Planting a Field of Peonies

I’ve been wanting to plant lots of lots of peonies ever since I started B-Side Farm about five years ago. They’re a perennial that takes a long time mature, and you aren’t even supposed to cut flowers off the plant until the third season so as to let roots develop. This means that the earlier you can get them in the ground, the better. This also means that I’m constantly looking at the calendar, watching the years go by, and lamenting the fact that I didn’t plant a whole field of them three years ago.

But here we are in 2018, and tomorrow I’ll begin planting a half-acre of bare root peonies, about 2,500 in total. It’s quite an investment and a huge leap of faith, but I’m excited to go big.

Now, some say you can’t grow peonies in our climate as it’s too warm. More specifically, it’s believed that we don’t get enough winter chill hours to give peonies the kind of dormancy they need to perform well the following year. But if you talk to enough people, from experts to hobbyists, you’ll learn that everyone has their own take on this issue. Some will swear that we’re just not able to grow them. Others will attest to the vigor of their grandmother’s old stand of peonies, thriving every year right here in the North Bay. And others still will tell you that they’ve always heard that if you can grow apples, you can grow peonies (speculating that they have the same chill requirements).

Well, quite frankly I’m tired of wondering how they’ll do, so I’m going all in to finally have some solid evidence to share. I do have a test plot in my current field, where I’ve planted a hundred or so peonies over the past few years. Most of them do pretty well and I’ve cut some blooms off them already. But I still don’t have enough evidence to be able to say, with certainty, that peonies perform really well in our area. Talk to me in three years!

Tips For Planting Peonies

  • More than anything, they need good drainage. So, amend your soil with lots of compost and good organic matter, and plant in a well-draining area. A slight slope may be ideal.
  • They don’t love being moved, so choose your spot wisely and try to keep them for years and years to come.
  • In warm climates, you want the plant to be able to take advantage of any winter chill that we do have. So, plant they very shallow under the soil surface – just covered the top eye with ½ – 1” of soil.
  • This is a bit anecdotal, but they say we should plant earlier varieties that will bloom while it’s still a little cooler out. Coral Charm is one classic example of a great early producer.