Find the Right Spot for the Container

Nothing screams an old-fashioned cottage garden like growing peonies in pots. Peonies come in gorgeous colors, brightening up your landscape.

While most people pick to grow peonies in the ground, lack of growing space shouldn’t limit you; peonies grow well in containers as well. 

Peonies grow well in USDA hardiness zones 3-8, so most of the United States can enjoy these gorgeous flowers in their garden.

Growing peonies in pots does make them more vulnerable to frost and freezing temperatures, so you will need a place to overwinter them inside. Otherwise, the winter temperatures will destroy them. Growing Peonies in Pots.

Peonies have specific requirements for proper growth. Here are some key points to remember when to grow peony in a container.

  • You need a large container; 5-gallons is typically sufficient to to grow peony in a container
  • Container grown peonies need to grow in full sunlight, so pick a place in your garden that provides 6-8 hours of sun each day. 
  • Peonies prefer to grow in soilless potting soil, which you can buy at the store or make your own at home.
  • A mixture of soilless potting soil and compost, along with granular fertilizer, works best for peonies.
  • Each fall, you’ll need to bring the plants inside to overwinter and prune as needed.
  • Remember to fertilize throughout the summer and give the plant one inch of water, at minimum, each week.

The great thing about growing peony plants in your garden is that they’re a perennial, so they can last for decades.

A properly maintained plant can grow for years and be divided into even more as they grow.

Let’s take a look at how you can grow and maintain peony plants in containers. It’s not as hard as you might think! 

Growing Peonies in Pots: How to Get Started

Find the Right Spot for the Container

Peonies are a gorgeous plant to add to your container garden, and growing them in pots isn’t too hard. Make sure that your region is sufficient for peonies. They prefer to grow in areas that have 500-1,000 chill hours per winter. That means the temperatures need to be between 35-45℉.

So, if you try to grow peonies in USDA zones 8-9, they might not receive enough chill hours, causing the plants to refuse to flower. 

Otherwise, if you grow peonies in pots, here are the steps that you need to know.

1. Find The Right Spot For The Container

Find the Right Spot for the Container

It’s best to place the container before you fill it. Peonies need large containers, so once they’re filled, they won’t be easy to move.

  • Peonies grow best in full sunlight or partially shaded locations if the spot receives a lot of afternoon sun in the summer.
  • If you aren’t sure and think you might want to move it, try placing the pot on a board with wheels.
  • Some people opt to grow peonies inside, but the best growth comes from being outside. If you want to grow peony plants indoors, they should be placed in front of a south or west-facing window with plenty of sunlight each day
  • Indoor grown peony plants will need a grow light in addition to natural light. You can use a grow light or a multi-fluorescent light fixture that needs multiple bulbs.

2. Choose A Container

Choose a Container

Peonies are a large plant, and they need plenty of space to grow. The biggest mistake gardeners make is picking too small of a pot. Choose a container that is at least 18 inches deep and 18 inches wide or wider. 

Chances are you will need to transfer it to a larger pot. They are a large bush that can reach 4 feet tall, so the root system is substantial. You’ll need to watch the growth and transfer if the plant seems root-bound. 

The container needs to have plenty of drainage holes. If peonies sit in too much water, it can lead to tuber rot, which will ruin your plants.

  • Look for frost-proof containers, such as those many of clay, wood, or plastic.
  • Ideally, the container will be heavy to stop it from blowing over in strong winds. Peonies can grow to be a few feet tall.

3. Fill The Container With Proper Soil

Fill The Container with Proper Soil

Peonies are a bit picky about the soil they grow in, so you need to pay close attention. The soil should be loose and well-draining, but it needs to be fertile and rich. 

  • You can use a combination that is 50% topsoil, 25% compost, and 25% perlite. Perlite encourages drainage.
  • Ideally, you want a mixture of soilless potting soil and garden compost for growing peonies. You can find commercial soilless potting soil at the store.
  • An alternative option is a 50/50 mixture, which will create an environment that is full of nutrients.
  • Add some time-release granular fertilizer when you plant the peonies.
  • Each spring, as the peonies start to grow, you need to remove some of the potting soil from the surface and replace it with fresh.

4. Plant Peonies In The Pot

Plant Peonies in the Pot

Peonies are tubers, and you can plant in spring or fall time. Some say that fall is best because it gives the plants time to establish before the ground freezes.

Remember that peonies need chill hours to bloom, so they won’t get the chill hours if you plant in the spring.

  • Plant firm, healthy tubers in the springtime or in the fall. If you plant in the fall, do so six weeks before the average first frost date in the area.
  • Make sure that you fill the container up almost all of the way. You’re only going to add an inch or two to the top, at most.
  • Put the tubers into the ground with their “eyes” or growth buds facing upward. Cover them with 1.5-2 inches of soil over the top.
  • The depth is important because these are tubers. So, if you want flowers, you need to make sure you don’t plant too deeply. Deeply planted peony tubers often fail to bloom and create flowers.
  • Water it deeply until water drains out of the bottom holes.

Caring for Peonies in Containers

Caring for Peonies in Containers

Since peonies are perennial, most of the focus needs to be on the plants’ proper care. Peonies can last for years, but only with the best care methods; plans can last for decades!

1. Keep Them Wet

Keep Them Wet

The soil needs to be kept evenly moist but not soggy. It’s easy to cause root rot if you overwater peonies.

  • Once the plants are established, they can handle dry periods, but you do need to wait until they have matured.
  • Container grown peonies dry out faster than ones grown in the ground, so you need to check frequently.
  • Put your finger into the soil. If it’s dry 2-3 inches down, it’s time to water.
  • Here’s how to water peonies properly. Slowly pour water over the soil until it runs out of the drainage holes at the pot’s base. Don’t pour fast; the soil needs time to absorb the water.
  • When it’s hot outside, you might need to water more than once per day.

