304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Fertilizing peonies is an easy and enjoyable spring task in the perennial flower garden. Peony plants are low-maintenance and don’t require fussy care once established. Even so, many gardeners do like to give them a bit of a bloom boost with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer in the springtime.
Here are the basics for fertilizing peonies:
- In late winter or early spring, apply a thin layer of compost over the flower bed area (easiest to do before spring growth begins).
- Once the stems are about a foot high in mid-spring, apply an organic, slow-release granular fertilizer to the soil around the stems of the plant. Good peony fertilizer options are rose food, bulb fertilizer, perennial flower fertilizer, or bone meal.
Read on to learn all about fertilizing peonies!
Fertilizing peonies: A low-key plant to feed
Peony plants are low-maintenance once established and can thrive for many years without a single fertilizer application. Many healthy peony plants are not fed with fertilizer at all. Others get a top-dressing of compost every year or two but never receive a packaged fertilizer product. Still, many gardeners like to spoil their plants with consistent soil moisture and supplemental nutrients.
“I always wonder how such opulent blooms can grow from such sturdy, no-nonsense plants; hardy far into the north, they are almost invariably vigorous and health and are capable of keeping their corners of the garden full and fresh six months a year and of standing their ground for decades when left to their own wild ways.”The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, by Patrick Lima
Spring peony feeding starts with a simple top-dressing of compost at the end of wintertime. Clear any remaining plant debris from the flower bed and apply an inch of homemade compost over the entire area as an organic mulch. The compost gives a lovely, dark uniform background for the plants and will also give them a nutritional boost as they come out of dormancy.
Packaged fertilizer products are generally applied later in the spring, once the peonies have grown stems and are starting to put on leaves and flower buds.
Here’s a video I made showing exactly how I fertilize peonies in my garden:
Peony fertilizer options
The following fertilizer types are generally suitable for use as a peony fertilizer:
- Rose Fertilizer
- Bulb Fertilizer
- Slow Release Perennial Plant Fertilizer
- Bloom-Boosting Fertilizer
- Bone Meal Fertilizer
Fertilizing peony plants is very similar to feeding roses in the springtime. A quality organic rose fertilizer, bulb fertilizer, or perennial flower fertilizer will work well for feeding peony plants. Generic bone meal is also a classic peony fertilizer (and is a key ingredient in many rose and flower foods). For a mineral-based peony fertilizer, look for a phosphate rock dust product. For a plant-based peony fertilizer, many mushroom composts will do the job quite well.
Check that the peony fertilizer you’ve chosen is organic, lower in nitrogen (N), and higher in phosphorus (P). I like to look for products that are OMRI-Listed as safe for use in organic growing. Apply the fertilizer sparingly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and local regulations.
When to fertilize peony plants
Apply fertilizer to peonies in the spring when the stems have grown to be about a foot tall (30 cm). The leaves will be starting to unfurl at this point. Frosty nights should be few and far between.
Another telltale sign that it’s time to fertilize peonies is that the first flower buds have started to appear. These tiny flower buds start to become noticeable when the stems are just starting to leaf out. See the photo above for an example of what baby flower buds look like. It’s time to feed the peony plants!
If you do want to feed them twice per year, the second feeding can occur in late summer/early fall to help the roots prepare for winter.
How to feed peony plants
Feed peony plants with a granular, slow-release, organic fertilizer. Most of these peony fertilizers can simply be sprinkled on the ground around the plant. Take care to place the fertilizer granules/pellets on the soil around the plant rather than right on top of the plant’s crown (where the stems come up out of the ground). The nutrients need to slowly seep into the surrounding soil so the plant can develop a healthy root system.
Sprinkle on the organic fertilizer in a ring around the peony stems. Try not to apply the fertilizer right on the crown of the plant – the ring of fertilizer should be at least a few inches away from where the stems meet the soil. You can gently work the fertilizer into the top of the ground with gardening gloves or a handheld cultivator. Water the soil area following feeding to start the nutrient delivery process.
Expert tips for fertilizing peonies
Here are some expert tips for fertilizing peonies from flower-growing gurus:
“In the spring, before the foliage has emerged, top-dress the soil with a sprinkle of bonemeal and a light mulch of compost, 2 inches (5 cm) deep. This will feed the new growth during the coming season.”Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms, by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai
“Once established, peonies seem to thrive on benign neglect. But one expert recommends a handful or two of bone meal “about the time the leaves begin to unfold.””The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, by Patrick Lima
“In early spring, when herbaceous peony plants are a foot tall, apply a fertilizer formulated for roses; feed again after snipping off dead blooms.”Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering, and Enjoying, by Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey
Fertilizing peonies in the perennial flower garden
Many perennials, including peonies, benefit from a start-of-season mulch application of homemade compost. While many of these perennials are also fed fertilizer products early in spring, wait a few weeks more before feeding peony plants.
Watch for the peony stems to appear, grow to about one foot, and start to put up tiny flower buds. Apply slow-release organic fertilizer when the first tiny flower buds appear. Water deeply following peony fertilizer application.
I hope you’ve learned something about peony fertilizer and when to feed these lovely flowering perennials! What kinds/cultivars are you growing this year!?
“Few flowers can contend with the ultimate queen of spring, the peony. Their large flower heads and billowy, ruffled blooms come in a dizzying array of pinks, corals, cranberries, whites, yellows, and reds. Many carry a sweet fragrance, and most are long lasting in the vase.”Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms, by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai