How to grow tree peony from seeds

How to Grow Tree Peonies From a Seed | Home Guides

By SF Gate Contributor Updated September 28, 2020

With their showy flowers and 6- to 10-foot growth habit, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) add a dramatic element to gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Most varieties are hybrids, so tree peony propagation is done via cuttings or grafts to reproduce the plants' favorable ornamental characteristics.

However, growing peonies from seed is often possible and is, in fact, an important first step in breeding new varieties. Although tree peony seeds germinate reliably under moist conditions, the Texas A&M University Department of Horticulture indicates that they can take up to two years to sprout and another five to seven years to produce flowers, which may not come true to the parent plant.

  1. 1. Gather Tree Peony Seeds

    Gather tree peony seeds in late summer or early autumn after the pods ripen and split open. Snip off the pods at the base using pruning shears. Snip off each end to make opening the pods easier.

  2. 2. Soak the Seeds

    Pry open the pods by hand, and shake the seeds into a bowl. Cover the seeds with water, and soak them for one hour. Discard any tree peony seeds that float, since they are probably inviable.

  3. 3. Place Seeds in Perlite

    Place the remaining tree peony seeds in a 1-quart plastic bag filled with 1 cup of moistened perlite. Seal the bag, and place it in a moderately warm, dark area of your house such as inside a kitchen cupboard.

  4. 4. Watch for Peony Sprouts

    Check every day for peony sprouts. Remoisten the perlite with a spray bottle whenever it feels nearly dry. Inspect the seeds for the emergence of a single, translucent white root.

  5. 5. Transfer Seedlings to Pots

    Transfer the sprouted tree peony seeds into individual 4-inch starter pots filled with a sterile, soilless growing mix. Poke a hole in the growing mix that is deep enough to accommodate the root.

  6. 6. Expose Seedlings to Cool Temps

    Moisten the growing mix with a spray bottle after transplanting the seed. Place the pots in a cool area where temperatures stay around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, such as outdoors against a north-facing wall or inside the crisper drawer of a refrigerator.

  7. 7. Keep Seedlings Cool

    Keep the tree peony seedlings under cool conditions for 10 to 12 weeks. Regularly moisten the growing mix so that it never completely dries out. Cover the pots with a plastic bag if the growing mix tends to dry out quickly.

  8. 8. Move Seedlings to Bright Location

    Transfer the tree peony seedlings to a very bright location where temperatures stay around 60 F, such as indoors near a north-facing window or outdoors under a shaded porch.

  9. 9. Maintain Bright, Cool Conditions

    Grow the tree peony seedlings under bright, cool conditions for their first summer. Water them only when the top 2 inches of soil dries out. Acclimate them to partial sun exposure for two weeks before transplanting them.

  10. 10. Transplant Seedlings to Garden

    Transplant the tree peonies into the garden in autumn after the foliage dies back. Choose a bed with dappled shade and moist, fast-draining soil. Spread a 3-inch-thick layer of mulch around each plant to protect the roots.

    Things You Will Need


  • Texas A&M University Department of Horticulture: Propagation of Selected Annuals and Herbaceous Perennials Used as Ornamentals
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: Paeonia suffruticosa

Starting Peonies from Seed – Cricket Hill Garden

Each year we collect seeds from our collection of Northwest Cultivar Group (rockii) tree peonies. You can order them from our website or send us $12 to receive 25 freshly harvested in late August. (Price includes postage.) We also have limited numbers of other peony seeds for sale. Please see our website for full information. Get your requests to us soon, we can only provide seeds a limited number of seeds each year.

Many of the seeds of Northwest Cultivar group p.rockii tree peony hybrids will yield plants which will produce these beautiful white flowers with maroon flares (blooming in about four years). This flower form and color is very similar to the wild species P. rockii.

Late August to early September will be the time to collect this year’s peony seeds. The vast majority of peonies yield viable seeds so if you left the pods on the plant all summer, try your hand at raising a crop of peonies from seed. Peonies raised from seed do not come true to the parent plant, though they may strongly resemble it. Almost all cultivated tree and herbaceous peonies are hybrids far removed from their wild species ancestors. The exception to this rule are seeds collected from a single species of peony which did not cross pollinate with other peonies.

Intersectional hybrid (Itoh) peonies are sterile and do not yield viable seeds. Unfortunately some garden favorites like the advanced herbaceous hybrids ‘Coral Charm’ and “Lois’ Choice’ are also infertile. Most of the European and American ‘lutea’ hybrid tree peonies like ‘Leda’ or ‘High Noon’ very rarely produce viable seeds. However, these are but a very small subsection of the peony world, the overwhelming majority of Chinese and Japanese tree and herbaceous peonies all yield large quantities of fertile seeds that will soon be ripe for the picking and planting.

