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If there’s a plant loaded with personality and isn’t afraid to show it, it is the peony!
These amazing bloomers light up the outdoors in the spring and make it such a picturesque setting for picnics, outdoor events, and even long walks in nature. Trust me.
We once waited until a peony bloomed to watch a couple walk down the aisle – they would not have it any other way and had their wedding planner on her toes.
In my mind, I could picture her peering at the garden every day with longing eyes, begging the peonies to just bloom so she could get the event going.
I wonder what would have happened if they had not bloomed that year – of course, that’s a thought that this couple and the wedding planner would not have entertained.
But it could have happened. Peonies might be low maintenance, but they still have some core needs. And chief among these needs are light and water.
As you go down the list, you also notice that they care about their soil. Unlike most plants, peonies often remain in one spot for a long time.
They do not move around or have the benefit of occasional repotting. Instead, they sit in the original soil mix, relying on regular feeding to replenish what they have used. And if you neglect them, they cannot produce the blooms we all admire.
A peony needs well draining, well aerated and nutrient rich soil with a low nitrogen fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-10 leaving 75% to essential micronutrients.
For the most part, peonies are adaptable to different kinds of soil. However, it’s not advisable to take chances with these plants because the results could be disheartening.
I will take you through what your peony needs and how you can give it all it deserves.
What Soil Nutrients Does a Peony Need?
Most plants do best when they have adequate access to phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. But in the peony’s case, you need to focus more on phosphorus and nitrogen.
Even if the soil falls short of optimal potassium levels, your plant can still bloom. Why does your peony need these nutrients? Well, they aid in developing strong roots and the setting of flowers.
Ideally, you should feed your plant with a low nitrogen fertilizer with a balance of 5-10-10. The numbers depict the levels of the other nutrients.
Nitrogen would account for 5%, while phosphorus and potassium would account for 10% each, leaving 75% to essential micronutrients. See? This plant is not a heavy feeder.
It gets even more interesting. While your peony enjoys an NPK feed like most other plants, you should not use these nutrients directly in the soil around the plant’s stem.
Doing so can damage its roots, preventing them from absorbing these essential nutrients and thus curbing its growth. So, you should use a usual planting mix and then add fertilizer to the soil around the soil mix to be safe.
When should you feed your plant? Your peony will not always need feeding. If anything, you should save the feeding for the spring when the growth rate is optimal. Also, consider how developed the plant is, as follows:
- For new plants: If you just planted a new peony, allow it to soak in the nutrients in the soil mix. When its stem is at least 2 inches high, you can feed it with a 5-10-10 fertilizer.
- For mature plants: Wait until the flower buds have grown to about half an inch, then feed them. This timing gives them the boost they need to develop healthy flowers.
Please note that the peony does better when underfed than when overfed. If you give the plant too much fertilizer, its roots burn.
And you may find that it has stunted growth and produces little to no flowers. Moreover, using too much feed is not environmentally friendly.
There are no barriers to prevent the chemicals from going past the area around the peony.
Thus, the excess chemicals remain in the soil and could find their way to water sources. And unlike in pots where you can discard the potting mix, you can’t do that with peonies planted in the ground.
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So, the best option is to regulate your feeding schedule and instead focus on getting a good soil mix from the start, as follows:
What Type of Soil Should You Use for Your Peony?
The good news is that peonies grow in almost all kinds of soil. They, however, prefer soils that are:
These plants like soils that can drain the excess water so they can take in what they need and leave the rest for evaporation and other processes.
As such, you should not use soil with a smooth texture as it limits the drainage. Instead, go for a medium texture soil.
Plants need air, and peonies are not different. Again, this comes down to the type of soil texture you choose.
Make sure it gives room to air pockets which are essential for healthy root development.
The lack of these pockets creates a suitable environment for fungal growth. And root rot thus follows, killing your beloved peony.
This factor is more of a preference than a requirement. Your peony will still survive without a high level of nutrients. But if you want it to thrive, it’s always good to add a 5-10-10 fertilizer to give it a boost.
So, which soils meet the above criteria? You can go with loamy soils. Or you can amend sandy and clay soils to meet the drainage and aeration requirements of the peony.
When it comes to nutrition, please keep it simple. Or forego it all together in the beginning and instead focus on getting a good soil mix, as I will show you.
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What Are the Signs You Are Using the Wrong Soil for Your Peony?
Can you count on your plant to communicate when its soil does not meet its needs? Of course, you can! The peony is not one to shy away from expressing its displeasure. The common signs include:
1) The Peony has no Flowering or Produces Few Flowers
The peony has some of the most beautiful blooms you will ever come across. They are vibrant and fragrant and are the perfect addition to a day outdoors.
But peonies don’t always bloom. Usually, the reason behind the lack of blooming is poor lighting. These plants do well in bright and direct light, and other kinds of light just won’t cut it.
So, if your plant has full sun exposure and still won’t bloom, the soil could be nutrient-poor. Or it could have so much nitrogen that it damages the plant’s roots.
