Peony planting from bare root can be rather confusing but it is really simple once you know which way is up. Learn how to plant bare root peonies one easy step at a time and get glorious blooms.
What is Bare Root?
The term “bare root,” when used in gardening, refers to a plant that is offered for sale with its roots exposed, rather than planted in a container with soil.
This is a common way for many perennial plants to be sold, especially when you order them from a mail-order retailer.
Also, many nurseries and big box stores carry bare root plants. Buying bare root can save you a lot of money.
Planting peonies from bare root is a great way to get many colors and varieties at a budget price.
Note: at the end of this article there is a complete video showing you how to plant your peonies in the garden.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Peony Planting – How to Plant a Peony Bulb
Though they are not truly a bulb many call them that, they are actually a piece of root from a dormant, established plant. In a later post I will share how you can dig up and divide your existing peonies if you wish to create more for your garden.
Lets start with examining the peonies roots or bulb we have purchased. Carefully, open the bag containing your bare root peonies.
Your peonies may look rather odd and you will need to look closely at them to figure out which way is up. Many times shoots will have already began to emerge and will be pointing in different directions. The white and pinkish shoots are the new growth. The peony woke up during its journey to my home.
Gently brush away any packaging medium and find where roots may be emerging. This will help you when you plant it as the shoots can be going every which direction. They often grow out of the side of a stem instead of straight up. Many tell you to just plant with the shoots pointing up and that may work as well.
These peony starts, aka bulbs, are a wonderful size and very healthy. I had ordered them from Longfield Gardens. Personally, I have always had good success with their plants.
Where to Plant Peonies
Do peonies like sun or shade?
Peonies like lots of sun in most areas. In locations with very hot summers pick a spot that gets about 6 hours of sun but will be shaded in the afternoon.
Peonies are tough and will survive less than ideal conditions. But for the finest bloom and healthier plants locate them in the best possible area you can.
This is the south side of my home. During the height of summer, the peonies will get afternoon shade from the tall pine and cedar trees on my neighbors property.
The patches of green are Foxgloves that overwintered and the stems poking up out of the ground are daisies. I limit Fall clean up and leave them in place for the wildlife that likes to winter inside the hollow stems. It does tend to look messy but my gardening goal is to be a wildlife haven as much as for beauty.
Prepare the soil well for Peony Planting
Rake back any garden debris on top of the soil. Dig a good sized hole and loosen the soil to at least 12 inches. Dig it wide as well, I aim for a 12″ x 12″ hole.
You want the soil below and around your peony to be loose and crumbly. This will also help insure good drainage. Fill the hole with the loosened soil to a point where your peony cuttings (bulb) will rest.
I have been asked about my shovel, this is a Root Slayer and I love it for digging in the garden, it slices into tough soil like a hot knife through butter.
How Deep do you Plant Peonies?
The new shoots should be about one inch below the soil surface once all filled in. Some say to dig a 12-inch hole, refill with loosened soil then re-dig an 8-inch hold to plant in. I personally eyeball it, no need for the extra work.
If you have no shoots showing then plant the peony bulb with the roots down no deeper than 2 inches. This peony bulb has sprouted so you can see that it is not far from the top of the hole.
Note: sometimes the shoots are growing of of the side of a bulb as it looks in the step by step video linked at the end of this post. Examine the bulb closely and find the roots, plant those down.
Peonies grow about 3 to 4 feet high and 3 feet wide so plant your bulbs at least 3 feet apart.
Fill in over the bulb and firm in with a soft press of your foot. Gently. Top dress with some compost, just a touch, and mulch slightly. (optional)
Mark where you have planted your peonies. If you have a lot of plants in a bed it can be tough to remember where everything is. I have actually dug up plants I had forgotten were in a certain spot and tried to plant something else.
In the photo above you can see the stakes used to mark where the new Peony bulbs are planted. This helps me keep track of where they are until they grow larger.
If you don’t get some rain, water the peonies in. We got a couple of feet of snow after I planted these. The newly planted peonies stayed snug under the snow until warmer weather came.
Peonies like it on the cooler side to get started so plant them during the late winter/early Spring. If you are dividing your own then Fall is a great time too.
Peony Planting – Peony Care
All peonies bloom in early Summer. The exact bloom time varies from location and cultivar. I tend to get blooms a month later than my neighbors just 10 minutes down the road.
For an extended peony bloom, plant varieties that flower early, mid and late season. Once they are done blooming the foliage remains a pretty green providing a backdrop for other flowers.
Peony flowers can be heavy and flop when it rains. Before your peonies reach 8 inches provide support of some kind.
In a later post I will share what I use to support the peonies and how I make them.
If you don’t get summer rains give peonies about an inch of water a week. Once established they can withstand drought but you won’t get the best blooms.
A drip or soaker hose system works wonderfully in providing consistent moisture for peonies and other plants. Mine are planted in a mixed bed and there is soaker hoses weaved throughout for a water-saving way to keep them hydrated.
Peonies sometimes contract botrytis, a common fungus in gardens. It is recognizable by black spots on plant leaves. If there’s a big outbreak, use an organic fungicide used for roses. I use this one.
- Bare Root Peonies
- Compost (optional)
- Mulch (optional)
Planting bare root peonies is not difficult but the appearance of the plants can be confusing. I share how you can tell which end is up and how to plant them successfully!
1. Open the package of Peonies and inspect bulbs. Locate the roots.
2. Dig a 12" x 12" hole.
3. Refill hole with loosening soil to within inches of the top.
4. Place peony bulb into the hole with the roots down.
5. Make sure peony shoots are only an inch below the surface once you cover with soil.
6. No shoots? Plant peony bulb no deeper than 2 inches below the surface.
7. Cover peony with soil and firm in gently.
8. Top dress with a bit of compost and mulch (optional)
9. Use a wood stake or something to mark where you planted the peonies.
10. Water in if needed.
Peonies are a hardy perennial that will last decades. Give it the best start you can with a good location and soil.