Growing peonies is a rewarding experience, but it can be confusing when trying to determine the best time to cut them back. There are 2 main types of peonies, tree peonies that have a deciduous woody shrub and herbaceous peonies that will die back in the winter. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the herbaceous variety of this plant. Do you know when to cut peonies back? If not, read on for the answer to that and more about this beautiful long-lived perennial.
What are Peonies?
Peonies are flowering plants belonging to the genus Paeonia, in the family Paeoniaceae. They are known for their large, often fragrant flowers, which can be found in a range of colours, including pink, red, white, and yellow. Peonies are perennial plants, meaning they return year after year, and they typically bloom in late spring or early summer. They are popular in gardens and as cut flowers due to their lush, full blossoms and longevity. Native to Asia, Europe, and Western North America, peonies have a rich history and are celebrated in various cultures, particularly in China, where they are highly regarded for their beauty and have been cultivated for thousands of years.
Today these perennials are commercially grown around the world including parts of Asia and North America where they can also be found growing wild along roadsides and fields outside of gardens.
When to Cut Peonies Back?
Peonies should be cut back in the late autumn, once their foliage has naturally withered, turned brown, and started to die back. This timing ensures that the peony’s root tuber has had ample opportunity to store energy for the following growing season. Cutting them back during this period helps maintain the plant’s health and promotes vigorous growth for the subsequent year.
Tip: Alyssa Abaloz from Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum says: Cut Peonies back to around 2 inches so that you can see where they are to avoid stepping on and damaging next year’s shoots.
Why Cut Peonies Back in Autumn?
The timing of when you cut back your peonies is crucial, not just for the aesthetics of your garden but for the health and vitality of the plant itself. Here’s a deeper dive into the reasons behind the recommended timing:
Health Benefits for the Plant
- Disease Prevention: Peonies are susceptible to fungal diseases, especially in the autumn. By cutting them back after the first frost, you remove potential sites of infection, ensuring the plant remains healthy.
- Energy Conservation: As winter approaches, peonies enter a dormant phase. Cutting them back helps the plant conserve energy, which is then directed to the roots, strengthening them for the next growing season.
Risks of Cutting Back at the Wrong Time
- Stunted Growth: Cutting back too early, especially before the first frost, can stunt the plant’s growth. It might deprive the plant of essential nutrients it gathers during the autumn.
- Increased Vulnerability: Premature cutting can expose the plant to pests and diseases, making it more vulnerable to infections and infestations.
Impact on the Following Year’s Growth
- Bountiful Blooms: Proper timing ensures that the plant has enough energy reserves for the next season. This results in more vigorous growth and bountiful blooms.
- Healthy Foliage: By cutting back at the right time and ensuring the plant is disease-free, you set the stage for lush, green foliage the following year, free from spots, blights, or discolourations.
Will Cutting Back My Peony Prevent Growth?
The answer to this question depends on what part of the peony you intend to cut back. With Peonies, you are able to remove the flower when in bloom and also deadhead once the bloom has faded but be sure to leave the foliage in place. The Peony foliage is effectively the plants’ solar panel and their way of absorbing energy from the sun. If the foliage is removed too soon, it will not be able to store energy for next year’s growth. This can weaken the plant as well as reduce its chances of flowering again in future years. Secondly, many people leave their peonies in the ground all winter so they can experience extremely cold weather. Cutting them back before you should do can mean that they may not survive these conditions due to insufficient stored energy.
In short, without this foliage being allowed to grow and subsequently die back naturally, the bulb itself will suffer and it is unlikely that the Peony will flower the following season.
Should I Deadhead My Peonies?
Unless you really want peony seeds, it is best to deadhead the plant once the bloom has faded. The reason for this is that seed production consumes a lot of energy and can be extremely taxing on the peony which can lead to a reduction in flowering the following year. The spent flower can be removed from your peony without affecting future growth as long as the foliage stays in place.
