Articles about Peony cleanup
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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

2019 Questions - Intersectional Peonies How to Cut Back Stems with Buds


Intersectional Peonies with Above Ground Buds

I received this question from Joy in zone 8a:

"First and foremost, thank you for having a most informative website on one of my most loved flowering plants."

"I am writing to you today, as I’m just now getting out into the garden and tidying up my peonies, which I usually cut them back in the fall. I noticed that my Itoh Peony Julia Rose (I have 2 and planted them in 2012) have developed eyes on last years dead stems and as normal, eyes also stemming from the ground. I’ve never seen this before and thought perhaps that it was a result of not cutting them back in the fall. I’m not sure how to proceed with spring clean up and thought to seek your most valuable advice."

"Thank you for your time and look forward to your guidance."


Intersectional Peonies with Above Ground Buds

Actually intersectional (also called Itoh) peonies can grow and bloom from woody stems grown in previous years (especially in our warmer Southern climates). I actually did an experiment to see what would happen with those stems, 2011 Peony Experiments - Intersectional Blooms. So when you are cleaning up your intersectional peonies that have woody stems in place, be sure to keep those stems where you can visibly see a red growth bud at the top. Then just pick off any old leaves or foliage from that stem. For all of the other stems, cut them back to the first red growth bud that you see. You can make the cut a little above the growth bud, leaving an inch or a half inch or so.

I usually wait to cut back my intersectional peonies later than the rest of my peonies, usually late winter (sometimes early spring if I'm really behind). It is possible that some of those above ground stems could get killed over the winter and some may not. By waiting to cut them back later in the winter season, you'll then know which ones will grow and which ones were killed. That way you can cut back any that didn't make it. If I do happen to cut my intersectional peonies back early (in late fall), then I generally leave all stems with buds on them, cutting them back to the first pink bud. Sometimes they don't all make it through the winter, though.

I hope you enjoy your 'Julia Rose' Intersectional Peonies this spring! Take Care and Happy Growing!


Intersectional Peonies with Above Ground Buds

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2017 First Winter Weather on Peony Beds


Winter Weather on Peony Beds

Earlier this week I took advantage of a 65 degree (and wet) day we had to cut back most of my remaining peonies. I squeezed the last bit of daylight out of a couple of days, and I was able to finish cleaning up several peony beds. Good thing I did too, since our first winter weather of the season was right around the corner! I awoke this morning to a light layer of snow covering all of the peony beds and some of the grass too. It has started to snow again this morning, and the final result will likely be much whiter! It is rare to get snow here. Some years we go without any snow at all. The last few years, we have seen at least one or two snow showers, though. Since it doesn't come around very often, I am happy to see it, and the peaceful calm it lends to our natural surroundings.

Peony Beds 2 Days Before the Winter Weather

As you can see just two days ago, I had just finished cleaning up the peony beds, and everything looked so neat and tidy. The old peony foliage was a bit wet when I was cutting it back, which I find very helpful to get the job accomplished. It is much easier to cut and bag the dead foliage when it is soft and pliable from a rain, rather than stiff and dry from winter winds. It makes the job quick and more effective when you are able to get the dead peony foliage into the bag without it crunching and breaking into so many bits all over your garden. When the goal is to remove the foliage to help prevent disease, it helps when the foliage stays in one piece instead of breaking up into a thousand tiny bits. No, I am not throwing away good garden soil. I always save my old soil bags to reuse them as trash bags for dead peony foliage. I hate paying for garbage bags. It is like throwing your money away... literally. Also it is so much better for the environment to reuse things. If these bags were going to get thrown away anyway, why not use them for trash?

Reuse Old Soil Bags for Dead Peony Foliage

Thursday, October 6, 2016

2016 It's Autumn and It's Time to Cut Back Peonies


Early Autumn Saunder's Peony Garden - Time to Cut Back Peonies

It makes me feel good to get the garden cleaned up, but it is also make me feel a bit bittersweet to see the peony foliage for the last time this year. This year I have started to cut back my peony foliage a bit earlier than I usually do. I am, however, cutting back the peonies with the foliage that dies back earlier in summer first. Since it is just the start of fall here, many of my peonies' foliage will last another month or two. I am hoping cutting the foliage back earlier will help prevent disease and also prevent me from accidentally cutting any of those pink eyes that live close to the surface here in my Southern Peony garden. I will need all of those pink eye buds I can get next spring! (Especially since some of you may actually be visiting my garden next year!) That makes me feel a bit nervous and excited at the same time. So I am trying to get as much prepared as I can all along in the garden just in case! I just got the new garden obelisk in the photo, and I am really excited about it. It looks very nice in my Saunder's peony garden, and I'm hoping the vine I planted underneath will find it next spring. :-) If you're interested in getting one of these garden obelisks for you own garden, you can find it on Amazon here - Gardman R352 Garden Obelisk, Black, 13" Wide x 6' 6" High. Happy Fall Gardening!

