How to Grow Common Peony in Your Garden

Paeonia officinalis, or Common peony, is a long-lived garden perennial. It is prized for its lavish and carefully scented blooms.

It has a shrubby nature and is native to mountainous woodlands of Europe. It blooms in late summer and sets seed in the middle of summer.

It is a fairly easy to grow perennial, coming back to your garden year after year.

While it does need some protection from the elements, a peony plant will generally provide you with many seasons of beauty.

The peony can be grown readily in USDA zones 8-10, and thrives best in well maintained soil located in an area with a lot of direct sunlight.

These blossoms respond well to a through pruning to remove any dead or decaying plant matter.

Paeonia officinalis 'Athena' cultivar
Single flowered Paeonia officinalis 'Athena' cultivar, image by F. D. Richards, under CC licence.

Decayed plant matter is not healthy for a young peony and can choke the life out of a delicate blossom.

In addition to having a noticeable fragrance, showy flowers come in a variety of hues, able to match any decor or design scheme.

Paeonia 'Buckeye Bell' cultivar
Semi-double Paeonia 'Buckeye Bell' cultivar, picture by F. D. Richards, CC. NB this cultivar is a hybrid cross between Paeonia officinalis and Paeonia albiflora.

The Paeonia officinalis plant, is also commonly referred to as the Garden Peony, and is a member of the plant family Paeoniaceae (33 species), this is a single genus family – see this Gardener's HQ page for a more general Guide on Growing Paeonia plants based upon genus. This plant family is closely related to Hydrangea, another plant genus that is used to great effect in a lot of gardens.

Peonies are beloved by many for how they shine in the garden with little maintenance and do well with limited shade.

They perform well in partial shade beneath trees and shrubs and can look fantastic growing alongside Hosta Plants, Spring flower bulbs, Irises, and Bleeding Heart.

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Paeonia officinalis

Growing peonies is perfect for a beginner gardener. Once you choose the perfect place for them, they do not need much attention to grow large, riotous blooms.

When choosing the perfect spot for growing peonies, be sure to pick a space that gets a lot of direct sunlight. As these flowers can also grow well in partial shade and are suitable for woodland and shade gardens.

Be aware that growing from seed is not generally recommends as peony seeds are very slow to germinate.

Once you have decided where you would like your Paeonia officinalis plant to go, dig a small hole, and plant the tuber, eye up, about 4 or 5 cm deep (2 inches max) into the soil and nestle the plant.

Next draw the soil around it but not on top of the sprout. Be aware that burying the tuber too deep can result in peonies that do not flower for many years.

Space at about 60 to 120 cm (2 to 4 feet) apart so that each plant can get enough nutrition and has plenty of room to grow. If you are planning in incorporating peonies into a hedge then space at about 90 cm (3 feet).

Paeonia officinalis 'Alba Plena'
Paeonia officinalis 'Alba Plena' photograph by F. D. Richards, CC.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

Scientific Name: Paeonia officinalis

Common Name (s): Common peony; Garden peony

Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): USDA Zones 8 to 10; Peonies growing zones for Europe and UK H6 – This makes it winter hardy to about -10 to -20°C (14 to -4°F), with the RHS rating its hardiness to a much lower temperature than the USDA does.

Best Used For / Garden Location: Shaded parts of the garden and woodland gardens; Underplanting of shrubs and Rose bushes; Hedging; Late spring color; and for Butterfly Gardens.

Plant Details

Life Cycle / Plant Type: herbaceous perennials with an upright subshrub form.

Plant Height: 20 to 27 inches feet (50 to 70 cm).

Plant Spread: 20 to 24 inches feet (50 to 60 cm).

Blooms: Late Spring into early summer.

Flower Details: Fragrant and Showy. Large bowls. Crimson red to dark pink flowers with yellow stamens. Up to 12.5 cm (5 inches) in diameter. Numerous cultivars available, including semi-double and double flowers, and colors such as pink, purple, and white.

Leaf Foliage: Shrubby nature. Attractive green Leaves, divided into nine leaflets.

Fruit: produces attractive seed pods.

Growing Conditions and Location

Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight and partial Shade.

Suitable Soil Types: Deep and richly fertile soil. Ideally humus rich.

Soil Moisture: Moist, Good drainage essential. Only water in the mornings to help prevent diseases.

Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Divide plants in early spring or autumn (wait at least five years before dividing the tubers, will most likely require a saw). If growing from tuners then plant eyes upwards in the spring. Bury about 5 cm (2 inches) deep.

Care: Ideally grow in a sheltered position – may require a stake in windy areas.  Flowers can be cut off once they are spent. Remove foliage (cut to ground level) following the first frost of autumn.

Be on the lookout for pests such as moth larvae and eelworm, and for diseases such as Peony wilt, blight, and honey fungus. Simply remove any leaves that you see any sign of disease. Ensure young leaves do not sit in water to help prevent rot.

Growing in pots and containers: Peonies have a large root system so if you are planning to grow peonies in containers then use at least a 40 cm (16 inch) pot. Good drainage is essential so use a mix of 65% soil or compost and 35% perlite. Mix in a slow-release granular fertilizer to the soil mix; then fertilize every spring. Keep soil moist but do not let the soil get wet as it can lead to leaf rot. Cut back and bring containers indoors for the winter.

Further Information

Miscellaneous: Hermaphrodite. Allotetraploid (double chromosomes). Tolerant to deer and rabbits.

Cultivars: Peony 'Rubra Plena' – Height 30 inches (75 cm), Dark green leaves, Double deep crimson flowers reaching 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter.

Peony Rubra Plena Cultivar
Peony Rubra Plena Cultivar picture by Katie Birkwood, CC

Peony 'Red Charm' – Early blooming hybrid, with an attractive deep red double flower atop a stiff stem.

Peony Rubra Plena Cultivar
Peony Rubra Plena Cultivar picture by F. D. Richards, CC.

Paeonia officinalis X albiflora Salmon Glow hybrid cultivar. Multiple stems, single flowers of salmon pink, which fade to a lavender color.

Paeonia Salmon Glow photograph.
Paeonia Salmon Glow image by F. D. Richards, CC.

Varieties: var. Plant has six main subspecies, mainly classified to their native areas e.g., Paeonia officinalis sub. italica to Italy.

Family: Paeoniaceae.

Native: Southern and Central Europe, numerous sub-species in Italy and Spain.

Common Questions

How tall are Paeonia officinalis?

The garden Peony typically reaches about 70 cm (just over two feet) in height, with a similar spread.

How do you Care for Paeonia officinalis?

Ensure that soil remains moist, stake in windy areas, deadhead after flowering (or let seed set as pods are attractive), cut back leaves after the first frost of autumn.

How do you Propagate and Grow from Seed?

Divide tubers after 4 or 5 years, bury eye upwards at a depth of about 5 cm (2 inches).

When to Plant Paeonia officinalis? When do they Bloom?

Bury tubers in autumn. This perennial should flower in late spring every year.

Do peonies like sun or shade?

They do well in both sunny and partially shaded parts of the garden. They look particularly attractive when grown beneath small bushy plants such as roses.

How long does it take Peony plants to bloom?

Paeonies will seldom bloom in their first year after plants, typically the odd flower may appear in the second year, and they will bloom properly in their third year.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Paeonia officinalis. You may also enjoy the following growing guides: How to Grow Hyacinth and Hibiscus plants.

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