(Image credit: aprilphoto)

Peonies are among the most spectacular of flowers in any garden. They are big and showy and are also great for cutting. To get the most of your plants, understand fertilizer needs for peonies, which might not be what you expect. 

When to Fertilize Peonies

Well-established peonies don’t need frequent fertilizer application. Start off new plants with rich, composted soil and fertilize in spring and fall for the first few years. At that point, your peonies should only need fertilizer every three years or so, if at all. 

In spring, fertilize peonies just as you begin to see new growth poking through the soil. In the fall, add fertilizer after cutting back the plants. 

The Best Fertilizer for Peonies

You won’t find a specific peony fertilizer in most garden centers, but bulb and perennial products work well. Use a balanced fertilizer or one that is a little lower in nitrogen. Good choices include 10-10-10, 10-20-10, or 5-10-5. 

If your peonies don’t produce buds and flowers, or don’t have very many, the problem could be the fertilizer. Avoid fertilizers with too much nitrogen. This encourages leafy growth and fewer buds. 

If you still have trouble with your plants, consider doing a soil test. You can test a sample at your local extension office. They will also offer recommendations on how to amend the soil for better growth and more blooms. 

How to Fertilize Peonies

The best way to fertilize peonies is to apply it directly to the soil in a ring around the base of the plant. Keep the ring close to the drip line and about six to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm.) away from the crown. The crown and the young growth of the plant are susceptible to fertilizer burn, so take extra care to prevent contact. 

Once you have spread the fertilizer around your peonies, water the soil well to let it soak into the ground and get to the roots. 

Peonies might benefit from fertilizer, but they don’t always need it. Encourage young plants by feeding them once or twice a year, but cut back drastically as they grow and become established. If your older plants consistently produce good blooms and healthy foliage, they probably don’t need fertilizer. 

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.