Right now the beautiful star shaped pods are swelling and beginning to turn from a leathery green to brown in color. Seeds are ready to be harvested when the seedpod has turned a dark tallow-brown. We generally harvest our tree peony seeds here between the  3rd week of August and early September.

A good seed producing tree peony can yield over 50 seeds per pod.

The herbaceous seeds are ready a bit later, around the end of August.

An almost ripe herbaceous peony seed pod.

Methods for Seeding Tree and Herbaceous Peonies

When the seed pods have become a dark brown color and are just beginning to crack open, the seeds are ripe and ready to be harvested. Open up each segment of the seed pod carefully and remove the seeds. Damaged seeds will not germinate.

When fully ripe, peony seeds develop a double-dormancy which consists of a hard outer seed coat and dormant embryo. Germination occurs when air and water are able to penetrate the seed coat and reach the embryo.

There are many different methods for starting peony seeds. Some are determined by the natural condition of the seed, that is the level of dormancy while others are decided by the grower, primary weather to germinate the seeds outdoors or indoors.

Direct seeding outdoors

Freshly harvested seeds  may germinate in the same season (in the late fall) and sprout the following spring as a small green shoot above the soil. Directly planting dry seeds  with a hard and dry seed coat may need two growing seasons to naturally overcome the double-dormancy. These seeds shown below are harvested a little too soon. We have learned that it is better to wait to harvest brown and black seeds, otherwise the seeds will easily mold if not cured and somewhat dry.

Within each lustrous pearl is the germ of a peony which the world has never seen bloom, and has the potential to awe onlookers for centuries to come. Make the world a more beautiful place, plant some peony seeds this fall.

Left to mature seedpods will change to a dark brown and inside the seeds will change to black. The seedpods will also crack open. This is the time to plant the seeds.


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.


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!

‘Zhou Dynasty Yellow’ herbaceous peony

‘Peony Heaven Celestial Peach’ herbaceous peony

New and as yet un-named Peony Heaven tree peony. Bloomed for the first time in 2011.

Another new Peony Heaven tree peony.

‘Post-Modern Phoenix White’ Peony Heaven tree peony

Tree peony from seeds - easy and reliable

May 8, 2017 My flowers and shrubs

Everyone can grow a tree peony from seeds, but you need to have patience. In the event that you have grown a tree peony from seeds, it will be easier to tolerate the climate of your region and will not require any extraordinary efforts in preparation for winter.

I used to plant peony seeds after they ripened immediately in the ground. And in the spring I saw with regret that one, maximum two plants from 30-40 seeds sprouted. The next year, I found 2-3 more shoots in this place - and that's it.

Decided to try something different.

In early December, she soaked her seeds collected in the fall.

Two weeks later, when the seeds swelled, she carried out scarification. Each seed was heavily rubbed on medium grit sandpaper on both sides until a little white heart appeared under the shell.

Then it's time for stratification. I put sphagnum moss in a plastic box (you can use 10 layers of toilet paper) and put seeds in the middle. If you put them on toilet paper, then you need to cover the top with a thick lid made of wet toilet paper. She closed the tray with a lid. I put it in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf for 2.5 months.

In March, I put a box of seeds in a warm corner of the windowsill and tried to open the seeds for a few seconds every day for airing in the jar where I used toilet paper. If mold appeared, I washed the seeds in potassium permanganate and laid them on a fresh layer of paper. But in sphagnum moss, mold does not appear at all, and you can not look into this box for some time.

Seeds must be constantly in a humid environment, but not flooded with water!

Planting germinated seeds

And finally, after April 20, white roots began to appear. By May 1, absolutely all seeds had roots. But we must keep in mind that the seeds were mine, fresh, collected in the fall. Purchased in a store or on all of our favorite Chinese sites, germination will be much worse.

There is no need to delay planting in the ground, in May it may already be hot with us and the seeds will either dry out in the ground, or bake under a jar.

I plant it in the ground, in a shaded place, deepening it by about 3 cm and, in order not to dry out the tender roots, after planting I cover them for the first time with cut plastic bottles with an open neck.

It is best to transplant seedlings to a permanent place when they grow up, after two years. It is necessary to carefully consider the place (in partial shade, protected from the winds) and pre-fill with fertilizers landing pit , since these peonies are long-lived, and re-transplantation is not desirable for them.

The first bud of a tree peony grown from seeds will appear only after five years. There will be more and more in the coming years.

