures of peonies in full bloom.

Do Peonies Attract Pollinators?

Bnbbyc19 Denny BurkCourtesy Denny Burk
Bee gathering pollen from a peony blossom

The giant blooms on a peony plant will attract bees and butterflies to your backyard. Peonies are also known to be deer and rabbit resistant.

Discover little-known peony plant facts.

Problems With Growing Peonies

“Is there any way to revive my 50-year-old peony plant?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Hazel Maki of Menominee, Michigan.

Horticultural expert Melinda Myers: Peonies can survive many decades when grown in sunny spots with well-draining soils. Increasing shade or competition from tree roots may be causing your plant to decline. If this is the case, move it to a sunnier location this fall. If the plant is receiving sufficient sunlight (six or more hours), it may need a nutrient boost. Consider adding a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer to the soil in spring. This will encourage slow, steady growth, but will not interfere with flowering.

Backyard Tip: If a plant you’ve had for years is suddenly not growing well, check if its growing conditions have changed. A mature tree may be casting more shade, or an especially rainy season can affect how well established plants grow and bloom.

Learn how to treat botrytis blight on peonies.

“I love peonies and have bought several types in the past years, but they have no smell. The best part of peonies is their fragrance. How can I get them to smell as good as they’re supposed to?” asks reader Linda Caldwell of Newport, Virginia.

Melinda Myers: While a peony’s fresh, heady scent simply can’t be beat, fragrance varies from one variety of peony to the next. When selecting peonies to grow, look for varieties that are advertised as fragrant, such as Festiva Maxima, Sarah Bernhardt or Eden’s Perfume.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori is certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener and is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.