Peony Growth Stages: The Ultimate Guide

Peonies are popular herbaceous plants thanks to their beautiful large flowers and enticing fragrances. However, these plants take three to four years to mature fully.

The wait can be excruciating when you don’t know what’s happening and what to expect. So, what are the Peony growth stages? Peony growing stages include the seed stage, bud swelling, sprouting & shoot emergence, leaf opening & extension, flower bud enlargement, flowering, and finally, the resting phase.

Are you worried that your Peony is taking too long to bloom? Keep reading as we dissect the various Peony growth phases and factors affecting these plants’ growth rate.

Peony Varieties

Peony varieties are estimated to be around five thousand. The first varieties are native to North East Asia.

The breeding of interspecific hybrids or varieties began in the US after the first world war. This was mainly to lengthen the Peonies’ flowering period and increase their color range.

The most common Peony varieties include:

  • Sarah Bernhardt
  • Coral Charm, Kansas
  • Karl Rosenfield
  • Sorbet
  • Shirley Temple
  • Red Charm
  • Festiva Maxima
  • Bowl of Beauty
  • Coral Sunset
  • Pink Hawaiian Coral
  • Raspberry Sundae

Peony Growth Stages

Peonies have a distinct life cycle that can be broken down into several growth stages.

Seed Stage  

The first phase of Peony growth is the seed stage. Peony seeds have simple but deep epicotyl morphophysiological dormancy, meaning the epicotyl gets sensitive only after exposure to certain conditions.

Peony seeds are dicotyledons and have a rigid covering that protects the embryo. This allows them to stay alive when kept in cool and dry environments.

Soak Peony seeds in clean water for several days to help them transition to the next phase. Ensure the water is at room temperature, allowing the seed to loosen and break easily from the shell. You should also change the water daily.

The Peony seed phase lasts four to twelve weeks. After breaking from the shell, plant the seed about four inches deep into the ground. Peony seeds sprout into seedlings after twelve weeks.

Bud Swelling

Bud swelling marks the transition from dormant to active development. At this stage, the buds enlarge due to increased water and temperature absorption.

During this stage, Peonies appear pale yellow, orange, or red and may be mistaken for chili peppers stuck on the ground.

You should note that buds are simply flowers still in their embryonic phase. Although buds have the shape of a Peony plant, they don’t bloom. The swelling stage lasts for different periods, depending on the Peony variety. Keep the soil moist during this period to accelerate the process.

Sprouting and Shoot Emergence

The shoot emergence and sprouting Peony growth stages occur when the buds’ scales open, and leafy stalks appear, showing that the buds are maturing and separating.

First, the orange or red buds grow upwards and longer. Then, several shoots emerge at the bottom stem and the spiraling structures. Baby leaves appear folded and remain packed inside.

Your Peony plant continues to develop stems with folded baby leaves throughout this period. The shoots get longer while the leaves and stems get bigger.

Leaf Opening and Extension

As the leaves and stems elongate, the curled or folded leaflets open, and flower buds appear. This happens in the second or third years of growth.

During this stage, the stems grow to their maximum length of around two-thirds to four-fifth feet. The peony plant reaches a height between thirty-six and sixty inches.

Leaf extension is whereby peonies expand and grow outwardly, causing them to droop and acquire a flat shape. Flowers may also appear at the top of the plant’s upper leaves during this stage.

Your Peony requires critical care during these Peony growth stages. Apply one or two inches of mulch to help them retain moisture and provide them with enough nutrients. A light feeding of diluted liquid fertilizer or organic fertilizer is advisable.

You should also regularly monitor them for pests and diseases, as Peonies could easily succumb to infestation during this stage.

Flower Bud Enlargement

The bud enlargement stage is when your peonies begin producing flower buds. Buds grow on the Peony’s tall stems. The thick and robust structures offer them adequate support.

At this stage, you’ll be able to tell the flowers’ hues or colors. Although the buds have a green undercoat, the flower tops peek at the tops, showing their color. 

Buds continuously grow during this stage. After reaching a golf ball size, it takes them five to ten days to transition into the next step.


Adult peonies develop enlarged buds during flowering that grow into full-blown, silky, and scrumptious blooms with lots of beautiful petals. Aside from their attractive appearance, Peony flowers have an enticing scent.

Blooms last between seven to ten days. However, the flowering buds will continue emerging for four to six weeks. This is because Peony plants produce many flower buds which open at varying times.

The Peony blooming stages occur during late spring, mainly at the end of May, to the beginning of summer.

Resting Stage

Peonies shed their flowers and leaves as the cold winter approaches. The Peony dormancy stage starts at the end of fall and persists throughout winter.

It’s advisable to strip your Peonies of all the flowers and foliage between September and November to prevent losing them all to the cold. Pruning also allows Peonies to survive till the following season.

During the winter, Peonies accumulate energy that’s useful for new growth. Immediately after winter, these plants draw all this energy for new shoot growth and development.

As the new phase of the Peony life cycle begins, you should add mulch to preserve heat, as the temperatures are still considerably low. It’s advisable to water less, as the evaporation rate is substantially low during this period.

Factors Affecting Peonies Growth Stages

Several factors can affect the growth stages of peonies, including:

Sunlight and Air

Peonies require about half a day of sunlight daily for consistent growth. They also must be fully exposed to the atmosphere. However, some species, like the Woodland, flourish under filtered sunlight. You can place these in the shadier spots in your garden. Herbaceous hybrids prefer sunnier areas with good air movement.