Early Autumn Saunder's Peony Garden Cut Back

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2015 Finished Cutting Back & Cleaning Up All Peonies

Yesterday I actually finished cutting back and cleaning up all of my peonies, the week before Thanksgiving! I think that's a record for me. I am usually a very slack gardener and a very good procrastinator. So lots of years I am cutting back brown, completely dried up peony stems in December and January, and occasionally in February! This year I started cutting back my peony plants as they started to look bad (when they still had a bit of gold or green or red in them and weren't all brown), and I finally finished this weekend. I started cutting back and cleaning up my peonies on October 1st. So I've been cutting them back over an almost 2 month period. Now they are just nicely groomed and freshly mulched beds waiting for spring! It feels so nice to be done with this very large task before the holidays even start. :-) If you haven't started cutting back your peonies, now's the time to do it!

Peony Beds Cut Back and Cleaned for the Winter

Friday, November 6, 2015

2015 How to Cut Back an Intersectional Peony

There are two ways you can cut back an intersectional peony. You can cut the entire plant back to ground level or you can cut the plant back, leaving short stems with growth buds on them. In colder climates, it is preferred to cut the plant back to ground level. However here in the South, with our milder winters, these growth buds on the stems can often survive the winter just like the growth buds on tree peony stems.

Intersectional Peony in Autumn
View From Above

The first step is optional, but it helps me see what I'm doing. I just remove some of the lower foliage of the plant so that I can see what I'm working on. This is very easy to do. If you find where the leaf stem meets the main stem and just put a little bit of downward pressure on the leaf stem, the leaf segment will come off pretty easily. You'll want to have a trash bag handy for all of the foliage and stems you cut away. Peonies often carry botrytis blight. So it is best to trash the old foliage and not compost it to reduce future infections.

Intersectional Peony in Autumn
View From Underneath

To leave some short stems on the plant with growth nodules, you'll want to prune the stems back to the first or second growth nodule above the soil. Usually you will see a pink growth bud at the stem/leaf juncture. You'll want to prune the stem just above this point. If you don't see any pink growth buds on a stem, you can prune that stem all the way back to the ground, taking care to cut above the pink growth bud at the base of the stem, if present.

Cut Main Peony Stem Just Above Pink Growth Bud

After pruning the upper stem away, you'll be left with a short main stem and a foliage stem. Remove any remaining foliage on the pruned stem by applying a bit of downward pressure to the leaf stem. This will easily separate the foliage from the main stem. Make sure to remove and throw away all remaining foliage on each pruned stem.

Apply Downward Pressure to Peony Leaf Stem to Remove It


Intersectional Peony Being Pruned

Repeat this process on each of the stems until you have pruned all of them. After all of the stems have been cut back and all of the foliage has been removed, you'll be left with just a few short sticks sticking out of the ground where your intersectional peony once stood.

Intersectional Peony Stem Defoliated and Pruned

One advantage of this pruning method, leaving short stems, is that you'll know exactly where your instersectional peony is planted over fall, winter, and early spring. That way you won't accidentally step on it, dig into it, etc. However if you live in a colder climate where these growth buds likely won't survive anyway, or you prefer a cleaner look after pruning, intersectional peonies can be cut back all the way to the ground.

Intersectional Peony Defoliated and Pruned

If you want or need to prune your intersectional peony back to the ground, that's perfectly acceptable. Intersectional peonies are quite hardy once established, and they will definitely come back when pruned to the ground. You'll just want to make your cuts carefully to ensure the basal growth buds are not damaged.

Intersectional Peony Base

If you closely examine the base of your intersectional peony, you'll find where the stems meet the crown. If you have your peony planted even with the soil surface (hopefully you do - if you a Southern peony gardener!), you will likely see some pink growth buds near the base of most stems and on the crown.