All peonies grow slowly, but also live for fifty or more years. They do not require special care, every year in May they present us with magnificent flowers. herbaceous peonies are found in all gardens, but tree-like ones are rare for us, because we were inundated with imported seedlings that do not survive in our weather conditions. What most people don't realize is that our native tree peonies grow beautifully and don't require any hassle.

So it’s better to wait five years than from year to year to buy bushes that do not want to grow from us, which even in the best case, you also have to wait three to four years.

This is also interesting:

  • Adenium from seeds collected in Thailand

  • How to grow hibiscus from seed

  • Peony thin-leaved.

  • Tree peonies. Diseases, shelter for the winter and reproduction.

  • How to grow backache from seeds at home in winter

By Blogsdna

Tags: growing from seed , peonies

If you decide to buy clematis in the online store

Previous post

2nd clematis pruning group - the most beautiful and demanding

Next post

How to grow a peony from seeds at home

Peony is a cultivated plant with colorful and voluminous flowers that bloom both in early spring (end of April) and in summer. Most gardeners prefer to breed such a flower by dividing the rhizome. Meanwhile, not everyone knows that the peony also reproduces by sowing seeds into the soil. This method has its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.


  • 1 Growing a peony from seed: when is it not possible?
  • 2 Growing a peony at home: collecting seeds
  • 3 Growing sprouts from peony seeds
  • 4 Growing peony seeds in warmth
  • 5 Planting sprouts in the ground

There are opposing opinions of different gardeners. Some argue that such a method does not take place for life, and only 10% of the seeds are capable of productive reproduction. Others are of the opinion that breeding a peony with seed sprouts is a universal way to cultivate a plant by adapting it to certain conditions in a particular area.

There are some crops (varieties) of plants that cannot bear fruit in the declared way, and therefore it is not worth waiting for seeds from the flower. These varieties include:

  • Crowned Mont Blanc;
  • Celestial terry;
  • Marshal McMahon;
  • Madame Trout.

These varieties of peony have unusual color combinations, resistant flower stalks, but are completely unsuitable for propagation by seeds. All other varieties of peony also have some difficulties with breeding in this way. In particular, there is such a feature as the distortion of varietal characteristics, and flowering begins no earlier than five years later.

Growing a peony at home: collecting seeds

The peculiarity of a peony is the resistance of seeds and roots to weather conditions, in particular, the culture perfectly tolerates frosty winters and rainy autumns. However, this feature also has a drawback - the seeds are extremely difficult to germinate. According to statistics, only 10% of all seeds that were initially selected correctly can produce results. All the rest either germinate for a very long time (after 3 years), or after flowering it turns out that the peony does not look like its parent.

However, with a little effort and the right approach to growing peonies from seeds, the result will be the perfect peony for your area. Acclimatization will have a positive effect on all other flowering features that are not predetermined by varietal characteristics.

In order to grow a peony from seeds, it is necessary to collect light seeds from the seed pod. It is important to pay attention to such a factor as seed maturity: too ripe, brown seeds with an ideal even and hard surface, which are literally sown on the ground on their own, will germinate only after three years, and bear fruit after 5 years. As a result, you can wait for your first flower in 8 years.

Growing sprouts from peony seeds

An important point for peony seeds is the need to carry out the process of stratification (hardening). Without a complete hardening process, the seeds will not be able to germinate, and therefore it is recommended, after collecting the necessary peony seeds, to plant them in the ground at a depth of 5 cm from the surface. For example, if such manipulations are performed at the beginning of September, then the stratification process will proceed correctly.

You can also do this process at home:

  1. keep the seeds in a cool solution of potassium permanganate for 12 hours in the refrigerator;
  2. Steam peat with boiling water;
  3. pierce holes in the pot, plant seeds;
  4. Germination takes 2 months.

After all these procedures, it is necessary to put a container with soil in the lowest section of the refrigerator for 2-3 months.

Germination of peony seeds in warmth

There is another option for germinating seeds - the thermal method. To do this, it is also necessary to soak the seeds in a solution of potassium permanganate for 12 hours. After this procedure, you need to apply a warm stratification of seeds:

  1. put wet sand with compost on the bottom into the container;
  2. preheat the container on the battery or using a heating pad to 30 degrees;
  3. sow the seeds in the ground;
  4. warm up the seeds with a bowl in a warm place for 6 hours (on a battery) so that the soil temperature is about 30 degrees;
  5. place the container in a cool place (18 degrees) 4 hours;
  6. repeat these changes so that the warm soak period is a total of 60 days.

    Learn more