Last Updated on February 23, 2023 by Griselda M.
Are Peonies Bulbs? No. They are tubers Peonies are beautiful flowering plants in the genus Paeonia. They are however not bulbs! They do have quite big storage roots or tubers. These are often sold as Peony bulbs. Sometimes people also get Ranunculus and Peonies muddled up – they have vaguely similar flowers, but one is a bulb and one is a tuber so they are worlds apart. Let’s have a closer look at how to grow Peonies from their “bulbs” – more rightly termed tubers.
What do Peony Bulbs Look Like?
Peonie tubers look like a bunch of small brown carrots tangled in a knot. Typically we plant them in autumn – the majority of suppliers will have these available in autumn or spring. I try to buy plants that have just been dug up for sale in the fall. These give the best survival rate in my area. There are a lot of peony suppliers on Amazon, and a quick search for peony roots will yield a significant number of hits in autumn and spring. I am not going to include links now, because these will only sometimes work, depending on availability. If you see pictures of bulbs in the advert, you know you are being scammed.
These beautiful plants come from Europe, Asia, and parts of Western North America. Their flowers can be as large as a plate, right down to delicate button flowers depending on the species. They are showy, and often fragrant. They range from glorious reds, purples, yellow, mixed, and white colors. They usually flower in late spring or early summer, displaying their incredible floral display.
Peony plants thrive in slightly acidic soils of about pH 6.5 to 7.0 with good drainage. They do well in full and partial sun and are ideal for growing on borders, hedges, walkways, and other areas. They are great centerpieces and excellent as cut flowers and have a wonderful fragrance!
In terms of growth patterns, the Peony plant has several different varieties. There are herbaceous peonies that emerge from the ground each spring, grow into a little bush, or flower, and then need to be trimmed back in fall. There are tree peonies that grow into small bushes – and can make hedges, and then because many peonies are hybrids, there are plants that are somewhere in between these two extremes.
When to Plant Peony Bulbs
I like to keep them in the soil over winter in my area as it seems they emerge better in spring this way. Some people prefer to plant them in spring. I find that the longer the plants are out of the ground, even if you store them right, the less energy they seem to have when they emerge in spring. If you plant them into the ground in the fall, after working the soil over with ample compost and pine bark, you can put a light mulch over them. Mulch never hurts!
If you buy Peonie roots in the fall, they tend to be from strong healthy plants dug up at the end of summer. By planting them in the fall you have now basically mimicked their natural cycle where they die back and overwinter underground. If they sit outside in racks for autumn and winter and then you get them and plant them the outcome is never as good as they dry out a bit. This is just my personal preference, and you may find you have different results. From zones 3-8 this rule applies. Above zone 8 you will have to try and find cold patches in your garden to plant them, and if you cannot find these do not bother. I have a few spots near fences on a frost drainage line where the temperature gets just cold enough for this to work.
When to Plant Peony Bulbs in Zone 7?
Seeing as Zone 7 contains such a large percentage of the gardening population, this is a question that comes up quite often. The rules for zones 3-8 naturally apply to zone 7 too! Plant your peonies in autumn, although you should be able to get away with later planting. Mulch heavily.
Where to Plant Peonies
Peonies are hardy plants that thrive in ideal conditions. Plant your peonies in a spot that receives lots of sunlight. If your area receives sweltering summers, pick a spot that gets about 6 hours of sun with a shady afternoon.
How to Plant Peony Bulbs
Planting peonies is best done in the fall season. This allows the roots to overwinter and emerge in spring.
When planting your peonies, add some composted manure or organic matter to make the soil rich.
Plant your peonies at least 1 to 4 feet apart in your garden. Set your bulbs or peony roots into the soil at a depth of up to 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches ensuring the eyes face the skies.
Gardeners who would like to plant early-blooming peonies should wait until the end of fall. Set the roots at a depth of 1 inch under the soil and provide them with some cover against the sun.
Water them well and pack the soil firmly around the roots. Check on the plants regularly to see if they germinate strong shoots and water them as needed.
How to Store Peony Bulbs
Peony bulbs are not truly a bulb as many people call them. They are a piece of root from a dormant, earlier established plant.
