Planting Your Bare-Root Peonies

Is this your first time planting bare root peonies? Don't worry – you've got this and we can help guide you!

The first thing I'd recommend is visiting this page on the Canadian Peony Society's website. There's not much more I could add to the wealth of information on this page, but I'll try to cover-off the highlights of planting here:

Location, Location, Location: Herbacious peonies like lots of sunshine, so pick a spot for your peony roots. Peonies aren't happy about being moved around, so find a good spot that allows room for the plant to expand and stick with it!

Unlike Me, Peonies Like Cold Winter: Yep, peonies need cold to undergo a process called 'vernalization.' Cold forces the plant into a period of dormancy required for growth and flowering. So, if you live in regions that fall within the Plant Hardiness Zones 2.5-8, you should be good to 'grow' (pardon my pun, it's just a little plant humour!)

Soil Matters: Peonies prefer soil that has neutral-slightly acidic pH. It should be well drained – planting your tubers in soil that is too wet will cause them to rot. Soil that is too sandy may cause your roots to sink and stunt your plant's growth. If your soil is very heavy clay, amend with some well-aged compost. Hot tip: never, ever use fresh manure on your peony roots! It has way too much nitrogen and may burn your roots/plants.

How Deep is Too Deep?: One of the trickiest parts of planting your peony roots is getting the depth right. Here's a handy illustration from the Canadian Peony Society.

peony planting depth illustration

The trick is to get the pink buds (eyes) into just the right depth, about 1-2" from the surface. This can seem tricky when you're working with a big, healthy, gangly root, where stems and roots are poking out every which way. Plant too deep and your peony won't flower. Plant too shallow and your plant buds could freeze off. It's a lot of pressure, I know! I'd recommend finding the stem and using it as your guide. Remember, when the root was harvested with would have been cut off pretty much right at ground level, so if you replant it with the step just barely poking out of the ground you should be okay. 

Timing is Everything: We ship our bare roots in the fall, usually in mid-October. We prioritize shipping based on your Plant Hardiness Zone, so customers in the coldest regions will be the first to receive their orders. Fall is the best time to plant your bare root peonies. Planting in the fall allows your roots to get established before going dormant in winter. And remember, your peonies need that period of cold for vernalization, so come spring time they will be ready to grow!

One of our 'Sunny Girl' bare roots we planted in 2021. Root sizes can vary wildly. The roots on this particular varietal was like planting a bed of octopus! Some of the roots were as wide as the length of my forearm.

Spacing: When planting, you're going to want to space them about 3-4' apart, measuring from the centre of the root. Remember, the're just roots now but herbacious peonies get pretty bushy, so you'll want to leave enough room between plants for proper airflow and to discourage disease.

Tuck Them in For the Winter: After you've planted your peony root, put a little mulch of cut grass or hay on top to give it a little blanket for wintertime. Come springtime, brush the mulch off and watch those eyes grow into shoots!

Remember, your peonies won't flower in year one. The roots will be too busy getting settled into their new home in your garden. You may not get flowers in year 2 either, but don't worry, by year 3 your peony will be mature and established and bringing you lots of blooms. From year 3 and beyond your peony will keep growing bigger and lovely. You may wish to split your peonies in the fall after year 3, but that's up to you! 

There you have it, the Cole's Notes version of how to plant bare root peonies! Happy planting, everyone!