Peonies do not require perfect soil. When we started our farm, the topsoil on about 80% of the cleared land had been scraped and the topsoil had been sold. Our first year we planted hundreds of peonies into poor quality sub-soil and fill dirt.
Yet our plants have done just fine.
We’ve learned that even poor soils will work for peonies as long as you amend that soil with organic matter.
So if you’re working with very poor soil, here are some amendment techniques we’ve used with good success on our farm:
Apply good quality compost to the intended planting area
For most home gardeners this is probably the most straight forward.
In fact, when we were still home gardeners, this is all we did!
When using compost, we strongly encourage you to apply it at least 4-6 weeks before you plant following the below process
- Remove or suppress weeds in the target planting area
- Put 4-6 inches of compost on top of the soil.
- 4-6 weeks later dig your hole
- plant your Lyndaker Farms' peony
Apply aged woodchips to the intended planting area
Woodchips that have rotted for 3+ years greatly improve soil quality (and will help suppress the weeds)!
To apply, follow the same steps you would follow to apply compost.
Amend based on soil type (only if needed)
We are lucky in that our land is neither sandy nor clay. As such we generally have not had to amend our soil to correct for these issues.
However, if you have clay soil, you will want to improve drainage by amending. Your local extension service can advise with regard to amendments that generally work in your growing area.
Conversely if you have sandy soil, you will want to add organic matter that helps to retain water. Again, your local extension service can help you determine the most effective amendments.
Planting Your Lyndaker Farms' Peony
To ensure a successful peony planting we recommend you follow the below steps
Plant your bare-root divisions in the fall.
We only divide and ship peony divisions in the Fall. Dividing and planting at other times will unnecessarily stress the plant and your plant may never fully recover or may even die.
In our northern climate, we try to have our bare-root peonies in the ground no later than the end of October.
Once you receive the plant in the fall, we recommend that you plant it as soon as possible. if you can't put it in the ground immediately put the root somewhere cool and dark. A basement or even your refrigerator will work well.
Make a large planting hole to easily accommodate the roots.
You do not want to "squeeze" your peony root into the hole. We typically dig an approximately 1'x1' hole for our herbaceous and itoh peonies and a 1.5x1.5' foot hole for tree peonies.
If your soil is compacted, you may consider digging even larger holes than those listed above. This will ensure the plant has space to expand, despite the somewhat challenging growing conditions.
For Herbaceous and Itoh peonies, plant the crown no more than 2" below the soil surface.
If you plant the root deeper than 2" the peony will flower poorly or not at all.
In the south, I understand that gardeners intentionally plant their peonies less than 2" deep. This helps ensure the root gets a good chill in the winter, which the plant needs in order to flower well and profusely. If you’re growing peonies in a warmer climate and want to adjust planting depth, talk to gardeners in your area to understand the planting depths that work for them.
If you’re gardening in Zones 3 - 5, it’s wise to stay with the 2” planting depth (but no deeper than that).
Place the peony in the hole
When placing the peony root in the hole, we recommend that you first gently spread out the roots. Then put dirt into the first 6-8 inches of the hole. Place the spread out roots on top of the mound of dirt with the crown side up.
At that point, confirm that the crown is no more that 2" deeper than the soil surface.
You may choose to water at this stage, just to help eliminate air pockets.
To finish the planting, you then cover the root with soil until the hole is filled to the existing soil surface level. Water again to remove air pockets.
In colder areas, consider mulching for the first winter only.
In the colder regions, this protects the new planting from winter damage. The mulch is only needed the first winter and should be removed immediately in the spring.
Herbaceous and Itoh Peonies require very little maintenance however some basic hygiene is prudent if you want to maintain optimal plant health and avoid disease.
Monitor for plant disease and remove any affected part of the plant.
In particularly wet years, it's common to have fungus like botrytis affect your peony plants. When you see this happening considering removing areas of the plant that are most impacted.
We do not have systemic fungus issues on our farm but, if we see that one plant is particularly affected, we do treat that plant with a fermented comfrey tea.
Remove all plant foliage in the fall when the plant goes dormant.
Discard or burn the foliage. Do not add it to your compost pile.
Peony foliage that is not removed can harbor fungus. This removal step is critical if you want to prevent disease in your garden the following year.
For herbaceous and itohs, you can remove the foliage by simply cutting the whole plant back, leaving 2-4 inches of stem to help you remember the exact plant location
For tree peonies, do not cut back. Simply remove the leaves and discard or burn