There are two distinct groups of peonies: herbaceous peonies and tree peonies. The main difference between the two groups is that in the case of a perennial peony, the above-ground parts die off in winter and the plant retreats completely into the ground. Shrub peonies, on the other hand, only lose their leaves on the woody shoots. Because the stems of these peonies are better stabilized, they tend to grow significantly taller. While perennial peonies can only be propagated by dividing the rootstock and seeds, the growth form of the shrub peony offers another possibility: propagation by cuttings.

Propagating from seeds

While propagating peonies from seed is relatively easy, it is not for the impatient gardener. Because it can easily take between five and ten years for the first flowers to form on a peony that has been propagated from a seed. Unfortunately, some hybrids of the peony are completely sterile, meaning they do not form seeds. This is the case, for example, with Itoh peonies, a breed between a perennial and a shrub.

Peony seeds lose their ability to germinate very quickly. Especially when they dry out a lot. This is probably why they are rarely offered commercially. The seeds germinate best if they are harvested fresh from the plant in autumn and used immediately.

Shortening the germination period
Peonies belong to the cold germs. This means that your seeds can only overcome the natural germination inhibition by a sufficiently long cold period. In many cases, a single winter is not enough in nature and the peony only germinates after the second or even third winter. Artificial cold periods can shorten the germination period.

Stratify in the fridge:

  • put wet sand in a plastic bag
  • put in seeds
  • close the bag
  • place in the vegetable compartment of the fridge
  • Duration: at least 2 months
  • Turn sand regularly
  • Carefully remove germinating seeds
  • leave any remaining seeds in the refrigerator

Other alternatives:

  • First soak the seeds in water for three days
  • put in a plastic bag
  • Freeze seeds in the freezer for a month
  • then thaw for two days
  • Freeze again for a week
  • repeat the process of freezing and thawing a total of three times
  • after that the seeds are germinable

If sowing is done in autumn, germination will not take place until next spring at the earliest.

Tip: Don’t despair if there is still no sign of movement in the first spring. With peonies you often have to wait out the germination.


The germinable seeds are now placed in sandy loam, cactus soil or sand in a seed tray that is not too shallow. The substrate should be moist but not wet. There must be a layer of substrate at least five centimeters thick under the seeds. A fine layer of quartz sand is used to cover the seeds.

  • Location: semi-shady spot in the garden (also over the winter)
  • Always keep the substrate slightly moist
  • A film or pane of glass protects against excessive evaporation
  • air occasionally
  • Substrate may also dry out once in summer
Tip: Constantly moist substrate and high humus content promote failure due to rot.


If the seedlings sprout in spring, they should be isolated as soon as possible. Unlike most other plants, the cotyledons of peonies remain below the surface of the soil to protect the fresh shoot. What grows out of the ground above is already the first normal leaf. The sandy substrate should be slightly dry for the young plants to separate. Then the seedlings can be removed from the seed tray without major damage to the roots. Peony seedlings already have a very well developed root system when the first leaf is formed, which should be treated very carefully. The long roots now urgently need a deeper pot and a slightly more nutritious substrate.

Tip: When planting, plant the peony seedlings so deep that the “white neck” comes under the ground. Only the colored parts remain above ground level.

Substrate for seedlings

  • 4 parts sandy-loamy garden soil
  • 4 parts high-quality potting soil
  • 2 parts quartz sand

First, only a little soil should be filled into the plant pot. The seedling is held in the pot (compare the upper edge of the soil layer with the depth of the planting). Then the soil is carefully poured into the pot. The finely crumbly mixture can easily trickle in between the fine roots without damaging them or producing larger cavities.

Cultivation pots
Since young peonies already produce a very deep, distinctive root system, the pots should be as deep as possible. The best way is to use growing pots for palm trees, alternatively, of course, commercially available versions with a diameter of 9 or 12 cm are also possible.

location for the young plants

After pricking out, the young peonies can be placed outside immediately. A partially shaded to sunny location in the garden is best. They are already very robust and the failure rate from germination is negligible. Young peonies are very hardy from the start when the pots are buried in the ground in autumn. This measure protects the young plants from sudden freezing and thawing in the cold season, which can damage the roots. Further measures for the hibernation do not have to be taken.

