How To Grow Peonies From Seed: Complete Care Guide

How To Grow Peonies From Seed: Complete Care Guide

Peonies are delightful flowering plants that will brighten up your garden and attract pollinators. If you simply love them, have you wondered how to grow peonies from seed? 

Growing these gorgeous plants from seed is not that difficult. You can collect seeds from existing plants or purchase viable seeds from reputable retailers.

But, did you know that there are actually different types of peonies? Let’s explore these first before we learn how easy these plants are to grow from seed.

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A Guide To The Different Types Of Peonies

pink tree peony

There are basically three different types of peonies and in each group, you’ll find many different species, cultivars and hybrids. 

Herbaceous Peonies

Herbaceous peonies are perennial plants. Their main growing season is from spring through to autumn. Like dahlias, peonies will die down over winter and become dormant. Most of these plants originate from the Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora).

Herbaceous peonies are usually highly fragrant and produce an abundance of blooms. They’re very popular as cut flowers and are used extensively in the florist industry.

Tree Peonies

Tree peonies are also commonly referred to as woody peonies. These grow into nice shrubs and often produce the most gorgeous flowers. Tree peonies are deciduous which means that they’ll lose their leaves over winter.

These plants are quite hardy and will delight you with their profusion of flowers over the warmer months. Tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) also originate from China and can reach a height of 6 feet (180 cm).

Intersectional Peonies

Intersectional peonies are a cross between the herbaceous and tree peonies. They have been bred to take advantage of the best features exhibited by both herbaceous and tree peonies. 

These plants will bloom for an extended period of time and each bloom cycle can last up to 4 weeks. They also produce an abundance of blooms all through the warmer months.

Unfortunately, intersectional peonies are all hybrids. This means that they cannot be grown from seed. Seeds produced by these plants will either not be viable or will not produce plants that are identical to the parent plant.

Can Both Herbaceous And Tree Peonies Be Grown From Seed?

herbaceous red peony

Both herbaceous and tree peonies can be grown from seed but you might not end up with a plant that is identical to the parent plant unless you’re collecting seeds from a true species plant and not a cultivar or hybrid.

Even if you are collecting seeds from a true species plant, you might end up with a plant that is a little different to the parent plant. This is because these plants are generally open-pollinated and can easily cross-pollinate between different species.

For example, if you’re growing two different species of herbaceous peonies in close proximity, you might find that cross-pollination will occur between the two. This means that the seeds you collect may produce a plant with flowers that show colour variations.

However, this can also be quite exciting because you will never be sure what coloured flowers you’re going to get once the new plant is mature enough to start producing flowers.

Be aware that it’s unlikely that seed-grown peonies will flower in the first year. In fact, it can take from 3 to 5 years before a peony plant grown from seed is mature enough to produce a profusion of blooms.

How To Collect The Seeds

peony seed pods showing seeds inside

As I already mentioned, you can either purchase peony seeds from a reputable retailer or collect your own seeds. Seeds are usually collected from late summer to early autumn (early fall). 

These will be quite abundant and are contained in seed pods that have five segments with numerous seeds inside each segment.

All you have to do is collect these seed pods and put them into an open container so that they can dry. Once the peony seed pods start to dry, they will crack open and you can collect the seeds.

Preparing Your Seeds For Gemination

dried peony seed pods with seeds

In order for peony seeds to germinate successfully, they do need some exposure to cold conditions. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you might just be able to plant your fresh seeds outside in autumn and let them experience the cold in winter.

These seeds should start to germinate the following spring and you’ll see the fresh new growth start to emerge from the soil. You’ll see even more growth the following year but it might take until the second year after that before you see any blooms.

However, if you want to grow some of these peonies in pots, you might like to stratify the seeds before planting them.

This procedure is fairly simple. The best way is to just place the seeds in a plastic bag and pop them into your fridge for around 4 to 6 weeks.

After this period of cold stratification, your seeds are now ready to plant.

How To Grow Your Seeds In Pots

young peony plants in pots

Whether you’re using herbaceous or tree peony seeds, if you’ve used the cold stratification method mentioned above, your seeds should be ready for planting in early to late spring.

Fill some small pots with premium potting mix. Ensure that the mix can drain freely. Plant your seeds at a depth of around 2.5 cm (1 inch) with a similar spacing. 