Cut Peony Stem Back to Soil Level Just Above Pink Growth Bud

When you cut your intersectional peony stem back to ground level, you'll want to make sure to preserve these pink growth buds. So if there is a pink growth bud at the base of the stem, make your cut just above this growth bud. Also take care not to smash or cut any other growth buds on the base of your plant. Continue pruning each of the stems on the plant until you are left with just the crown and pink growth buds.

Intersectional Peony Pruned to Ground Level

Now you're all done cutting back your intersectional peony. Don't worry if you see the exposed pink growth buds. For Southern peony gardeners, this is a good thing! Don't bury them or cover them with soil or mulch! Those growth buds need to be exposed to as much cold as they can be over the winter to bloom properly in the spring. So leave them uncovered. You may want to put a plant marker near your peony if you don't already have one. That way you'll know exactly where it is, so you won't step on it or damage it over the winter.

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 How to Deadhead an Intersectional Peony

Deadheading your intersectional peonies is really a personal preference. I actually prefer to leave the seedpods on my intersectional peonies. The seedpods actually provide some additional interest and height on the bush. Since intersectional peonies do not actually form seeds 99% of the time, the plant is not wasting any energy creating seeds if you leave them on. On the flip side since there not any seeds being created, you don't have to leave them on for seed production. Also some gardeners may find the bush more aesthetically pleasing without them. So this guide is intended to help all of the intersectional peony pruners out there. The method to Deadhead an intersectional peony is not too different from the method of How to Deadhead an Herbaceous Peony.

Intersectional Peony 'Pastel Splendor' with Seedpods

Deadheading is the process of removing the spent bloom heads from your peony plant. To start this process you'll want to have your favorite pair of pruners and a trash bag handy for deadheading. Since it is not a good idea to compost your peony clippings due to fungal blight concerns, you will want to throw away the seedpods after pruning them from the peony bush. When you prune the seedpods from the plant, you'll actually cut off a portion of the stem. This portion of the stem can definitely carry fungal spores in the stem tissue. So put the seedpods in your trash bag after you've removed them.

Intersectional Peony Seedpods Remain After Flowering


Intersectional Peony Seedpod

Take a look at the seedpod you'd like to remove first. If you follow the stem down to the first leaf junction, you'll find the point where you'll want to prune your plant. You'll want to make your cut just above the leaf junction to trim the stem down to this point, while preserving as much of the foliage as possible. After you make the cut, collect your deadheaded seed pod and put it in your trash bag. Simply repeat this process for each seedpod on your peony plant until you have removed all of them.

Pruning Intersectional Peony Seedpod

After pruning your intersectional peony, the plant will appear a little cleaner, and a little greener. Now is a good time to add a slow release organic fertilizer or composted cow manure around the drip line of your peony plants. Slow release, organic nutrients will be available throughout the season for your peonies, even into the fall when they are storing energy and nutrients to produce next year's blooms.

Intersectional Peony After Pruning

Also if you have any extended periods of drought over the summer, you will want to give your peonies some additional water to keep the foliage from wilting. Peonies are tough plants, and they can definitely withstand some drought. Mine have several years, but the plants will be healthier with some added water. That's it. Sit back, enjoy the green, and start dreaming about how many big beautiful blooms you'll have next year!

Intersectional Peony 'Pastel Splendor' after Deadheading

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 How to Deadhead an Herbaceous Peony


Peony with Spent Blooms

After your herbaceous peonies have finished blooming, you can deadhead them (remove their spent blooms). There are several purposes of this. Firstly, it keeps the plants looking neat and tidy. The dried brown flower petals and sepals aren't very attractive hanging on the plant. Secondly, it prevents the spread of disease. The petals of peonies are perfect hosts for fungi to grow. If left on the plants, they absorb and hold moisture and warmth very well, making a perfect home for a fungus. Thirdly, it allows the peony to divert its energy towards creating a larger root instead of developing seed pods and seeds (unless you want to grow a peony from seed). With a larger root, the peony can develop into a larger plant the next growing season.

Brown Peony Petals and Sepals

When pruning the peony plant to remove the dead blossoms, the plant should only be cut back to just above the next leaf node. Take your pruners and follow the stem from the top near the bloom or bloom cluster down to just above the next leaf nodule. This is the point where the peony should be cut back. Use pruners that have been disinfected to make a clean cut at this point. You can use rubbing alcohol or vinegar to disinfect your clippers between cuts. I usually keep a small, lidded, plastic container filled with one of these biodegradable disinfectants to dip my clippers in while pruning.

