When is the Best Time to Plant Peony Seeds?

Each year we collect seeds from our collection of Northwest Cultivar Group (rockii) tree peonies. You can order them on our website or send us $12 to get 25 right after they are picked in late August. (Price includes postage. ) We also have limited numbers of other peony seeds for sale. Please see our website for full information. Get your requests to us soon, we can only provide seeds a limited number of seeds each year.

Late August to early September will be the time to collect this year’s peony seeds. Most peonies have seeds that can grow, so if you forgot to take the pods off the plant all summer, you could try growing peonies from seeds. Peonies raised from seed do not come true to the parent plant, though they may strongly resemble it. Almost all cultivated tree and herbaceous peonies are hybrids far removed from their wild species ancestors. Peony seeds that were only pollinated by one species of peony are the only ones that don’t have to follow this rule.

Intersectional hybrid (Itoh) peonies are sterile and do not yield viable seeds. Unfortunately some garden favorites like the advanced herbaceous hybrids ‘Coral Charm’ and “Lois’ Choice’ are also infertile. Most European and American ‘lutea’ hybrid tree peonies, like ‘Leda’ and ‘High Noon,’ don’t make seeds that can grow. However, these are only a small part of the peony world. Most Chinese and Japanese tree and herbaceous peonies produce large amounts of fertile seeds that are ready to be picked and planted soon.

The lovely star-shaped pods are getting bigger and starting to change color from a leathery green to a brown color. Seeds are ready to be harvested when the seedpod has turned a dark tallow-brown. We generally harvest our tree peony seeds here between the 3rd week of August and early September.

The seeds are ready to be picked when the seed pods are dark brown and just starting to crack open. Open up each segment of the seed pod carefully and remove the seeds. Damaged seeds will not germinate.

When peony seeds are fully ripe, they go through a double-dormancy process. The seeds have a hard outer coat and an embryo that is dormant. Germination occurs when air and water are able to penetrate the seed coat and reach the embryo. There are many different methods for starting peony seeds. Some are based on the seed’s natural state, like its level of dormancy, while others are based on the grower’s choice, like whether to put the seeds in the ground outside or inside.

When seeds are picked fresh, they may sprout in the same season (late fall) and grow into a small green shoot above the soil the next spring. If you plant dry seeds with a hard, dry seed coat, it may take two growing seasons for the plants to naturally get over the double-dormancy. These seeds shown below are harvested a little too soon. We now know that it’s better to wait to pick brown and black seeds. If you do, the seeds will easily mold if they aren’t cured and dried out a bit.

Plant new tan, brown, or black seeds right into sandy loam, garden soil mixed with a little extra sand, perlite, or aged bark chunks to help the soil drain. The pH should be near 7. 0, which often means adding some garden lime to sweeten the soil. Either plant directly in a seed bed or use pots with good drainage holes, 10-12” in diameter. We prefer clay pots or root control bags for seeding, though plastic pots will work.

Plant seeds about 1-2” apart, 2“ deep, and water well to settle in. Seed orientation does not seem critical; the rootlet will find its way downward. We will sink the pot into the garden bed at Cricket Hill Garden to keep it safe during the winter. Choose a site that is half sun, half shade. Cover over the seeds with 2-3 inches of mulch for protection from squirrels. If late summer and fall weather is hot and dry, water periodically to prevent drying. Normally, this is not needed after September in our climate. Later in fall, in late November, add 2-3 more inches of mulch for winter protection.

In a perfect world, the warm weather in late summer will help the seed sprout, and the cooler weather in the fall will help the roots grow until it freezes. Nothing will show above soil level until next spring. Some seeds will not germinate until the second spring. Do not be impatient. Tree peony seed pots have died before they should have, only to sprout and grow in the compost pile! If after two years and two springs nothing shows, it’s likely that the seeds didn’t germinate. This is often the case when you let the seeds dry out while germinating. So the first fall is very critical to have some moisture in the seed pot.

Before the ground freezes again in the spring, take off the mulch from the pot and leave it in the garden. Observe any new growth by May. If you want to grow sprouts, you should water them and feed them a mild liquid fertilizer like Neptune’s Harvest fish-seaweed fertilizer every other month from April to September. Young sprouts will be about 2” tall.

