Inspiring Peony Flowers: Growing Peonies In The Garden

By Mary Ellen Ellis | July 23, 2020
by Mary Ellen Ellis
July 23, 2020

For me, summer is truly here in Michigan when the peonies bloom. The showy, huge flowers of this perennial open up during late May and mid-June, right in time for the summer solstice. Inspired by a wonderous peony garden many years ago, I started growing my own.

Michigan Peony Garden

My love of peony flowers began when I first saw the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden at the University of Michigan many years ago. A college student at the time, I loved wandering in “the arb,” as we called it. The best time was early summer when campus got quiet and the weather warm.

Begun in the 1920s, the Peony Garden has been wowing visitors for nearly 100 years. Dr. W.E. Upjohn, a university alum, helped start the garden with plants from his collection of over 600 peony cultivars. The garden is now the largest public collection of historic peonies.

Growing Peonies in the Garden

For years I enjoyed seeing the blooming array of every shade of white to pink in the Peony Garden. It became a sign of summer for me, and I eventually was able to plant some in my home garden.

Although it’s nothing like the historic collection, my few peonies in the garden are thriving. Here are some peony growing tips I’ve learned over the years for cultivating these gorgeous perennials:

  • The best time to put in a new peony is fall. This is also the best time to move or divide a mature peony plant. Make sure that your new or transplanted peony has at least six weeks of time to adjust before the ground begins to freeze.
  • Peonies do best in full sun but will tolerate some shade.
  • Stakes are often necessary to hold up the big, beautiful peony flowers. Because they can be so top heavy, it’s also best to plant somewhere out of the wind.
  • Keep peonies at a distance from trees and other shrubs, as they don’t do well when competing for nutrients.
  • Soil for peonies should be rich and fertile with a neutral pH. Fertilizer isn’t generally necessary. Peonies prefer soil enriched with compost.
  • Deadhead the blooms once they fade. Cut the stems back in the fall.
  • Yes, peonies attract ants, but they are not pests. Ants feed on the nectar and, in exchange, they’ll eat the insects that are pests.
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