It is hard to imagine spring with out peonies but if we are to enjoy such a pleasure we should plant them in the fall. I order my peonies from on line sources and they send them at the correct time for planting, the end of October-early November for my North Carolina zone 7 garden. By planting at this time the roots will have time to settle in and establish a good number of feeder roots before the ground freezes, yet top growth will not be encouraged. Feeder roots will be especially important in spring especially if it is dry.
Steps for Planting Peonies in Fall
1. As soon as you receive peony roots, open the box, remove the packing material and plan to plant them ASAP. If a delay in planting is inevitable, keep the roots cool and in the dark.
2. Soak the peony roots overnight in tepid water before planting.
3. Select a site that has at least 6 hours of sun and fertile, well-drained, heavy loamy soil. Standing water will kill peonies by rotting the crown or roots so pay particular attention to drainage. Peonies do not transplant easily and are very long lived so choose the site with a long term plan in mind.
4. Cultivate an area 2’ wide and 1 ½’ deep for each peony, spacing plants 3-4’ apart. Fill each hole with 1’ of good garden loam made with about 1/3 part organic matter such as compost or well rotted manure. Add a cup of lime if your soil test indicates that you have acidic soil (yes, have a test done every year in various parts of your garden).
5. Plant each root so that the eyes are upward and 1-2” below the soil surface. The depth at which the eyes are planted is critical and if planted too deep will result in a lack of bloom until the situation is corrected. If eyes are planted too shallow they may freeze.
6. Place loose soil around the roots.
7. Water well. Continue to water occasionally into winter if the fall is dry.
8. Peonies may be fertilized when planted and in early spring with a fertilizer high in phosphorus such as 4-10-6
9. After the ground freezes, mulch with straw or evergreen boughs to protect from heaving but remove the mulch promptly in spring.
10. In spring make sure they get at least 1” water per week.
The first year after planting the bloom will probably not be all that you had dreamed about but by the second year you should be able to enjoy a bountiful sight.
If you have not yet selected your peonies you might like the following post about selecting peonies: (Click on the photo)