Prune Peony Right Above the Next Leaf Nodule

Since peonies do not continuously produce new foliage growth, as much of the foliage should be preserved as possible. The leaves of the peony plant are needed to generate energy for storage in the peony's underground tuber. The plant will use this stored energy to regenerate itself the next year. Sometimes I will prune the plant back a little further than the next leaf nodule if I find a stem that has been severely affected by disease. This is identifiable by black spots on the stems or leaves, wilting, and/or leaves or stems that have turned totally black. If you find a stem like this prune that stem back to the next healthy leaf nodule. If the entire stem has been affected and turned black, remove the entire stem, and be sure to bag it for garbage collection.


That's it. If your peony was newly planted last fall, you should water it during any summer dry spells to help it survive its first year. Now your peonies are ready to collect as much energy as possible until the weather gets cool and the foliage goes dormant! At which point you'll need to learn How to Cut Back an Herbaceous Peony. That's why I love peonies, they are relatively carefree and deer do not eat them! :-)

Neat & Tidy Deadheaded Peony

Monday, June 10, 2013

2013 Deadheading Removing Spent Peony Blooms

I just spent the last 2 days deadheading my peonies - removing the spent blooms on my peony plants. You can do this on all of your peonies if you like. Or if you want to see if any seeds will develop in the seed pods you can just deadhead those with no seed pods - like most double and bomb type peonies. These types rarely set seed. The single and semi-double peony forms are more likely to set seed. I've heard it is very important to remove all of the peony foliage and never compost it. So any peony foliage I remove from my gardens is always sent to the landfill. If you have seen the effects of botrytis on peonies, then you know why this is so important. Botrytis is a fungus that can be spread in wet conditions most easily on developing and growing foliage. It will cause a black spotting on the leaves and stems, bud abortion, and in heavy cases black fungal growths with spores. So as you can see my peony refuse is bagged and stored in my trash receptacle until my friendly neighborhood trash man comes to take it away!

Bagged Deadheaded Peony Blooms & Foliage

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 How to Cut Back an Herbaceous Peony

Herbaceous peonies should be cut back each year to create a pleasing aesthetic in your peony gardens, maintain good air circulation, and prevent the spread of disease. Diseased, dying, and dead peony foliage isn't very nice to look, and cutting back your peonies will definitely present a cleaner and neater appearance in your peony beds. Old foliage from the previous year is going to prevent air circulation around the base of the plant which would create a moist environment ripe for the growth of foliar disease. Also any diseased foliage left in the peony bed gives the disease a chance to infect the newly emerging foliage in spring.

Herbaceous Peony in Fall


Cut Back Herbaceous Peony at Base of Stem

Using sharp clippers cut each of the peony stems back at the very base of the stem, even with the ground. Take care to avoid clipping any pink buds (peony eyes) that may be showing. These are the beginnings of the peony's growth cycle for the coming year. These pink buds will develop into next year's shoots. So be careful to stay away from those buds since they will become next year's foliage and possibly blooms as well!

Hollow Stem of Cut Peony and Pink Bud (Peony Eye)


Remove the Cut Peony Foliage

After cutting back all of the peony stems, make sure to throw all of the stems and foliage away. Do not compost the cut back peony stems and foliage. It is best to completely remove all of the cut peony foliage from the garden. I usually keep a plastic bag with me in the garden while I am cutting back the foliage, and I will put the cut foliage in the back as I go. Also examine the ground after removing the cut foliage to see if there are any peony leaves that were left behind. Take care to remove any loose peony leaves that you find.

Short Stem of Cut Peony

Some people will leave a short 2-3 stem on all of their peony shoots when cleaning up in the fall as shown on one stem in the picture above. I think some people like to keep the short stems to help them remember where their peonies are planted. However here in my growing zone, I can almost always see the pink buds (peony eyes) showing through fall and winter. I also make sure to keep my plants labeled and mapped, so I know their location and variety. I always cut my peonies back even with the ground. I figure if you are cutting back the plant to remove the green plant parts to prevent disease, the more you cut back, the less surface area for the disease to use as a host.