How to Deadhead Peonies
Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers to encourage plants to focus their energy on new growth and, in some cases, produce more blooms. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to deadhead peonies:
What You Need
Sharp, pruning shears or garden scissors. Before starting, ensure they’re clean to prevent the spread of diseases.
1 – Choose the Right Time
Begin deadheading peonies soon after their blooms start to fade and wilt. This typically occurs in late spring to early summer, depending on the variety and local climate.
2 – Identify the Spent Blooms
Look for flowers that are wilting, turning brown, or losing petals. These are the blooms you’ll want to remove.
3 – Make the Cut
Position your shears at the base of the spent bloom, just above the first set of leaves. Make a clean cut, ensuring you don’t damage the surrounding leaves or stems.
4 – Dispose of the Spent Blooms
Collect the removed blooms and dispose of them in a compost bin or garden waste. Avoid leaving them on the ground as they can attract pests or diseases.
5 – Consider Fertilising
After deadheading, it’s a good time to give your peonies a light feed with a balanced fertiliser. This can help boost their energy reserves and promote healthy growth.
6 – Watering
Ensure your peonies receive adequate water, especially after deadheading. This helps the plant recover and strengthens it for future growth.
Do Peonies Rebloom after Deadheading?
The straight answer to this is no. Removing spent peony flowers will not promote the regrowth of fresh flowers. The energy will instead be absorbed and stored in the tuberous root system ready for the next season.
How do Peonies Reproduce?
Peonies reproduce sexually by going to seed although they are also able to reproduce asexually. The peonies’ tuberous root system will spread below ground enabling you to divide them, therefore splitting the plant and growing clones.
Peony seeds do not grow true to type, this means that the seeds from your peony are not guaranteed to grow a replica of its parent plant. If you want to produce peony seeds for planting, ensure that you do not remove the spent flower as this is where the seed production will take place.
How to Divide Peonies
Dividing peonies takes a little work but can be extremely rewarding when done correctly. This is best done in the autumn once the peony has died back for the winter. We recommend lifting the peonies’ tuberous root system and giving it a good hosing down so that you can see where all of the ‘eyes’ are (the eyes are where the fresh shoots will come from next season). When dividing the tuber, it is good practice to ensure that there are roots attached and there is a minimum of 3 eyes although the more the better – aim for 5-8 where possible.
Note: When dividing peonies, use a clean sharp blade or pair of secateurs to prevent contamination or disease.
The best and only time herbaceous peonies should be cut back is when they wither and start turning yellow at the end of the summer. This will ensure that your bulbs have enough stored energy for next year’s blooms as well as maximise their potential during any other season this year.
Garden Doctor Tips
“When cutting peonies or any other plant for that matter, ensure that your tools are clean and sharp to prevent the spread of disease and cross-contamination!”
“When deadheading, make your cut at an angle to prevent water from pooling on top of the stem which can end up causing harm to your plant!”
“Deadheading is a great way to ensure that your peonies live longer and grow stronger every year!”
“Remember to leave all of the greenery and foliage in place after the flower has faded. Do not cut back the foliage until it has begun to die back naturally!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Do peonies multiply every year?
Yes, peonies multiply every year and do so in different ways. The first way is that peonies will produce seeds, this is the most common way of reproduction in the plant world.
The other way happens below ground where you cannot see, and that is by the spreading of the tuberous root system which will continue to grow and produce new shoots each year.
Should Peonies be Staked?
Generally speaking, staking is only needed if there are prevailing winds and/or heavy rains. If the peonies are planted in reasonably well-drained soil without a high water table or other drainage issues, they should be just fine – even without stakes. Be sure to continue watering them even if they are not propped up against anything.
Saying that, if your peonies are starting to droop, staking them will help keep them stable for longer.
Will peonies bloom after being cut?
The answer is no. Herbaceous peonies will not bloom again until the following season once they have been cut.
All of the energy from the point of cutting onwards will go into storing energy in the root system ready for next year.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.