How to grow peonies in pots – top tips for beautiful container displays
Although they do best when planted in the ground, it's possible to grow these perennials as part of your container display
Q: I love peonies and would love to grow some of my own, but I don't have much space in my compact, urban backyard. Would it be possible to plant them in containers, to brighten the small patio area?
A: It's no wonder that peonies are so popular – they are spectacular, summer-blooming perennial plants with huge, blousy blooms in a spectrum of sunset-like shades. But as they need a lot of space to thrive, they are typically grown as border plants.
'Peonies do not suit long-term container cultivation,' warns John Negus, a gardening expert. 'The plants may not grow as well as they would in the ground, and if you can, you should plant them out as soon as possible.' However, if you only have a patio to play with, it's still possible to enjoy these beautiful bloomers – at least for a few years – with the right care routine.
Tips for growing peonies in pots
When it comes to picking a pot for your peony container display, the bigger the better. 'Use a container at least 12in wide at the top or large enough to fit your hand sideways around the rootball,' says gardening expert Anne Swithinbank.
John Negus recommends using a soil-based potting compost that's suitable for mature plants. Anne agrees, and mixes this with peat-free compost at a 50:50 ratio, before adding 10% grit and 10% extra leaf mold. Avoid planting them too deeply as this can reduce flowering; the Royal Horticultural Society advises covering the red buds with no more than 1in of soil.
Patio plants in pots dry out quicker than those in the ground, so ensure you stay on top of watering – not doing so is a common container gardening mistake. On the other hand, ensure you don't overwater them either, as waterlogged soil can cause problems with peonies, such as root rot. Adding grit, standing containers on pot feet (such as these rubber UFelice ones, available from Amazon), and making sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of each pot will help to prevent this.
Feeding peonies will encourage more flowers and healthy growth. 'Apply a slow-release general fertilizer in spring or liquid feed established plants as they grow and bloom,' Anne says.
Once the flowers have finished, you can deadhead peonies them using a pair of sharp and clean pruners to neaten up the appearance. This can also help plants channel their energy into new growth as opposed to seed production.
John has been a garden journalist for over 50 years and regularly answers readers' questions in Amateur Gardening magazine. He has also written four books and has delivered many talks over the years on horticulture.
Having trained at Kew Gardens in London and worked in parks department nurseries and as Glasshouse Supervisor at RHS Wisley, Anne has been a freelance horticulturist since 1986. Anne writes for Amateur Gardening magazine in the UK and has been a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time for 27 years.
What are the best varieties of peonies to grow in pots?
It's best to pick smaller varieties of these plants for your container display. 'Choose the compact Intersectional peonies or specially bred dwarf "patio peonies" named after cities, such as rose-pink "Athens" and white "Dublin",' suggests gardening expert Anne Swithinbank.
Should you protect peonies in pots for winter?
Peonies in pots are less protected from the winter cold than those in the ground. With this in mind, if low temperatures are forecasted, take action to protect the plants from frost. You could, for instance, wrap the pots in bubble wrap or burlap, or bring them somewhere indoors temporarily – such as into a shed or garage.
You don't have to miss out on these beautiful blooms due to a lack of flower beds in your yard. Give growing them in pots a try – they'll add drama and vibrancy to any patio, deck, or balcony and look gorgeous as cut flowers to brighten the home, too.
True, they are unlikely to last forever, as will eventually outgrow their pot, but their shorter lifespan is worth it for the fabulous display. Just ensure they get enough sunlight – if given too much shade, your peonies may fail to flower.
The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.
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