Fall is the best time to buy and plant peonies. When buying peony roots, choose ones that have three to five eyes (pink buds). (If the root has fewer than three eyes, you may have to wait up to five years before the plant blooms.) Choose a root crown with two or three roots that are 6 to 8 inches long and at least ½ inch in diameter. If you're buying peonies in a pot, choose ones that have healthy foliage and three to five strong shoots.
Other tips for getting the most out of your peonies:
- If you already grow peonies and want to propagate them, fall is a good time to do it. However, it takes about three years for a divided peony to return to a desirable size and flower display. Be careful when digging up the plant; don't break off roots or eyes. Cut roots into divisions that have three to five eyes and replant.
- Peonies prefer full sun, but will tolerate part shade. They grow best in climates that have cold winters; warm-weather gardeners should try older cultivars such as ‘Baroness Schroeder' and ‘Sarah Bernhardt', which do better in areas with mild winters.
- The plants grow best in well-drained soil; their roots will rot quickly in poorly drained soil.
- Plant peony roots with the eyes facing upward and the root crowns 1½ to 2 inches beneath the soil. If they're planted any deeper, they may not bloom.
- Plant standard flowering varieties 4 feet apart and dwarf varieties 2 feet apart.
- In cold climates, apply a light mulch after the ground freezes in the fall.
(Photo courtesy of Klehm's Song Sparrow Perennial Farm)