In my experience, most peony flower types require a full day of sun, between 6 and 8 hours. South-facing gardens unobstructed by walls or other objects are preferred. Tree peonies and some herbaceous cultivars are more shade tolerant, preferring full morning sun and some respite in the afternoons. Plant the right type for your area, or use containers to make the most of the conditions. Follow this guide for everything you need about peony light requirements and preferences.
Peony Light Requirements
How much sun your plant requires will depend on the type of peonies and variety.
Herbaceous Peonies generally need as much light as possible – preferably 8 hours daily. Planted in more temperate regions, they can handle plenty of full sun without succumbing to problems with excessive heat. The more light you give these beauties, the more flowers they will produce.
Itoh Peonies are much the same, needing a full day of direct sun to produce as many large blooms as possible per season. They will flower more vigorously and for more extended periods when they have enough energy to do so, and that energy all comes from plenty of direct sun exposure.
Tree Peonies are slightly different. While they also appreciate plenty of sunlight to give them the energy to flower, intense direct sun during the flowering period can damage the flowers and drastically shorten their lifespan.
Where Tree Peony flowers should last around two weeks, those in direct and harsh afternoon sun may only last a day or two before shriveling up. They prefer an area with direct morning sun and some respite in the afternoons, whether that be from partial shade provided by an adjacent wall or an installed shade cloth positioned in the right direction. Dappled shade is also suitable for these types.
Variety is also a factor in how much light these plants need. Some herbaceous varieties or cultivars, like Paeonia lactiflora’ White Wings’, can handle a slightly shadier spot than others. Check the label on your specific variety to assess the correct light levels.
Best Locations in the Garden
South-facing gardens are preferred in well-draining soil for herbaceous and intersectional Peonies requiring a full day of sun. This will give the plants enough exposure from morning to afternoon to produce the blooms we all know and love.
Tree Peonies require protection from the hot midday and afternoon sun to preserve their flowers. They are better suited for east-facing beds shaded by a wall or tree in the afternoon. If you only have a full sun spot available, positioning a shade cloth to cover the plant later in the day will have the same effect.
You can still grow tree Peonies and some herbaceous cultivars in an area with spotty shade. However, they are unlikely to flower as vigorously as in a full sun area. Their large flowers and intricate shapes require plenty of energy to produce.
Growing Peonies in Less Than Ideal Light Conditions
It’s not impossible to grow Peonies without full sun. But, your results won’t be as successful as they would if the plant was in the right lighting conditions.
You’ll want to choose a type or variety better suited to shadier spots. This will ensure you get at least some flowers from your plant rather than none at all.
Those with their hearts set on a specific type of full sun Peony can also try growing in containers. With a large enough pot, lots of water, and some fertilizer, plenty of Peonies can grow successfully and produce masses of blooms in containers.
Place your pot on a tray on wheels with stoppers and move it to make the most of the sunlight during the day. It won’t be a tedious process for long – you can cut back your peony flowers in the fall and can remain in the pot until the following growing season.
It may be frustrating to move a large pot up and down daily. However, if you’re committed to growing a specific type and want to guarantee flowers, the proper light levels are the only way to do it.
Factors That Influence Light Requirements
Climate & Region
Where you live will have a small influence on how much light your Peonies need for optimal growth.
Far less direct sun will hit your plants in climates with cloudy and rainy spring and summer weather. In these areas, the more sunlight they get throughout the day, the better – preferably more than 8 hours if possible.
For regions where spring occurs later, and the sunlight intensity takes some time to pick up, your Peonies may flower later as a result. Sun direction and exposure will also differ slightly per region. Check the changes in patterns using suncalc.org for information specific to your location.
Peonies are native to colder areas of the northern hemisphere. Those growing Peonies in the south may find it slightly more challenging to get them to perform due to the differences in environmental conditions.
In many southern hemisphere territories, sunlight is also more intense from early spring through late spring and summer closer to the equator, putting Peonies under heat stress and limiting potential flowering. While they do appreciate full sun, a full 8 hours in these areas may be too intense, especially in summer.
It all comes down to experimentation. If your Peonies struggle under the heat, move them to a more shaded spot the following season. If they are not producing enough flowers, move them to an area with higher light the next season.
Most Peonies will thrive under a full day of direct sun. But that doesn’t mean those with a bit of shade can’t try growing these beautiful ornamentals. Bar deep shade, there is an option out there for every kind of gardener.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the best companion plants for peonies in your garden.
Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.