Peonies are prized for their gorgeous, colorful flowers that bloom briefly but spectacularly in spring and summer. Grown as perennial herbaceous flowers and shrubs, peonies are associated with romance and compassion. And if you want the best blooms, it’s essential to water peonies correctly. In this article, we’ll run through everything you need to know about when and how to water peonies.
- When and How to Water Peonies – The Essentials
- About Peonies
- The Importance of Watering Correctly
- When to Water Peonies
- How to Water Peonies
- Signs of Overwatering
- Signs of Underwatering
- Watering Peonies FAQs
- Wrapping Up
When and How to Water Peonies – The Essentials
Established peonies should be watered once every week or two unless they’ve recently received rainfall. Water young peonies more frequently for the first year until they establish. Peonies are drought-tolerant and only require an inch or so of water each time. Water more often in hot weather.
Family & Genus
The Paeonia or peony genus is the only genus within the Paeoniaceae family. There are about 30 recognized species of peonies, although the exact number is still being debated.
Peonies are native to cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Various types of peonies can be found in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Peonies can be grown in USDA Zones 3 to 8 and require cold, dormant periods to produce flowers.
Peonies come in three distinct types; herbaceous, tree, and Itoh, or intersectional peonies. Herbaceous peonies grow as flowering perennials that reach up to 4 feet tall. Tree peonies grow as shrubs and flower slightly later than herbaceous peonies. Itoh peonies are hybrids of herbaceous and tree peonies.
Peony flowers can be single, double, or semi-double and come in a range of gorgeous colors. Tree peonies flower for about two weeks between April and May. Herbaceous peonies follow from May to June, lasting for about two weeks. Intersectional peonies bloom in June and last for as long as a month.
The Importance of Watering Correctly
Like most organisms, plants cannot survive without water. Most of the cellular mass of a plant is water – up to 95% compared to about 55 to 60% for humans. Without water, plants cannot create new tissue, which means that they can’t grow or flower.
Plants extract water from the soil using their underground roots. Through photosynthesis, water is mixed with carbon dioxide absorbed through the leaves to produce glucose. Plants use glucose as fuel to manufacture cellulose – the biological building block needed to create new plant tissue.
Water also allows plants to suck nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium out of the soil. These nutrients are transported within the water absorbed by the roots. Each nutrient fulfills a specific purpose. For example, phosphorus is used to fuel flower growth.
Plants also use water to stop themselves from overheating in hot, dry conditions. Leaves have a large surface area, allowing the plant to lose excess water. This evaporation encourages the roots to absorb more water from the soil, keeping the plant hydrated.
When to Water Peonies
Peonies should be watered once every 7 to 10 days unless you’ve recently had rainfall. Check the soil with your finger if you haven’t had rain for a couple of weeks. If the top 2 inches of soil feel dry, water the plant.
Start watering established peonies in the spring when new growth starts to emerge. Once the flowers have finished, keep watering to maintain good healthy foliage and fuel next year’s growth.
If you have young peonies or want to plant a new one, water them more frequently for the first year. This gives the peony a chance to establish itself well.
Water your peony in the morning whenever possible. This helps the plant retain more moisture during hot afternoons. If you water in the afternoon in warm weather, most of the water could evaporate before it reaches the roots.
Do Peonies Prefer Moist or Dry Soil?
Peonies require slightly moist soil but can tolerate short periods of drought. If you haven’t had rainfall for a couple of weeks, water your peony if the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. Peonies hate waterlogged soil because it causes problems like fungal infections.
Seasonal Changes to Consider
Seasonal weather conditions can affect how often you water your peonies. If you’re experiencing prolonged drought or live in an arid area, you’ll need to water peonies more frequently. In extreme cases, you may need to water every few days.
Don’t water peonies during the winter, as they require a cold, dormant period to flower properly.
How to Water Peonies
If you need to water your peonies, give them 1 or 2 inches of water each time. This helps prevent overwatering and ensures that the soil stays consistently moist. Give your peonies a drink in the morning rather than the afternoon.
Although waterlogged soil is a big problem for peonies, soggy flowers and foliage can also be an issue. Wet peonies are prone to rotting and are more susceptible to fungal infections. Always aim your watering can at the base of the stems to prevent these problems.
Signs of Overwatering
Although peonies don’t suffer from many diseases or pests, overwatering can be a major problem. Here are some key signs that your peonies are being overwatered:
Black or Brown Spots
Black or brown spots and lesions are usually caused by fungal infections such as botrytis blight. These diseases thrive in wet conditions and commonly affect peonies that are being overwatered.
If you spot any strange spots on your peony, check the soil. If it feels wet, it’s likely to be waterlogged. Prune the affected leaves and avoid watering until the top 2 inches of soil have dried out.
Yellowing or Drooping Leaves
Yellowing leaves are one of the main symptoms of root rot, which is caused by waterlogged soil. The foliage may also start drooping or wilting. Check the roots of your peony. If they smell bad or look brown and mushy, the plant is suffering from root rot.
Cut away any smelly brown roots and repot the plant in some moist, well-draining soil. Don’t water again until the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. This gives the peony a chance to dry out a bit.
Signs of Underwatering
Even though peonies are drought-tolerant, they will suffer in prolonged periods of hot, dry weather. Here are the most common signs of underwatering:
Brown, Shriveled Leaves
Peonies that aren’t getting enough water will have brown, dry, or shriveled foliage. Trim off these wilted leaves and give the plant a few inches of water.
Cracked, Dry, or Hydrophobic Soil
Checking the soil is a good way to see if your peony is being underwatered. If the soil looks cracked or dry, the plant probably isn’t getting enough water. Give the peony a couple of inches of water to rehydrate the soil.
If you live in a dry climate, you can help the soil retain more water by applying mulch. Add a couple of inches of compost or other organic matter. This helps prevent too much moisture from evaporating around the peony.
Weak Flower Growth
Peonies are grown for their brief but spectacular flowers. If your peony is producing small, weak flowers, it may not be receiving enough water. Adopt a regular watering schedule and provide a dose of diluted fertilizer to try and stimulate flower growth.
Essential Peony Care & Maintenance
Although they have a reputation for being fussy, peonies are actually pretty easy to grow. Most species require 6 to 8 hours of full sun in a sheltered spot, although tree peonies prefer partial shade. Peonies are drought-tolerant perennials and only need watering about once a week once they’re established.
Peonies need moist, fertile, and well-draining soils such as loam or silt. If you want large, vibrant flowers, fertilize your peonies in the spring once flower buds appear.
Cut back herbaceous and intersectional peonies in the fall and trim tree peonies in spring. Deadhead any spent or wilting flowers throughout the blooming season. If you want more plants, divide herbaceous and intersectional peonies in the fall once flowering has finished.
Watering Peonies FAQs:
What are the common signs that a Peony needs watering?
Cracked, dry soil and brown, wilting leaves indicate that your peony needs some water. Weak flower growth may also be caused by underwatering.
Should I avoid the leaves when watering Peonies?
Always avoid splashing water on the leaves or flowers of your peony. If flowers or leaves stay wet for too long, it can lead to fungal infections and other problems like root rot. Make sure to aim your watering can toward the base of the stems.
What should I do if I overwater my Peonies?
If your peony is showing signs of overwatering, stop watering for a while. Wait until the top 2 inches of soil feel completely dry before you resume watering.
Peonies may be spectacular flowers, but they’re easier to grow than you might think if you water them correctly. Water established peonies once every week or two unless it has rained recently. Before watering, check if the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. Water younger peonies more frequently for the first year. Don’t water peonies over the winter to allow them to go dormant.
Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.
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