Sufficient air movement is crucial to prevent disease infestation. It’s advisable to maintain extra spaces between Peony plants when planting. Adequate spacing promotes evaporation from the stems and leaves, curbing diseases.


Peonies require fertile garden soil to flourish. These plants grow in a wide range of soils and will thrive regardless of the type you provide. Soil with lots of sand will need extra fertilizing and mending to prevent sabotaging the Peony growth stages. For peonies to perform well, ensure the soil is adequately drained to prevent mold growth.

Although clay soils are highly fertile, they quickly get compacted, leading to drainage complications. Ensure you have an effective drainage system before planting in this soil to prevent placing your Peony plants at risk of contracting diseases.

It’s advisable to prepare the soil before planting. Dig the ground deeply, about two feet. Add soil-texturizing amendments to deal with drainage and fertilizers to nourish the plants during germination.


Peonies don’t require high amounts of water throughout the year. However, they must get adequate and even moisture at all times for the best results. These plants’ root systems have large storage systems allowing them to stay hydrated for long periods, including dry seasons.

Watering Peonies is critical during the spring and fall. Most vegetative growth occurs in the spring, while the root systems become active during the fall. Regular watering keeps them healthy and maintains constant growth.

Peonies growing in dry areas require more water than those in wet regions. Survey your area to identify the amount of water your plants need.

Pest and Disease Prevention

Animals rarely eat Peony trees. However, rabbits tend to destroy the woody varieties during the winter season. To prevent this, always wrap the trees’ bases with chicken wire in the fall.

Peonies are susceptible to fungal diseases. Botrytis infects their leaves and stems. This disease manifests by blackening these plant areas and forming gray mold. To prevent this problem, cut your Peony plants to the ground, removing all the foliage, as they start getting dormant in the fall.

During summer, peonies are prone to mildew growth. These form a white coat on the plants. Despite being ugly, this fungus isn’t harmful to Peony plants. What’s more, you can easily wash off the white coat with little effort. To prevent mildew reinfection, always prune the entire garden during the fall.

Constant Care

Regular care is crucial in determining the Peonies’ life span and harmonious Peony growth stages. Below are vital Peony care tips you should follow.

  • Avoid watering the foliage. If your plant is desperate for moisture, water it following its drip line.
  • Remove diseased stems and foliage immediately after seeing them to prevent the infection from spreading.
  • Prune all the stems and foliage during the fall. Cut the stem to the ground, leaving a tiny bit to promote new growth.
  • Don’t add fertilizer unless it’s necessary. Stick to light fertilizing after flowering and at the end of August for the best results. Bulb fertilizers are the best for peonies. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, as they increase the plant’s susceptibility to diseases.
  • Remove spent or bad flowers, leaving behind the foliage necessary for photosynthesis during the growth and development phase.
  • Avoid using manure on your Peonies. Manure increases their chances of contracting Botrytis.

Planting Peonies

To have excellent results when planting Peonies, following a procedure is critical. Start by digging a 12” x 12” hole and loosen the bottom of the hole. Proceed to add compost and an all-purpose granular fertilizer.

Replace all the soil, then dig an 8” deep hole at the same place. Place the Peony root, ensuring the eyes are about 1” below the hole’s soil level. Cover the plant’s root with soil and water it as much as required.

You shouldn’t plant peonies too deep. Although they’ll grow, their chances of blooming are pretty slim.

The Importance of Dividing Peonies 

Peonies are known to grow in the same place for ages if not interfered with. However, this prevents their ability to grow and get bigger. Dividing them is crucial to ensure they produce more flowers and produce bigger stems.

The best time to move Peonies is during the fall when they are about to transition into their dormancy stage. Avoid doing so during the spring when they start their new growth cycle.

Cut down the tree, removing all the foliage. Then dig up the root ball, which can be as large as three feet in diameter. Dig carefully and ensure you don’t break off any part of the roots. Replant the plant immediately and water it deeply to ensure its growth when all crucial elements are finally available.

You can divide a Peony plant during the fall or spring. Dig up the whole root ball and place it on a tarp. Then gently divide the plant into sections, ensuring you don’t damage the root system. Replant immediately after finishing.

You could also use a sharp spade and cut some root chunks from the Peony mother plant. Replant the pieces immediately after separating them and water them sufficiently.

Why Aren’t My Peonies Blooming? 

Below are factors that may prevent your peonies from blooming.

  • Excess competition from surrounding shrubs and trees – Ensure your peonies receive all the necessary nutrients.
  • The plants are still too young. Peonies only bloom at the right stage.
  • Planting the plants too deep.
  • Applying excess Nitrogen. Although Nitrogen supports foliage growth, it doesn’t do much for blooming.
  • Insufficient sun. Peonies need about six hours of sun daily to bloom properly.
  • Late frost. Most buds succumb to late frost shortly after being exposed.
  • Planting large clumps of Peonies without distributing them evenly. This prevents sufficient airflow.
  • Nematode infection. Peonies’ roots are susceptible to contracting nematodes, also known as root-knot. To curb the spread of this infection, destroy the whole plant immediately after noticing it.
  • Thrips. This infection turns the buds brown and causes them to fall. Regularly spray your plants to prevent this problem.

Wrap Up

Although waiting on all the Peony growth stages can be agonizing, the joy and satisfaction of seeing them bloom are unmatched. Follow the tips above for a successful growth process.