Move young seedlings ONLY IN THE FALL. Allow them to grow undisturbed until September of their first year. After the first year space to about 6” apart in the garden.

In the fall of their third year, young plants can be moved again to a more permanent spot. Give each plant at least 4 to 5 feet of space (3 feet for herbaceous peonies). For tree peonies, choose a well-drained spot that gets 5 to 6 hours of sun. Tree peony seedlings will often start to bloom in their fourth year. While herbaceous will sometimes bloom in their third year. Keep in mind that peonies sometimes take several years of immature flowers before they show their mature form.

We have found this ‘direct’ seeding method very effective for seeds of Northwest Cultivar group Chinese (P. rockii) tree peonies such as ‘Snow Lotus‘ and herbaceous peonies. With the steps below, it may be easier for seeds from other hybrid groups of tree peonies to sprout.

Open freshly harvested seed pods as described above. Some growers don’t open the seed pods right away after picking them. Instead, they let them cure in a brown paper bag in the garage or another cool, dry place for a week. After a week, carefully open the seedpods.

Place the seeds in a zip-lock bag of slightly damp fine sand or vermiculite. Put the bag in a warm place (around 80 degrees). We use the top of our refrigerator. In 4 to 12 weeks, roots may start to grow. Once they do, the sprouted seeds (which can be found by a white rootlet sticking out) can be planted outside as described above, or they can be put in the fridge for 3 months at 40 degrees (the vegetable crisper is a good place for this).

Once the seeds have sprouted, they can be planted in pots and grown indoors under lights or slowly outside in natural sunlight. A note of caution, the protruding rootlet is very fragile, so handle with care when planting. If seeds don’t sprout after the first round of hot/cold stratification, do three months of treatment at a warm temperature (around 80 degrees) and then three months at a cold temperature (40 degrees).

Peony seeds which have a black or dark brown in color and have a hard seed coat. No matter what, if you plant these seeds outside, it will probably take two growing seasons for the right mix of water, heat, and bacteria to break down the seed coat and let air and water reach the embryo. We recommend scarifying the seed with a file or medium sand paper. Two or three passes is all that is needed to gently rub the seed coat. See the photos below.

In order to speed germination, the seeds can be scarified. This is a method of physically breaking down the outer seed-coat. We use a rather course file.

It’s only necessary to make two or three light passes with the file. Going too deep will hurt the embryo. If you file the seed down to the point of the white interior, you have gone too deep. Filing so that you remove the outer seen if usually enough. It is only necessary to file a small section of the seed. A diluted solution of sulfuric acid can be used to scarify large batches of seeds. You can plant seeds right away after scarifying the ground if it’s still early fall and the soil is easy to work.

If planting indoors, follow the instructions for warm/cold stratification in the section for planting fresh seeds.

Some of the beautiful tree and herbaceous peonies we have raised from seed. They’re really the work of the bees and the wind, but we call them our own Peony Heaven hybrids.

Peonies are beloved garden flowers that come in a wide range of colors and forms Both tree peonies and herbaceous peonies produce seed pods in late summer that contain viable seeds These can be harvested and planted to propagate new peonies from seed. But when is the optimal time to plant peony seeds for the best germination rates?

Understanding Peony Seed Dormancy

Peony seeds have a double dormancy that must be overcome before they will sprout This consists of

  • A hard outer seed coat that resists water penetration
  • An inner embryonic dormancy that prevents germination even once moisture can enter

Together these dormancies prevent seeds from sprouting immediately and reaching vulnerable seedling stages during harsh winter conditions This is an evolutionary adaptation that ensures seedlings emerge at the most favorable time

In order to sprout, peony seeds must experience particular sequences of warm and cold temperatures to break this double dormancy. When you plant the seeds influences how long this takes.

Outdoor Planting in Fall

The easiest and most natural way to germinate peony seeds is by direct outdoor planting in late summer or early fall soon after the seeds ripen.