You can dig up and divide your existing peonies to create more for your garden. You can also purchase a bag of peony roots or bulbs.
Peony roots or bulbs rarely require division, and they don’t like root disturbance. You can grow your peony plants in the same location for many years. However, you can move or divide them if necessary.
Dig up your peonies after the leaves begin to die back in the fall or early spring. Remove the peony root or bulb using a fork or spade. Shake it gently to remove the soil.
Look for the bulbs on the roots and cut apart the clump with a sharp knife. Ensure each section contains at least 2 to 5 buds.
Read more about:
When Are Peonies in Season?
Peonies blossom in late spring through early summer, although this depends on the variety of peonies you are growing and your location.
Many nurseries offer early, mid, and late blooming varieties that allow you to extend out the peony season over many weeks and enjoy the bloom as long as possible.
Peonies are hardy plants in Zone 3 and do well in zones 7 and 8. In most of the U.S., growing peonies is simple – give them full sun and well-drained soil.
Peonies tolerate cold winters because they need cold weather to form their buds.
Check out When Do Lilac Bushes Bloom?
Supporting Your Peonies
Depending on the variety of the peony plus the growing conditions, you will need to provide your plants with some support when the flowers bloom. This is especially for the double-style blossoms that can get very heavy during flowering.
Position your support early in the growing season before the plants get higher than a few inches high. When the plant has filled out or is in bloom, it is impossible to set up an effective support system.
It is rare for peonies to bloom the first year after planting; rather, it often takes up to 3 years before seeing an abundant bloom of flowers. However, once they start blooming, you can look forward to a lifetime of beautiful blooms all the time.
Each year, it’s advisable to apply all-purpose fertilizer or a top dressing with compost as peonies require good health. If you mulch your peony’s flowerbeds, ensure you keep the mulch away from the base of your peonies.
If you cover the base with mulch, the plant reacts as though it has been planted too deep, and it produces few flowers or none at all.
Types of Peonies
There are three types of peony, which are:
Herbaceous Type – They die back to ground level each winter
Tree Peonies Type – They are taller and woodier and retain their frame throughout winter. They are small shrubs, actually not trees.
Intersectional Hybrids – They are a crossbreed between the tree and herbaceous types.
Common varieties for peonies you can plant
Peonies bloom between late spring and early summer. However, you can plan yours to give you a successive display of flowers starting mid-May to late June by planting different varieties. Here are some choices you have:
Early Scout – A very early blooming with red single flowers
Firelight – An early bloomer with pale-pink single blooms
Elsa Sass – late-season blooming producing double, pure-white, Camellia-like flowers
Rare Flower of Frosty Dew – A late-season–blooming that has a 3-foot plant with bright pink fragrant flowers.
Karl Rosenfield – A midseason blooming plant with double large crimson blooms
Norma Volz – Midseason blooming that has large, white, fully double flowers
Planting a Peony Hedge
You can plant tree peonies to create a hedge. I find that tree peonies are best bought from a nursery, as these are small shrubs and there is so much confusion around telling you what peonies you are buying that going and buying them in fall or winter will allow you to see that these are definitely the tree-like type!!
If you are planting them, you can plant them quite close together – a foot and a half apart, and then they will form a nice dense barrier. In my area, the temperatures do not get cold enough to trigger the autumn red on the leaves, but in my family’s home in the Niagara region in Canada, these really do create a lovely splash of autumn color. Along with everything else.
Peonies are not bulbs – they are tuberous roots. Moving swiftly on from that:
If your peonies are well-located and happy, they can bloom for 100 years or more with little to no attention.
This means they are worth spending some time upfront. Choose the right planting location and prepare the soil.
Your peonies will be more vigorous, healthier, and more floriferous if you provide them with ideal growing conditions. Happy Peony gardening!
Caroline is a gardener who loves to get down to the nitty–gritty of gardening. She proudly proclaims herself as a ‘dirt worshipper‘ and can often be found deep in the garden, covered in soil and singing to her plants. As a self–proclaimed ‘plant whisperer‘, Caroline believes that plants need love and attention just like any other living thing, and she loves to give them both. When she‘s not tending to her garden, you can often find her researching the latest gardening trends, or teaching others how to make their gardens thrive