Knowing how to propagate peonies is a useful skill to have if you want to be able to expand the size of your existing peony beds without buying tons of new plants. It’s also helpful if you want to share some of your favorite peony types with friends—or if you hope to propagate plants from one of their peony varieties for yourself. In this article you’ll learn three methods for propagating peonies; how to divide mature plants, how to take root cuttings, and how to grow them from seed. We also cover the best timing to ensure your success.
What are peonies?
Contained within the genus Paeonia, most peonies hail from Europe and Asia. These old-fashioned beauties bloom in late spring, and many—but not all—peonies put out a heady fragrance. Also quite cold-tolerant, peonies are generally hardy from zone 3 to zone 8. Most herbaceous peonies are treated like a perennial shrub. They grow about three feet tall and three to four feet wide, they bloom early in the growing season, and their foliage dies back late in the year. Reaching four to six feet tall, tree peonies, on the other hand, grow on woody stems which persist year-round.
What is peony propagation?
By carefully following some specific steps, you can take one healthy peony plant and multiply it. Depending on the original parent plant’s age and size, you may be able to create two, three, or more new peony plants from it. This is peony propagation. The new plants are then planted in a garden bed or installed in pots.
When to propagate peonies
Getting the timing right is essential if you want to learn how to propagate peonies without causing them harm. Whether you simply intend to move some of your plants or divide an older, large peony plant, the best time for these activities is late summer or early fall. That said, there are some instances in which you shouldn’t try propagating your peonies. First, if yours is a new-fangled—and patented—peony cultivar, propagating it is illegal. Also, depending on their growth habit, some tree peonies are not good candidates for division.
How to propagate peonies: 3 methods
Professional horticulturists have long known how to propagate peonies through plant division, grafting, and other means. (As you’ll see, some of them even choose to start peonies from seed.) Still, hobbyist peony growers typically rely on method one – division. That’s because division is fairly straightforward, and your chances of ending up with healthy, viable plants are very good.
For its part, method two – taking root cuttings – is less reliable since not all peony cuttings will readily root in this way. Those with roots which are prone to generating special “adventitious” buds can, over time, develop new root eyes, subsequent plant shoots, and new peony roots. Some peony cultivars which can be multiplied via root cuttings include Blaze, Coral Fay, Prairie Moon, Roselette, and Royal Rose.
The final method for propagating peonies is to plant seeds. Below you’ll find our advice on when and how to collect the seed as well as sowing tips.
Method 1: How to propagate peonies through division
Wondering how to propagate peonies through division? It’s easy! With a garden shovel or spade that’s clean and sharp, start by digging a wide circle around the plant’s root ball. Gently remove the plant and rinse off all soil so you can clearly see the extent of your peony’s root growth. You should see its crown, a number of “eyes” – buds which form next season’s new growth – and several large, fleshy roots.
Use clean, sharp shears or a garden knife to prune away remnants of this year’s stems and any damaged roots. Now, count each of the peony’s eyes and plan your cuts. Your aim is to end up with two to three healthy eyes and about as many fleshy, supporting roots per new division.
Method 2: How to propagate peonies by taking root cuttings
Remember, not every peony can readily develop a new plant from root cuttings. The secret? Having a peony with a root system that forms adventitious buds. (If you’re not sure whether yours does this but you happen to have some leftover root cuttings from a recent peony division, you might try rooting some of these scraps as an experiment.)
This is a slow process, but not difficult. When propagating peonies through root cuttings, you’ll be choosing fleshy root sections – not portions of the plant’s crown. Each root cutting should be at least one-half inch around and six inches long. For best results, use a very clean, sharp knife to make your cuts. To spur growth, you can also use a rooting hormone powder. Just dip the cut ends of each root section into the root hormone before planting them.
Place the root pieces horizontally in pots or directly into a protected cold frame. Allow them to remain undisturbed here for a couple of seasons. If your efforts are successful, new peony leaves should appear by year two or three. Allow your new plants to leaf out for at least one more growing season before transplanting them to their final garden spot.
How often to divide peonies
So, you’ve heard how to propagate peonies, but how do you know exactly how often to divide your prized plants? As a matter of course, you should divide them every three to five years. And, if you have a well-established plant you want to move somewhere new? That’s another division opportunity you should take. By periodically dividing older peony plants and replanting them so that they have plenty of space and access to the moisture and nutrient levels they need, they will perform beautifully for decades to come.
Method 3: Propagate peonies by seed
Can you propagate peonies by seed? Yes! It’s easy to learn how to propagate peonies by seed; however, it takes a few years before seed-grown peonies finally bloom. Although starting peonies from seed takes patience, you could be rewarded with unusually large petals or flowers in unexpected new shades. At minimum, seeds collected from a hybrid will revert to a genetic parent, but, if you have multiple peony types, these could cross with one another to produce truly interesting results.
Start in early fall by collecting ripened peony seeds from dried, opened seedpods. Briefly soak the seeds in water to improve germination rates. Discard any floating seeds as these won’t be viable. Plant the remaining seeds into a dedicated, outdoor nursery bed. This bed should contain fine, well-drained soil and ideally should get four hours of morning or evening sunlight.
Plant the seeds at a depth of half an inch or less (1 to 1.2 cm) and space them at least an inch (2.5 cm) apart. Next, lightly cover the bed surface with finely shredded bark mulch. If you live in a cold climate, top with clear plastic sheeting during the first winter and remove it by early spring. Seedlings will appear over the next year or so.
Want to learn more about how to propagate peonies? Watch this video:
Replanting your new peony plants
Besides how to propagate peonies, you should know how best to establish each of your propagated peonies in a large pot or garden bed. To facilitate good drainage, the soil you use should contain plenty of organic matter like aged manure or finished compost. And, whether you’re replanting a successful root cutting or a new division, you should always position the peony’s eyes so that they’re just slightly below ground level.
Plant care after propagation
After propagation and replanting, your peonies might not flower right away. Nevertheless, as long as they get full sun, good air circulation, and adequate drainage, they’ll eventually become established in their new spot. Although garden pests seldom bother peonies, fungal diseases like botrytis and powdery mildew will sometimes strike. If this happens, cut away and discard any affected plant portions.
Finally, to keep plants looking tidy, deadhead spent blooms and, once fall dieback is complete, carefully remove any remaining leaves and stalks to accommodate new spring growth.
Now that you know when and how to propagate peonies, you can multiply your very best specimens to keep or to give away. To recap, dividing and replanting mature plants is the easiest and most commonly used method for propagating peonies. But, as long as they’re able to develop adventitious buds, taking root cuttings of certain types of herbaceous peonies sometimes can work, too. (Of course, if you love surprises—and you don’t mind really delayed gratification—starting peonies from seed could become your latest obsession.) Regardless of the propagation method you choose, just remember to have patience with your peonies. It will pay off!
For further reading on peony planting, care, and maintenance, but sure to visit these in-depth articles:
- When to cut back peonies
- A guide to fertilizing peonies
- 7 reasons why peonies don’t flower (and how to fix them!)
- Watch our video on how to fertilize peonies
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