5 fresh quality seeds
These are truly beautiful flowers. Sweet smelling and fragrant.
Plant fresh (tan, brown or black) seeds directly in a sandy loam, garden soil mixed with a little extra sand, perlite or aged bark nuggets for drainage. The pH should be near 7.0, which often means adding some garden lime to sweeten the soil. Either plant directly in a seed bed or use pots with good drainage holes, 10-12” in diameter. We prefer clay pots or root control bags for seeding, though plastic pots will work.
Plant seeds about 1-2” apart, 2“ deep, and water well to settle in. Seed orientation does not seem critical; the rootlet will find its way downward. At Cricket Hill Garden, we will sink the pot into the garden bed so it is protected in winter. Choose a site that is half sun, half shade. Cover over the seeds with 2-3 inches of mulch for protection from squirrels. If late summer and fall weather is hot and dry, water periodically to prevent drying. Normally, this is not needed after September in our climate. Later in fall, in late November, add 2-3 more inches of mulch for winter protection.
.‘Root Control’ bags planted with peony seeds mulched for winter.
If conditions are right, the warm late summer weather will cause the seed to sprout and then cooler fall temperatures will promote root growth until the freezing weather. Nothing will show above soil level until next spring. Some seeds will not germinate until the second spring. Do not be impatient. We have given up on tree peony seed pots too soon, only to have them sprouting and growing in the compost pile! After two full years and 2 springs have past, and nothing shows, then likely you have a failure to germinate. This is often the case when you let the seeds dry out while germinating. So the first fall is very critical to have some moisture in the seed pot.
Tree peony seeds sprouting in the early spring. These germinated in the fall.
Remove mulch from the pot in spring about two weeks after the ground has thawed, leaving pot submerged in the garden. Observe any new growth by May. Young sprouts need to be watered and fed a mild liquid fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest fish-seaweed fertilizer every other month during the growing season, April to September. Young sprouts will be about 2” tall.
1st year tree peony seedlings in June.
1st year herbacoeus peony seedlings.
Move young seedlings ONLY IN THE FALL. Allow them to grow undisturbed until September of their first year. After the first year space to about 6” apart in the garden.
In the second year tree peony seedling develop true leaves and grow to over 6” tall with foliage.
Young plants may be moved again in the fall season of their third year to a more permanent location. Allow at least 4 to 5‘ for each plant (3′ for herbaceous peonies) choosing a well drained site with 5-6 hours of sun for tree peonies. Tree peony seedlings will often start to bloom in their fourth year. While herbaceous will sometimes bloom in their third year. Keep in mind that peonies sometimes take several years of immature flowers before they show their mature form.
We have found this ‘direct’ seeding method very effective for seeds of Northwest Cultivar group Chinese (P.rockii) tree peonies such as ‘Snow Lotus‘ and herbaceous peonies. Seeds from other hybrid groups of tree peonies may germinate more easy with the benefit of the steps described below.
GERMINATING FRESH PEONY SEEDS INDOORS
Open freshly harvested seed pods as described above. Instead of opening seed pods immediately after harvesting, some growers allow the pods to cure in brown paper bag for a week in your garage or a shady, dry area. After a week, carefully open the seedpods.
Place the seeds in a zip-lock bag of slightly damp fine sand or vermiculite. Put the bag in a warm place (around 80 degrees). We use the top of our refrigerator. Root growth may commence in 4-12 weeks, after which point the sprouted seeds (identifiable by protruding white rootlet) can be planted outside as described above or put in a refrigerator for a period of cold stratification of 3 months at 40 degrees (the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator is a good spot).
Sprouted herbaceous peony seeds. These can either be planted outside if its early in the fall or put in the refrigerator for a period of cold stratification.
After this point the sprouted seeds can be planted in pots and either grown under lights indoors or gradually introduced to natural sunlight outdoors. A note of caution, the protruding rootlet is very fragile, so handle with care when planting. If seeds fail to germinate after the first cycle of hot/cold stratification, repeat the three months of warm treatment (around 80 degrees) followed by 3 months at 40 degrees.
Peony seeds which have a black or dark brown in color and have a hard seed coat. If these seeds are planted outside without any special treatment, it will likely take two growing seasons for the right combination of water, heat and bacteria to beak down the seed coat and allow water and air to reach the embryo. We recommend scarifying the seed with a file or medium sand paper. Two or three passes is all that is needed to gently rub the seed coat. See the photos below.
Without special treatment, dry, black seeds need to go through a period warmth and winter chill (either natural or simulated) before germinating.
In order to speed germination, the seeds can be scarified. This is a method of physically breaking down the outer seed-coat. We use a rather course file.
Hold the seed between your thumb and forefinger and give it 2-3 light passes with the file.
About 2-3 light passes with the file is all that is required, filing too deep will damage the embryo. If you file the seed down to the point of the white interior, you have gone too deep. Filing so that you remove the outer seen if usually enough. It is only necessary to file a small section of the seed. A diluted solution of sulfuric acid can be used to scarify large batches of seeds.
Filing just below the shiny exterior coat is all that is necessary to allow air and moisture to reach the dormant embryo initiate germination.
After scarifying, seeds can be planted out directly if its still early in the fall and the ground is workable.
If planting indoors, follow the instructions for warm/cold stratification in the section for planting fresh seeds.
Some other considerations regarding peony seeds:
- Single, and semi-double flowers tend to yield more seeds than complex double forms.
- Place in cold and dry storage if you are unable to plant right away.
- Seeds collected from single specimen tree peonies (not in proximity to any other tree peonies) may not be viable.
Some of the beautiful tree and herbaceous peonies we have raised from seed. We call them our own Peony Heaven hybrids, but really we are just stealing the credit of the bees and the wind!