2. Fertilize Once A Year

Peonies are perennials, so fertilizing is a must-do item if you want their growth to continue. Typically, the best time to feed is in the spring before the major growing season begins. 

  • Fertilize once every month while the plants are in bloom, starting before the blooming season begins.
  • When you fertilize, dilute liquid 15-20-15 fertilizer in one gallon of water. Then, apply the liquid solution to the potting soil.

3. Overwinter Inside

Fertilizing temperatures and frost kill tubers, so you need to bring your peonies inside to overwinter. This is an advantage that you have when growing peonies in pots; you can just move them inside and not worry about frost damaging your plants. 

Dormancy might not sound like much fun, but peonies need a 2-3 month period of rest.

  • Preparation for dormancy starts in the late summer and early fall. You should slowly water your plants less often, allowing the soil to dry before watering thoroughly.
  • Even indoor peony plants need to have a dormancy period. These plants reduce the number of hours of supplemental light to coincide with the shorter days during the fall months.
  • When the plant dies down and loses some leaves, it’s time to bring it inside for overwintering. An unheated garage or basement is sufficient protection from the cold weather.
  • You do need to water overwintering peonies, but it doesn’t need to be as frequent. Typically, watering once per week is sufficient for dormant peonies. You mustn’t water too much and cause soggy potting soil.
  • When spring arrives, and new growth appears, it’s time to move the containers outside again for a new growing season.

4. Prune When Needed

Typically, peonies are considered low maintenance, but in the fall or winter, you might need to prune your plants. Pruning is part of how you keep your plant in overall good health.

  • The best place to cut a peony stem is above a healthy bud. Knowing where to make the cut is an essential part of pruning.
  • If you have a diseased stem, cut all the way back to healthy wood. Also, make sure you prune those or dispose of them in the trash. Never compost diseased cuttings or those infected with pests; they’ll invade and infect your compost as well.
  • Look for places that have two branches crossing each other and rubbing. That can cause injury to the plant, so remove the least desirable branch. You don’t want open wounds which can lead to entry points for insects and diseases.
  • Learn about disbudding which is when you remove selected buds to control the size of your flower. Removing side buds and leaving the buds at the top of the stem available will lead to larger blossoms.

5. Divide Infrequently

Dividing needs to be on your to-do list once every 5-10 years or so. This is not a task that you want to do frequently, or you will damage your plant.

Dividing will delay the next blooming time, but it’s vital for your plant’s health and proper growth. 

The best way is to propagate and divide the root clump. Then, you need to replant the divided pieces immediately. They cannot stay out of the ground for too long.

  • The best time for dividing is in the fall.
  • Before you divide your peony plant, you do need to cut back the foliage of the peony back to the ground level. That can be upsetting if your plant is large and beautiful!
  • Remove the entire plant from the container and take off as much soil as possible. You can gently shake, use your hands, or spray the root ball with a hose.
  • With your hands, gently spread the roots into dividable portions. Each portion should have three to five eyes. Then take a sharp knife and cut the root clump into your sections.
  • Now, look at each division and cut all of the tiny roots, which will leave the large fleshy ones.
  • Make sure you replant the division as soon as possible the same way that you planted your original peony plant.

Pests & Diseases That Bug Peonies

The good news is that peonies aren’t bothered by too many pests. The biggest problem peony plants have is various fungi that like to destroy plants unless you keep a close eye. Wet growing seasons are problematic. 

Here are some common problems you might face.

1. Botrytis Blight

This fungus develops during the wet growing season. You might notice black or brown patches on the leaves, as well as cankers on the stems. The stems might turn black. The flower buds can turn brown as well.

If your peony plants develop botrytis blight, you will need to remove the infected leaves as soon as you find them. Deadheading is also beneficial, and you should always clean up any plant debris in the fall.

2. Powdery Mildew

Here is another common disease that affects dozens of lants, including peony.  It will cover your plant’s leaves in a white powdery coating. 

In general, powdery mildew doesn’t cause a huge problem for the plant’s long-term life span, but it could cause growth delays. You should cut back the affected parts of the plant in the fall and destroy those. 

3. Peony Wilt

Here is another disease caused by a fungus. Peony wilt is often present in the soil, and it can infect the plant, causing the plant stems to wilt. Your local extension office can test the stems to determine if they’re infected by peony wilt or not. 

If you do have peony wilt, you have to take the entire plant and destroy it. Don’t use the same soil; it’s best never to plant peonies in the same area. You will have to start over fresh next year.

Varieties of Peonies to Grow in Pots

Choose a Container

In most cases, peonies are grown in the ground, so you need to pick a variety that grows well in containers. The best choices are ones that generally stay smaller or don’ reach heights as tall as regular peonies. Here are a few examples. 

Zhao Fen

Zhao Fen

Sometimes called “Zhao’s Pink,” this variety reaches heights of 3-6 feet, on average, and a width of 2-4 feet. While that might seem large, it’s not as large as other varieties you might grow in your garden.

Cinnabar Red

Cinnabar Red

If you’re looking for something smaller, consider CinnabarRed, which typically reaches a height and width between 2 to 2.5 feet.

Fern Leaf Peony

Fern Leaf Peony

If you need an even smaller plant, Fern Leaf only grows to be 1-2 feet in height and a maximum of 16 inches wide.

Final Thoughts

Peonies are a perennial that can add plenty of beauty to your garden for years to come. They can last for decades when properly cared for each year. Make sure you pick the right container for your plans and remember to water and fertilize frequently for optimal growth.

Amber Noyes

Written By

Amber Noyes

Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.