‘Critical to-do’ garden task to grow ‘oversized’ peony blooms – avoids ‘fungal issues’

Gardeners' World: Nick Bailey talks about peonies

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Learning how to grow peonies is one of the most rewarding gardening pursuits. Few other plants offer such a vast range of forms and colours, from purest white, through lemon yellow, softest pink and deepest red. Gardening experts have shared how knowing when to cut back peonies is essential for those who want to keep their plants in good health and ensure maximum blooms next year.

Lindsay Pangborn, gardening expert at Bloomscape said: “Renowned for their oversized blooms, peonies are a prized landscape plant often used for cut flowers.

“Cutting back peonies is a critical to-do item, but it’s important to think about timing. 

“It’s a careful balance of aesthetic and plant health considerations.”

As well as knowing when to cut back peonies, it’s also important to know when to plant peonies if you’re adding new varieties to the garden.

Your local climate can affect when to cut back peonies as those in warmer zones will flower earlier than those in cooler zones.

Gabriel J. Croteau, master gardener and consultant at Juliei Salon explained: “Depending on where you live, the growing season for peonies can be anywhere between April to June.

“It may be tempting to prune peonies as soon as the leaves start looking bad, but you ideally need to wait until fall to prune them. 

“That’s because the plants are still relying on getting their energy for the following year’s growth – and so cutting them sooner could affect next year’s flowers.”

When autumn sets in, and the peonies’ leaves change colour to yellow or brown, then it’s time to make the cut. 

Jennifer Green, botanist and expert at Positive Bloom instructed: “Take them right back to about one inch (2.5cm).

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“If the plant is severely damaged or overgrown, you should cut it as close to the base as possible.

“You can also remove healthy branches that touch each other, taking away the less developed branch with fewer buds.”

Lindsey explained that August is not the best time to cut back peonies, as it doesn’t allow the foliage to absorb as much energy as it needs for the following year.

She said: “The foliage of peonies tends to decline, beginning in August, since this is when the plant naturally starts diverting energy away from growing leaves and instead to underground tubers. 

“These tubers allow the plant to store energy for the next season.

“Though the leaves may not look great, it’s best to allow them to remain so that they can continue to photosynthesise and gather energy for the plant.”

Unless gardeners are trimming old growth left over from the previous year, they must not cut back their peonies in the spring, as this could harm the plant and prevent it from flowering.

However, there is one exception to the rule.

Gabriel said: “The only peony you should trim in the spring is a tree peony.

“You wouldn’t cut it back in the fall like you do a herbaceous or Itoh peony.”

Early spring is the best time to prune tree peonies.

If you don’t cut back peonies, the old foliage will become unsightly over the winter and into the spring – but they should still flower the following year.

Lindsey added: “Bear in mind this increases the chance that any old fungal issues are transferred to the tender new growth in the spring.

“It’s also best to remove any stems that are declining throughout the season in an effort to keep disease from spreading.”

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