Fertilizing Peonies: When, What, and How to Feed Peony Plants

organic fertilizer for peony plants

Fertilizing peonies is an easy an enjoyable spring task in the perennial flower garden. Peony plants are low-maintenance and don’t require any 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 homemade compost over the flower bed area (easiest to do before spring growth begins).
  • Once the stems are about a foot high, apply an organic, slow-release granular fertilizer to the soil around the stems of the plant.
  • Use rose food, bulb fertilizer, perennial flower fertilizer, or generic bone meal as peony fertilizer. Look for a product that’s lower in nitrogen than it is in phosphorus.

Read on to learn all about fertilizing peonies!

how and when to feed peonies with flower fertilizer

Fertilizing Peonies: A Low-Key Feeder

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 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.

fertilizing peonies

Peony Fertilizer Options

The following fertilizer types are generally suitable for use as a peony fertilizer:

  • Rose Fertilizer
  • Bulb Fertilizer
  • Perennial Flower Fertilizer
  • Generic 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 main 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 which 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.

peony bud appearing on plant - time to feed the peony garden

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 its time to fertilize peonies is that the first of the 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 the baby flower buds look like. It’s time to feed the peony plants!

organic fertilizer for peony plants

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.

If you do want to feed them twice per year, late summer/early fall to help them prepare for winter

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.

Here’s a video I made showing exactly how I fertilize peonies in my garden:

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 are you growing this year?

fertilizing peonies in the perennial garden

“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

Further Reading: Planting Peonies in Spring

Mary Jane

Mary Jane is a home gardener who loves creating healthy, welcoming spaces (indoors and out!) - About Mary Jane (https://www.homefortheharvest.com/authors/about-mary-jane-duford/)

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