Herbaceous Peony Completely Cut Back

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Cut Back Fall Foliage on Peonies

I can't believe it's December already, the last month of 2012. On Friday, the last day of November, I got a start on cutting back some of my peonies. That is the earliest I've started cutting them back in a few years. In the last couple of years, I've just been so busy that I haven't gotten around to cutting them back until after the new year. I actually cut back a few of them that still had some color on the foliage. Most of them were already brown, however. Here are the before and after pictures from cleaning up and cutting back my Saunder's peony garden. I also took the time to record the stem counts for any peonies I hadn't yet recorded the data on, and I also made sure to bag up all of the old peony foliage to try to prevent the spread of disease. Everything looks so much nicer now. Having a nice clean peony bed makes me long for spring when their soft pink tendrils will once again emerge from the soil!

Saunder's Peony Garden with Dead Foliage


Saunder's Peony Garden Cleaned Up

Friday, September 28, 2012

2012 Intersectional Peony Garden Dead Foliage

I went out to water the newly transplanted peonies in my intersectional peony garden today, and the ones that were moved from partial shade to full sun were toast. The new ones that I'd gotten on Ebay and planted out at the beginning of summer are the only ones that still have green foliage. The foliage on the ones that were planted in shade was a lighter shade of green (presumably because those plants were used to their partially shady conditions), but it became decidedly droopy, brown, and crispy. So I decided to go ahead and clean off all of the foliage from the older intersectional peonies that were transplanted from the shade. Now as you can see the garden is mostly just sticks, save the four very small, new intersectional peonies. I'm thinking the foliage on all of these intersectional peonies will be a nice dark green color when they leaf out in the spring. I can't wait!

Intersectional Peony Garden with Dead Foliage


Intersectional Peony Garden with Trimmed Foliage

Friday, June 15, 2012

2012 Peony Experiments - Cutting Back Dead Flowers

I usually don't get around to cutting back dead flowers on my peonies. The past couple of years I have just left them to fend for themselves until the entire stem dies back. That way I would leave the flower head intact so that seeds could develop. However I have noticed quite a bit of fungal disease, and I wondered if it had any correlation to leaving the spent bloom on the plant. The flower type really seems to make a difference in this. The single and semi-double type flowers that shed their petals easily do not seem to have as much fungal disease as the more full double flowers that seem to hang onto their petals. Also I have noticed that dead petals that have fallen onto foliage below actual contribute to additional fungal growth that otherwise may not have developed. It seems the dying petals create just the right environment (more moist and warm) that the fungus needs to develop.

Dried Peony Petals on Foliage


Fungus on Peony Foliage

Over time I have been able to better recognize which seeds pods actually have developing seeds in them. So this year, I have started cleaning up my full double flowered peonies to remove the spent blooms. I also have 2 peony bushes of a white double peony that are the same variety. I decided to cut back the spent blooms on one of them, but not the other. I will check the amount of fungal disease later in the season. I also plan to cut down the dead foliage on the same one I cut back the flowers on and leave the dead foliage intact on the one I didn't cut back the flowers on. So we shall see how much difference it makes in the amount of fungus on the plants this fall and next spring.

Peony Spent Blooms Not Cut Back


Peony Spent Blooms Cut Back

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012 Peony New Beginnings

Dead Foliage in Peony Bed

2012, a new year, a new opportunity to see peony blossoms you've never seen before, to watch the growth of your existing plants, and reflect on growing seasons past. We have had such a mild winter so far. I am curious to see how this will affect the number and quality of the peony blooms. The weather was so warm I took the opportunity to do some cleaning up. I was out in my garden today cutting back dead peony foliage. However one of my peonies hadn't completely died back yet. It was the intersectional 'Yellow Crown' peony that so nicely produced a beautiful fall bloom for me last year. The foliage contained beautiful fall colors of red, orange, and gold. I went ahead and cut the remaining foliage off. Perhaps next year I will leave the foliage on as an experiment to see what happens.
Fall Colors of Peony 'Yellow Crown'
with Dead Foliage of Peony 'Bartzella'
in the Background

Peony 'Yellow Crown'

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Great Peony Massacre of 2011

So today I was cleaning up my peonies (late again, I know!), and I actually chopped off one of their heads. If you look at the pink bud in the middle of the picture, you'll notice that it has been decisively severed from its root. So here's the lesson for all of you. If you haven't cut down all of last year's peony stems yet, do it now before this year's stems and blooms are sacrificed. Don't wait too long so that you can prevent unnecessary bud loss. :-)