  • Takes advantage of natural seasonal cycles
  • Allows seeds to experience necessary warm and cold periods
  • Minimal preparation needed


  • Harvest seeds when pods turn brown and crack open, before first frost
  • Plant seeds 1-2 inches deep and 1-2 inches apart in well-draining garden soil
  • Water thoroughly and add 2-3 inches of mulch
  • Overwinter in place
  • Some seeds may sprout the following spring, others take two seasons

This mimics how seeds self-sow in nature. The late summer warmth initiates germination processes. The winter cold thenstratifies the seeds. Finally, spring warmth awakens the embryos to sprout.

While easy, this approach requires patience as full germination can take up to 2 years. But allowing seeds to overcome dormancy naturally results in vigorous seedlings once they do emerge.

Indoor Planting in Late Winter

You can shorten the time to sprouting by artificially replicating outdoor temperature cycles indoors.


  • More controlled conditions
  • Bypass need for winter season
  • Earlier sprouting in 1 season


  • Harvest seeds when pods turn brown and crack open before frost
  • Store any unplanted seeds in cool, dry place over winter
  • In late winter, plant seeds 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart in pots
  • Keep at 75°F for 3-4 months until radicle emerges from seed
  • Move to 40°F for cold stratification period of 3-4 months
  • Plant sprouted seeds outdoors in fall

The late winter start exposes seeds to summerlike warmth right away, initiating sprouting. The cold period satisfies chilling requirements. This condenses the process so sprouts emerge after just one season.

Scarifying Seeds for Faster Germination

You can further speed up the process by manually scarifying very hard, mature peony seeds before planting indoors.


  • Use sandpaper or a file to carefully scratch seed coat
  • Take care not to damage embryo
  • Soak scarified seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting

Scarification creates openings for water to penetrate the seed coat so sprouting happens faster once planted.

However, take care not to overdo it as an injured embryo will not grow. Lightly scratching just the surface is enough to help speed germination along.

Grow Peonies Any Time with Tissue Culture

While seeded propagation is rewarding, you can bypass germination challenges entirely by purchasing tissue cultured peony starts. These are cloned plantlets from mature plants that bypass the seed stage.


  • No germination wait time
  • Identical clones of named cultivars
  • Year round planting


  • Order lab-grown plantlets from reputable nurseries
  • Transplant into pots or garden as directed
  • Provide ideal growing conditions
  • Enjoy flowers within 1-2 years

So while planting peony seeds in fall is a simple way to generate new plants, you have options. With planning and preparation, you can grow peony seeds year round! Time your planting wisely and soon you’ll be rewarded with a flush of beautiful, nostalgic blooms.

Growing Peony From Seed Part 1


How long does it take to grow a peony from seed?

Growing peonies from seed is as easy as growing carrots, except it takes a little longer, (about 3-5 years). The results, however, are far more satisfying.

Do I need to soak peony seeds before planting?

Remember, it’s also possible to harvest the seeds yourself if there are tree peonies in your area. Extra tip: Soak the seeds in water for one or two hours before planting them.

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.

Will peonies bloom the first year planted?

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. Hint: If you want instant gratification, don’t buy bare root peonies.

How do you grow peonies from seeds?

You can purchase seeds or you can allow the seed pods on your peonies to mature fully. Once they turn brown and split open in the fall, scoop out the seeds. Place them in lukewarm water and toss out any that float. Then, plant them right away.

When do tree peony seeds ripen?

Seeds are ready to be harvested when the seedpod has turned a dark tallow-brown. We generally harvest our tree peony seeds here between the 1st and 3rd weeks of August. A good seed producing tree peony can yield over 50 seeds per pod. The herbaceous seeds are ready a bit later, around the end of August. An almost ripe herbaceous peony seed pod.

When should you plant peonies?

Peonies are typically purchased as bare roots, planted in fall a few weeks before the first frost. Starter plants can also be purchased from nurseries in spring and planted as soon as the soil warms. Do Peonies bloom the first year you plant them?

How long does it take to grow peonies from seeds?

In conclusion, growing peonies from seeds can be a rewarding but time-consuming process. It typically takes 1 to 3 months for the seeds to germinate, but in some cases, it may take even longer. Patience, a period of cold stratification, and proper care are key factors in successfully growing peonies from seeds.

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