How to Grow Peonies
Fragrant, beautiful and long-lived—the peony captivates our senses and evokes instant associations, such as grandma's garden or a spring wedding. Yet this feel-good flower isn't just a bloom of the past. The peony is like the little black dress of flowers: stylish, timeless and always reliable. Gardeners have been planting these beauties for more than a century. If well-sited, peonies can bloom for decades.
New colors in peonies, such as coral and salmon, and versatile flower forms, from petal-packed "bombs" to single-petaled flowers with huge swirly centers, offer flower fans beauty in both the garden and vase. And they are favorites in the Midwest, where cold winters and hot summers suit these showy perennials.
How to Grow Peonies
Plant peonies 2 to 3 feet apart, keeping the crown of the roots even with the soil surface. For long-lasting blooms, follow these tips from Sarah Rummery, horticulturist at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa.
Site in the Sun
"Plan ahead when you plant your peonies," Rummery says. "Don't place them near trees that will grow tall and shade them."
Plant in Well-drained Soil
"Peonies don't like wet feet," Rummery says.
Peonies detest being transplanted. Six- to 7-foot-long roots make moving them difficult.
Feed Them Well
Fertilize peonies once a year. The ideal time? In the spring while they are actively growing.
Cut Back Foliage
When foliage turns brown (after a hard frost), cut it to the ground.
Stake Fall Varieties
Add peony rings or guards to support tall varieties that flop.
Ants sip the nectar on peony buds, but they don't harm the plant. Shake them off when you cut the flowers.
Peonies That Grow Well in the Midwest
Here are some top choices for peony varieties that grow exceptionally well in the Midwest. (Typically, peonies grow in Zones 3 to 8.)
This is an early-blooming, semidouble peony—a showstopper in the garden and a great cut flower. Dark coral buds open to sweetly scented cupped coral-peach blossoms. It's also an American Peony Society Gold Medal recipient.
The soft, light salmon petals of 'Serene Pastel' are blushed with pink. As the flower ages, it fades to white with pink highlights. The variety is noted for its fragrance.
Sweet pink outer petals surround a frilly center of rose, pink and white on 'Do Tell' flowers. This Japanese peony is a consistent performer from North to South—and, of course, the Midwest. It's an American Peony Society Gold Medal recipient.
'Lois E. Klehm'
Exotic pink and gold petals surround a center of pink petaloids on this semidouble peony. 'Lois E. Klehm' boasts strong stems and a pleasing fragrance. It blooms midseason.
A top garden performer, this tousled flower offers semidouble to double ivory-white petals kissed with candy red streaking against deep-green foliage.
Tips for Longer-Lasting Cut Peonies
* Cut peonies in the morning or evening when it's cooler.
* Look for flowers that have just started to bloom.
* Trim about an inch off the bottom of the stem, slicing at an angle to expose more stem to water.
* Remove leaves that will be under water when the peony is in a vase.
* Keep peonies out of direct sunlight.
* Replace the water every two to three days.
Related: 6 Ways to Show Off Your Peonies
Where to Buy Peonies
Midwest buying sources for peonies include Hollingsworth Peonies in Maryville, Missouri, which acquired the renowned Klehm's Song Sparrow peony collection in 2020; Gilbert H. Wild and Son in Reeds, Missouri; and Red Twig Farms in New Albany, Ohio.
Public Peony Gardens
See peonies blooming in profusion at Midwest public gardens like the Chicago Botanic Garden; Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis; Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin; Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio; Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha; and the Roy Klehm Peony Collection in Clinton, Iowa.