Propagation from cuttings

In the case of shrub peonies, propagation via cuttings is also an option. Breeders usually graft the peony to a rootstock of a hardy relative. Hobby gardeners can also try normal cuttings propagation. While the types of Paeonia delavayi, lutea and rockii can be propagated relatively well from cuttings, there are usually problems with the shrub peony varieties.

cut cuttings

To propagate peonies, only half-ripe shoots are suitable. These are shoots that have formed in the current season and the base of which is already lignified while the top is still soft. Shoots that have only short distances between the individual leaves are best suited.

  • Time: late summer to early autumn (from the end of August)
  • at least six weeks before the first frosts
  • select a healthy, half-ripe shoot
  • Cut cuttings preferably in the morning
  • use a very sharp, clean knife
  • Cut the shoot tip with at least three eyes
  • cut just under a leaf

Treatment of the cuttings
If several cuttings are taken, each freshly cut shoot should be immediately placed in a plastic bag and kept in the shade. This protects against premature drying out. The cuttings should be planted as soon as possible, but at the latest within a maximum of 12 hours, otherwise they will already have lost too much liquid.

  • Shorten the cuttings to a length of 10-15 cm
  • Cut off the shoot tip just above a leaf node
  • remove the leaves at the bottom
  • a maximum of four leaves should remain
  • cut large leaves in half
  • Lightly scrape off woody bark in the lower area with a knife
  • alternatively, carefully remove the bark to about 2.5 cm
  • dip lower interface in rooting hormone (such as Rhizopon).
  • Stick the cuttings about three centimeters deep into the moist substrate

For propagation from cuttings, the right substrate is of crucial importance. Above all, it should be germ-free so that the pathogens do not endanger the health of the sensitive cuttings. The cuttings usually take a few months to form roots. Suitable substrate:

  • Growing soil with additional sand content
  • Potting soil with sand and perlite
  • cactus soil

Care of the cutting

Since high humidity is important, the cutting should be placed in the greenhouse. If this is not possible, a freezer bag protects against evaporation. The cutting is placed in a bright place, preferably without direct sunlight. Occasional airing protects against mold growth. Warm heating air must be avoided at all costs during the winter.

Alternatively, a cutting can also overwinter directly in garden soil (mixed with substrate) or in a seed pot embedded in the garden soil. In this case, however, the cutting should be planted in the garden at least six weeks before the first frosts. The soil of the cuttings should not be covered to protect against germs. Fallen leaves must be removed regularly. With a bit of luck, the cutting will sprout again next spring (sometimes later).

propagation by division

In autumn, when the gardening season is slowly coming to an end, the peonies have gathered enough strength for the coming spring. If you want to divide the Paeonia, autumn is the best time to do so. Now the plant is in the dormant phase and is most likely to cope with a division. However, the division of older rootstocks is only possible with perennial peonies.

Digging up the rootstock
To divide the perennial peony, the plant or its root ball must first be dug up. It is best to gouge out a fairly generous area with a spade.

  • Remove thick clods of earth carefully by hand
  • expose individual nodules
  • Rinse off any sticking soil with a little water
  • Divide rootstock into several sections
  • Farmer peonies (Paeonia officinalis) have dormant eyes
  • sprout from every strong root piece
  • Paeonia lactiflora and Chinese peonies should have at least three eyes
  • only sprout from clearly visible buds

In order for the tubers of the perennial peony to grow, a few important rules must be observed:

  • dig no deeper than three centimeters
  • Cover loosely with fine-grained substrate
  • Apply winter protection
  • Spruce twigs or other loose covering
  • don’t forget to remove the protection in early spring

The easiest way to propagate peonies is to divide the rootstock in autumn. However, this is only possible with perennial peonies. Shrub peonies, on the other hand, can be grown from cuttings from the current growing season. Another alternative to getting new peonies is propagating from seeds. However, this is a very time-consuming undertaking as these peonies take over five years to flower.

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