How to Plant Bare Root Peonies for a Gorgeous Spring Garden

Peonies have been bred and improved for thousands of years by the Chinese, the Japanese, and now the Americans. They are a classic flower for a country garden, but they can also look good in a more formal setting. We have both the classic “lactiflora” types and the more modern “intersectionals.” The latter have flowers that are held on woody stems and don’t need to be staked very often. If you buy peony plants without roots and plant them in the fall or spring, you will get a clump that grows over time and lasts for many years.

Peonies are beloved spring blooming perennials that bring joy with their lush, romantic flowers While peonies can be purchased as potted plants, many gardeners choose to plant bare root peonies for the most vigorous plants Bare root peonies may look intimidating at first, but planting them properly is easy with a few simple steps. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to plant bare root peonies for success.

When to Plant Bare Root Peonies

Bare root peonies should be planted in the fall, typically between late September and November The roots are dormant during this time, allowing them to focus energy on developing roots before putting up foliage and flowers in spring. If planting later than November, be sure to keep bare roots moist and cool until planting Avoid leaving bare roots exposed to light and air for extended periods.

Spring planting is not recommended for bare root peonies. By spring, the roots have broken dormancy and will suffer greater transplant shock. However, container grown peonies can be successfully planted in spring after the threat of frost has passed.

Choosing a Planting Site

When choosing where to plant your bare root peonies, keep these factors in mind:

  • Sunlight: Peonies thrive in full sun, requiring a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day. Morning sun is ideal. With less light, they will have weaker stems and fewer flowers.

  • Soil drainage: Excellent drainage is crucial, as peonies will not tolerate wet feet. Avoid low spots where water collects. Raised beds work beautifully for peonies.

  • Soil quality: Peonies prefer nutrient-rich, loose, well-draining soil. Incorporate compost or peat moss to improve dense or sandy soils.

  • Spacing: Allow 3-4 feet between peonies so they have room to reach maturity without overcrowding.

  • Competition: Plant peonies away from tree and shrub roots that may compete for nutrients and moisture.

Preparing the Soil

Preparing the soil before planting will give your bare root peonies the best start. Here’s how to get your soil peony-ready:

  • Loosen the soil in your planting area to a depth of 12-18 inches. Break up large clumps and remove rocks and debris.

  • Work 1-2 inches of compost or well-rotted manure into the top 6 inches of soil. This will enrich the soil with organic matter.

  • For clay soils, mix in peat moss at a ratio of 1 part peat to 3 parts soil to improve drainage.

  • In sandy soils, mix peat at 1:3 to increase moisture retention.

  • Just before planting, sprinkle bulb fertilizer or bone meal into the planting holes according to package directions. Never place dry fertilizer directly on roots.

How to Plant Bare Root Peonies Step-By-Step

Follow these simple steps for planting your bare root peonies:

1. Soak Roots

Prior to planting, soak bare roots in a bucket of water for 20-30 minutes. This rehydrates them after shipping.

2. Dig Holes

Dig a hole for each root, spacing plants 3-4 feet apart. Holes should be deep enough to accommodate roots without bending.

3. Place in Hole

Place the root in the hole so the pink growth buds are 1-2 inches below soil level. The roots should lay flat without crowding.

4. Backfill Soil

Fill the hole halfway and water thoroughly to remove air pockets. Let water drain. Fill remaining soil, firming gently. Create a low mound of soil over roots.

5. Water Deeply

Water thoroughly until soil is moist 8-10 inches down. Proper watering is vital, especially during fall root establishment.

6. Mulch (Optional)

Apply a 2-3 inch layer of shredded bark, leaves, or straw over the soil surface to conserve moisture. Remove mulch in early spring.

Caring for Newly Planted Peonies

Taking good care of your peonies in the first couple seasons after planting bare roots will ensure healthy, vigorous plants:

  • Water 1-2 times per week during the first year, soaking the root zone thoroughly. Drought stress is the biggest threat to new plants.

  • Stake tall hybrids to protect from wind damage.

  • Apply an organic flower fertilizer when growth resumes in spring.

  • Remove faded flowers to encourage reblooming.

  • Divide when the plants become overcrowded, about every 5-7 years.

Troubleshooting Problems

  • Not blooming: Insufficient sunlight, overcrowding, or overfertilizing can prevent flowering. Give plants time to establish, dividing or moving to a sunnier spot if needed.

  • Foliage wilts: Check soil moisture and water if dry. Foliar nematode disease causes similar symptoms.

  • Black roots: This indicates root rot from excessive soil moisture. Improve drainage and avoid overwatering.

  • Failure to emerge in spring: The plant may have died over winter. Wait until mid-May before removing in case slow growth is the cause.

Achieving Peony Growing Success

Follow the planting, care, and troubleshooting tips above and you’ll be rewarded with vibrant, long-lived peonies in your garden. Pay close attention to sunlight, drainage, planting depth, and watering when first establishing your bare roots. With proper care, your peonies will flourish for generations to come. The effort is well worth it when those sumptuous blooms open in spring!

what do peonies symbolise?

The peony is revered as an old and holy flower in China and Japan. It is even the national flower of China because it has been grown there for thousands of years. The herbaceous peony’s roots are still used in Chinese medicine, and it is said that they can make you feel more sexual.

do peonies need full sun?

Peonies will grow in the shade, but they are unlikely to flower very well. A bit of dappled shade is fine and helps prevent the plant from drying out too much.

How To Plant a Bare Root Peony


Should you soak bare root peonies before planting?

In general, planting peonies before the first frost of fall is recommended. Don’t worry if the roots appear to be dry when they arrive. We advise to soak the roots in cold to luke warm water for about 30 minutes prior to planting.

What month is best to plant peonies?

Bare root herbaceous peonies should be planted between October and March. Potted garden ready plants can be planted in early spring. Expect your herbaceous peonies to flower every year from late spring to early summer. After three years your plants will be fully established and will produce lots of stunning blooms.

How long does it take peonies to grow from bare root?

Don’t know your planting zone? Check out this USDA Planting Zone Map. Like all perennials, peonies often take a few years to produce flowers. It could take two to three years for your peony to bloom if you plant a bare root peony.

What is a bare root peony?

Bare roots are peony roots harvested without foliage or stems. They are often available during the dormant season and provide a more affordable option for gardeners. Both root divisions and bare roots can establish and thrive when planted correctly. Peonies have had a long history of cultivation and were highly valued.

Can you plant bare root peonies?

Peonies are known for their large, showy blooms and delightful fragrance, making them a favorite among garden enthusiasts. Planting bare root peonies might seem daunting at first, but fear not! In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process step by step, ensuring your peonies thrive and bring joy to your garden for years to come.

How to grow a peony tree?

Amend it with compost or manure. Dig a wide and deep hole. Soak the roots – hydrate the bare roots in water for a few hours before planting. Plant the roots – place the peony roots in the prepared hole with the eyes (buds) facing upwards. Cover the roots with soil, and water it thoroughly.

How do you plant a peony root?

The most important part of the peony root to find (in terms of planting purposes) are the “eyes.” The “eyes” must be planted at a certain elevation and should be placed near the top of the planting hole. Have a look at each peony root to look for the eyes. Most bare-root peonies sold in garden centers and plant nurseries have 2-3 eyes on them.

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