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The Perfect Bed: Planting Your Bare Roots

Who doesn't love a comfy, cozy bed?

Read on to learn how to select the best location, prep the correct soil, and planting depth for your new peony roots.

Planting Location

With the bulk of the population of Canada living in growing zones 2.5 to 6 and their need for a winter dormancy period, peonies thrive in our Canadian climate. Peonies are not typically picky about the soil that they are planted in, but good soil and proper sunlight will increase their performance. Peony roots will rot when planted in areas that do not drain well, particularly in the winter so be sure to consider this when choosing a location. Herbaceous peonies require full sun, while itoh or intersectional varieties do well in areas with partial to full sun. Peonies do not like to be moved, so choose a location where the plant can mature over time. 

Choosing Peony Cultivars

Peony plants paired with boxwoods make a stunning border or walkway. Be sure to choose fragrant peony varieties so that you and your guests can take in their scent through an open window or as they walk by. If you enjoy successive blooms over the course of the growing season, add different variety peonies to a mixed garden bed. If you want to extend the peony season as long as possible or enjoy harvesting your own cut flowers, consider raised beds of early, mid, and late season peony varieties for over 8 weeks of luxurious blooms. Finally, be sure to check the height, colour, and bloom time of each cultivar to ensure that varieties will pair well together. Our guide to planning your peony cut garden can help you with this.

Tip: We think Peony's Envy Guide to Planning a Peony Garden is another excellent resource for planning your peony garden.

Soil Preparation

Begin preparing your planting area by breaking up the soil to allow the roots to grow and expand more easily. This area should be roughly 3 feet around per peony root and 1 foot in depth. If the area has heavy clay soil, amend it with compost or potting mix to improve drainage and soil quality. The soil in your planting area should have a neutral to slightly acidic pH (6.5 - 7) and be slightly moist.

Tip: If you want to get your soil tested, OMAFRA has a list of OMAFRA Accredited Soil Testing Laboratories for backyard gardeners.

Planting Your Bare Peony Roots

The herbaceous and intersectional (itoh) peony roots that you purchase from us are high quality. This means they will have a healthy weight (not dried out like those you buy at most big box stores) to them, 3-5 'eyes' per root, and will have a tag labelling its variety. 'Bare' means that your roots have been washed clean of the soil they grew in and have gone through a disinfection process so that they are free of diseases and pests. To ensure that they do not dry out, they have been packaged in damp potting soil. We schedule the pickup and shipping of all of our peony root orders for October. This is the best time to plant peony roots in Canada as it allows the root to establish before its winter dormancy, giving you a jump on its maturity.

Herbaceous and intersectional peony roots should be planted 3 to 4 feet on centre apart from one another to allow for the plant to mature and for proper airflow between plants. The depth and way in the root is planted is very important. The pink 'eyes' of the root should be closest to the surface of the soil. The 'eyes' will grow to form shoots in the spring. If the peony root is planted too deep, the peony plant will fail to flower as it matures.

Herbaceous Peony Root Depth: The 'eyes' should be no more than 1 inch from the top of the soil surface and the roots pointed down. If planted too shallow, the eyes will freeze and not develop. Do not mulch.

Intersectional (Itoh) Peony Root Depth: The first eye above the crown should be planted above soil level, the lower eyes should be around 5-10 cm below surface level and follow with mulch.

Once planted, water the root and ensure that the depth of the soil to the eyes does not decrease as you water. 

Tip: The Canadian Peony Society has excellent diagrams explaining herbaceous and intersectional peony root planting depth. It is also great resource for peony education and peony related events.

What to Expect in the First Years:

Year 1:

Peonies establish their roots.This is why we plant in the fall & why                       quality roots matter!

Year 2:

Peonies multiply the number of 'eyes' expanding the amount of shoots.                You may be lucky to get some blooms this year. Cut them back in the                  bud stage, to enjoy your first cut flowers and to allow the plant to focus                energies back to building roots and shoots

Year 3:

Peonies reach full maturity and add more flowers each year

Peony roots are an amazing investment because peony plants have been known to last 50 years or more. Each year they also go on to produce more and more blooms and can be divided to propagate more plants as needed.

FAQ: How do I care for my peony plants year to year? 

To learn how to care for your peony plants year to year, we recommend reading our article- Keep Them Coming Back: Peony Plant Care