The peony (Paeonia lactiflora) is the state flower of Indiana, and generally blooms here toward the end of May.  It is a traditional Memorial Day flower, and a very long-lived perennial.

Location: Peonies are easy to grow in a sunny, well-drained location.  They need at least a half day of sun.  Plant them 3’-4’ apart to give them room to grow to their full potential.  Their preferred soil pH is 6.5 – 7.

Planting: Dormant roots should be planted in the fall (Sept. – Nov.) before the ground freezes.  Potted plants may be planted any time the ground is not frozen.  If planting a dormant root, be sure the eyes are no more than 2” below the surface of the soil.  Otherwise the peony will not bloom.  Plant a potted plant the same depth it is in the pot.

  •  Before Planting: Prepare the soil 18” deep and 18” wide.  Add peat or compost to heavy clay soils.  Although it seems to be a lot of trouble to prepare such a large hole, remember that you won’t need to dig it up again, and the plant will live for decades.

Water: Water immediately after planting, and during dry summer months.  Add a small amount of fertilizer once a year, and work it into the soil around the crown.  Don’t let it touch the plant, and be sure to use a low nitrogen analysis.

Winter Protection: The first year, add 3” of straw mulch to protect the plant, after the ground has frozen.  Gently remove in the spring.  Established plants don’t need mulch.

Flowers: The first year or two, the plant will not have many flowers.  This is normal; the first few flowers will be smaller than future ones.  Within 3 years the peony should be blooming normally.  Ants on the buds are common, and harmless.

Disease: Peonies are sometimes affected by botrytis and other blights.  Damp springs and poor air circulation encourage diseases.  To discourage disease, cut the foliage back to the ground in the fall and dispose of it.  Do not compost it or leave it on the ground around the plant!  Botrytis spores are carried by water and wind to other plants.  In early spring, when the new shoots emerge, spray them with a fungicide which labels for botrytis on peonies.