2) The Peony Looks Weak and Sickly
While peonies have gained their reputation due to their flowers, their leaves and stems are also strikingly beautiful. Thus, if you notice that they now appear pale, your soil mix could be to blame.
3) The Peony Shows Signs of Wilting
A soil mix that allows water to drain too fast can dehydrate your peony, resulting in drooping. Usually, such a mix will also show signs of drying and may even have cracks on its surface.
4) The Soil may Emit a Funky Smell and May Show Signs of Fungal Growth
Take this as a warning that the soil is not well-draining and that the plant could have suffered root rot. The only way to deal with this is to cut off the affected parts and transfer the plant to a better soil mix.
Also, if you notice increased pest infestations, your peony has a weak immune system, which shows that the soil mix has too few or too many nutrients.
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What PH Should the Soil be for a Peony?
Peonies are different and fall into three distinct groups:
- Herbaceous Peonies/ Perennial Peonies,
- Tree Peonies/ Shrub Peonies, and
- Itoh Peonies/ Intersectional Peonies.
Generally, herbaceous and Itoh peonies prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH range between 6.5 and 7. However, tree peonies prefer more alkaline conditions and will do well in ranges between 7 and 7.5.
How To Achieve the Right pH
Getting the pH right is one of the most important tasks when making a soil mix. Look at it this way. Your peony needs phosphorus to grow.
But in highly alkaline conditions, it becomes hard for your plant to access this vital nutrient. So, if you leave it in a soil mix with a pH value of 8, you can see how this would work against you.
You must figure out the pH of the planting soil before adding it to your peony. And the easiest (and cheapest) way to do this is to get a pH testing kit from the gardening store.
(Don’t go for litmus paper – all it does is tell you whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. It does not give you an accurate reading. I learned this the hard way.)
If your soil pH is too acidic, you can alter it using lime, calcium hydroxide, wood ash, or other alkaline components in your home.
The idea is to use a bit at a time and then test the pH of the soil. Please note that it takes a few days for the resultant pH to show up on the results. Easy does it – so go slow when amending the soil.
If the soil is more alkaline than your peony needs, there are also home remedies for this too. All you need is to incorporate acidic materials into the soil.
These include coffee grounds, vinegar, and compost. Like the alkaline materials, you should use a small amount each time.
Then wait a few days and check the pH. Adding too much can make the soil too acidic, and you would have to start all over again with different materials.
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Our 5 Recommended Soils for A Peony
Peonies are highly adaptable plants that do well in slightly acidic, well-draining, and well-aerated soils. Generally, anything that would work for an azalea would suit your peony.
Thus, you can count on the soil mixes below to give your plant a healthy head start:
1) WONDER SOIL Organic Potting Soil
Well, this is it! It helps your peony build a robust root system with its all-natural blend that includes compressed coco coir.
2) FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix
3) Premium All Purpose Potting Soil
And this mix is not one to disappoint. It features a planting and feeding mix in one and includes a wetting agent.
4) Burpee Premium Organic Potting Natural Soil Mix
Moreover, it also features a feeding mix to nourish your plant.
5) Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix
And if you’d had an issue with these watering issues, you will appreciate the technology behind this mix.
Moreover, it is a growth booster and can help your peony grow bigger and faster.
Amend your soil with any of these soil mixes, and it should be good enough for your peony. Don’t forget to check the pH!
Do Peonies Need Ericaceous Compost?
All peonies require a pH that is at least 6.5. Ericaceous compost has a pH range of between 4 and 5. As such, it would prove too acidic for your peony.
It is thus advisable to forgo using this type of soil. However, its acidity can be helpful if your current soil mix is too alkaline.
You can use the compost to reduce the alkalinity of the soil by lowering its pH to make it more suitable for your peony.
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How To Repot a Peony
If you are growing your peony in the ground, you will only need to repot it if it has suffered root damage. In that case, you should:
- Water the peony to loosen the soil around its roots,
- Uproot the peony and cut off the damaged plant parts with a sharp and sterilized knife,
- Dig a hole twice as big as the plant’s root ball, and
- Plant the peony in a new soil mix.
You should avoid disturbing the roots as this can kill the plant. Only move an established peony on a need-to basis. Otherwise, let it sit in the ground.
Peonies grown in pots will require repotting if they get rootbound or suffer root damage. To move such a plant, you should:
- Water the peony to loosen the soil around its roots,
- Wiggle the peony out of the pot and cut off the damaged plant parts with a sharp and sterilized knife,
- Choose a pot that is a size or two bigger than the current pot, and
- Plant the peony in a new soil mix.
Move the peony in the fall once the blooming has ended. Moving the plant sooner than that interrupts its flowering schedule.
Your peony will likely remain in the same spot for about 3 decades. Some even live for as long as 7 decades! So, the work you put into its soil mix will pay off for many years.
The key is to keep the soil mix simple and follow a minimal yet regular feeding routine.
And perhaps, my friend’s wedding planner will pass by, gasp at your peony, and remember just how wonderful her outdoor event turned out to be.