Place your pots in a warm location but keep them out of direct sunlight. Make sure that you keep the soil moist but not wet. If you don’t have a nice warm bright spot indoors, you can place your pots under some grow lights to help with germination.

Peony seeds are normally quite slow to germinate, so you’ll need a little patience. It can take several weeks or even a couple of months before you start to see evidence of growth.

Once your seedlings are showing some good growth, you can get them used to being outside by exposing them gradually. To do this, simply place your pots outside for 1 hour on the first day, 2 hours on the second, 3 hours on the third day and so on.

Continue to gradually expose your seedlings to outdoor conditions until they’ve been outside for a full day. The seedlings can then be left outside as long as you’re not expecting any frosty conditions.

Now, you can repot each seedling into its own pot and let it continue to grow or plant it into the ground if you wish.

Planting Your New Peony Plants Into The Ground

peony shoots coming out of the ground

Choose a sunny spot in the garden or your flower beds. Make sure that you have well-drained soil. Create a hole that is large enough to accommodate the plant’s roots. The hole will generally only need to be around 2.5 to 5 cm deep (1 to 2 inches).

Put your young plants into their holes and backfill with more soil. Water well so that the soil settles around the roots. Cover the soil around the plant with a thick layer of mulch. This will keep the soil moist and help to maintain a more consistent temperature. 

How To Care For Your New Plants

gardener's hands planting young peony plants in the soil

Once you’ve successfully grown some peony seedlings, you’ll want to know how to care for the plants so that they’ll thrive.

Here are the basic care instructions for healthy thriving peonies.

Water Requirements

Peonies do like to be watered consistently during the warmer months. However, you want to make sure that the soil is free-draining so that excess water can easily drain away.

How much and how often you water your peonies will depend on your climate and how much rainfall you experience.

In general, you should consider giving your plants a good soaking at least once a week. Always try to water at the soil level to keep the leaves dry as much as possible. This will avoid the possibility of fungal diseases affecting your plants.

Fertiliser

As peonies are flowering plants and you want to encourage strong healthy blooms, your plants will need regular fertiliser. Select one that has a decent amount of potassium as this will help to promote blooming.

Ideally, you want to fertilise your peonies at least twice a year in early spring and late autumn (late fall). This is especially the case if you’re using a slow-release pellet-type fertiliser. Using an organic fertiliser that contains manure is good for this.

Once your plants are mature enough to start blooming, you can give them a boost from early summer by feeding them with a liquid fertiliser high in potassium once every couple of weeks.

How And When To Prune Your Peonies

As herbaceous peonies will die back near the end of autumn, these only require regular deadheading to remove the spent flowers. This should encourage new blooms to grow.

However, if you notice any dead or damaged stems, you can cut them back to the base of the plant.

On the other hand, tree peonies can be pruned to shape in autumn. Remove any dead branches and also any that are crossing over each other. You want to encourage nice open growth so that there’s plenty of airflow around the stems.

Don’t forget to deadhead spent blooms on your tree peonies as well.

Should You Stake Your Peonies?

very large pink peony flowers

While tree peonies shouldn’t need staking because they have woody growth, herbaceous peonies may benefit from this. The large peony flowers can get quite heavy and put pressure on the slender stems.

Use bamboo stakes to keep the stems upright and help to support the flowers as needed. Always use garden twine or strips of cloth to secure your peonies so that you don’t damage the stems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are peonies hard to start from seed?

Peonies are not that difficult to start from seeds if you remember to cold stratify the seeds first. Put the seeds in a plastic bag and place them in your refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks before planting the seeds.

Should you soak peony seeds before planting?

To soften the seed coat and speed up germination, you can soak your seeds in room temperature water for around thirty minutes before planting. Some experts also recommend soaking the seeds in a 35% hydrogen peroxide solution to help soften the seed coat.

Do peonies need full sun?

In order to produce plenty of blooms, peonies need around 6 hours of sunlight daily. Morning sun is best and some afternoon shade will be welcomed by these plants.

Final Thoughts

Growing peonies from seed is not that difficult when you understand their preferred conditions for good seed germination. Remember that peony seeds need some winter chill before they will germinate. 

Once you provide them with the right conditions and the proper care, you should have no problems growing your peonies from seeds. Just be aware that you might end up with a slightly different plant if you’ve collected seeds from a cultivar or hybrid.

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