Articles about Peony cleanup
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Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021 Cut Back Brown Peony Stems After a Rain

Wet/Damp Peony Stems Are Easier to Handle

This is something I have been doing for a few years now. If you haven't figured it out yet, the best time to cut back brown peony stems is just after a rain. (I usually do it the day after a rain so that things aren't completely soaking wet.) Otherwise the peony leaves and stems are so brittle, they break and crumble so easily making a big mess in the garden, especially if you are trying to bag and dispose of them (which you should be to prevent more disease spread).

Rain from Last Night

After a rain however, they are soft and pliable, easily bagged and stay in one piece. We got over a half inch of rain yesterday. So today was a great day to get out in the garden and work in the peonies. I am not completely finished cutting back all of my dead peony stems for the year, but I have made a big dent this week while on vacation. I hope you had some time around the holidays to get out in the garden and enjoy the nice weather. We've had an entire week of 70 degree temperatures, which is unheard of for this time of year. Sometimes you will get a day here and there over the winter in the 70s, but never an entire week!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021 How To Cut Back a Tree Peony

Tree Peony with Dead Foliage

After a while that beautiful tree peony goes from gorgeous to gross, and you just want to erase it from your landscape. In order to get it looking decent again (and ready for spring), you need to cut it back. Cutting it back also removes parts of the stem that won't be needed next season and all of the dead foliage, which could harbor disease. The parts of the stem you will want to remove are any bloom stems that either bloomed or failed to bloom, but you don't want to cut off too much, as you don't want to lose any growth buds, which is where the peony will start to grow from in the spring.

Cut Tree Peony Bloom Stem 1" Above Top Bud

There are different ways you can cut back your peony stems and different methods of removing the foliage. I'll go over both of them here. The first way of cutting back the bloom stems is to cut the bloom stem back to 1 inch above the top growth bud on the stem. Using your pruners cut the stem at an angle (to prevent water pooling/damage) 1 inch above the leaf joint that contains a rounded, sometimes pinkish growth tip.

Tree Peony After Bloom Stem Cut 1" Above Top Bud

Tree Peony Bloom Stem Cut Back

After the bloom stem has been cut off, next the foliage stems should also be pruned. The foliage stems can be cut back to about 2 inches to leave a pointy, pokey hardened foliage stem to protect the growth bud, while the dead leaves will be removed and thrown away. These hard stems can be useful if you have a problem with animals that like to browse your tree peonies (like deer). It is not a huge obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless, and may help protect your peonies from hungry animals.

Cut Tree Peony Leaf Stems Down to 2"

After one foliage stem has been cut back, continue cutting back all of the foliage stems on that main stem to 2 inches as well. As you are cutting the foliage, make sure you are placing it in a bucket or bag for disposal. Don't leave the dead stems and foliage on the ground underneath the tree peony. This will help with plant hygiene and health.

Cut Tree Peony Leaf Stems Down to 2"

Dispose of Tree Peony Stems & Foliage

Cut Tree Peony Bloom Stem Just Above 1 Segment Higher than Top Bud

Another way to cut back the peony bloom stem is to make your cut a little higher on the tree peony stem, one leaf segment above the top bud. This may be a useful method if you are concerned about severe cold or dieback in your peony stems. Here in my garden in the South, we don't usually have to worry about temperatures that cold. Some Northern states keep snow cover all winter to protect the peonies. However if you live in an area with extreme cold and no snow cover, you may be a bit more concerned about stem dieback. Or perhaps you've experienced stem dieback in the past, in which case this maybe the method that you choose.

Tree Peony After Bloom Stem Cut
Just Above 1 Segment Higher than Top Bud

Remove Foliage Stems
from Tree Peony

Pull Down Tree Peony Foliage Stem to Pop Stem Off

Another method of removing tree peony foliage stems is pretty easy and doesn't require any clippers. You simply pop them off by pressing the foliage stem in the opposite direction than it was growing. The entire foliage stem removes cleanly. I like to use this method for any foliage segments that do not have a growth bud in them. Since there is no growth bud that needs protection, the entire foliage stem can be removed, leaving the tree peony a bit more clean.

Tree Peony After Foliage Stem Popped Off

You can then continue cutting back any foliage stems with growth buds at the base. Keep repeating these processes until you have cut back all bloom stems and removed or cut back all foliage stems as well. After you are finished with the entire tree peony plant, it will be back to stems only, be so much cleaner, and ready for spring!! Happy Garden Cleaning!!!

Cut Back Foliage Stems to 2" to Protect Growth Buds

Tree Peony Cleaned Up & Ready for Spring!

Friday, December 24, 2021

2021 Cutting Back Peony Stems

Merry Christmas Eve!! 🎄 I spent some time in the garden yesterday afternoon cutting back dead peony stems. So if you've still got some dead stems in the garden, please know that you are not alone! Sometimes I don't even get them cut back on in the same calendar year! So I'm considering myself lucky to at least have gotten a start on clearing out the dead foliage from this year.

Cutting Back Peony Stems

I am actually doubly lucky this year since my little boy offered to help me in the garden yesterday. I have learned by now that you never refuse help (especially from a child)!, as they might not offer it again if you turn them down. Even if kids don't do things exactly as you would do them, it is an awesome opportunity to have them be useful and teach them something! He actually did a great job, not only helping me cut back several peonies, but he also helped me clear out all of the dead vinca that was growing in the middle of my peony garden bed (another great Peony Companion that I'll have to write an article on later).

Putting Dead Peony Foliage in Bags for Garbage

If you, like me, are still clearing out the dead foliage and you want a pointer or two on "how to", please check out our Peony How To section. We have articles on How to Cut Back an Herbaceous Peony and How to Cut Back an Intersectional Peony. Even if you don't get it all done in one day, it will be okay. I will be spreading my work out over weeks (or maybe even months!!) 😉 And those gorgeous peony blooms will be here again before we know it!!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

2020 Peony 'Lemon Chiffon' Open Pollinated Seeds Found During Winter Cleanup

While cleaning up yesterday, I found a few seeds on my Peony 'Lemon Chiffon'. I'm not sure if they'll grow or not since I've waited so long to harvest them, but I figure I'll try anyway. I didn't even realize they were there. I was about to throw the whole stem and seed pod away when I noticed those beautiful, shiny seeds. So I just grabbed the whole seed pod off the stem before trashing it. I need to make a sign for the seeds before I plant them.

Peony 'Lemon Chiffon' Seed Pod

I had also found a few seeds on Peony 'Faithful Dream' this year. I don't remember pollinating either of these flowers, so I'm assuming they are both open pollinated. Mother Nature may have created something nice, though. I'm kind of curious to know what DNA is waiting inside those tiny seeds. Only time will tell, so I'd better get to work planting them. If you find any seed pods with seeds in them in your garden while cleaning up, plant them out somewhere. You never know what might grow from them! :-)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

2020 Cutting Back Peonies with a Brown Garden... Snake?

Cutting Back Peonies in January

Yes, you read that right. I am cutting back my peonies in January. I know, I know, late again. Oh, what's that about a snake? Yes, you read that right too! While I was out in the garden today cutting back my desicated peony stems, I had a visitor join me in my peony garden - a brown garden snake. I wondered if he was a poisonous snake or just a harmless garden snake. He didn't look like any of the poisonous snakes around here - no copper head, no rattle, no triangle shaped head, and he was baby size. So I picked him up for a minute and took a good look at him, while he tasted my scent with his tongue. He didn't try to attack me, and I didn't try to hurt him either. I just set him back down. He slithered around as I cut peonies all around him, moving out of my way when I got close.

Cutting Back Peonies in January with a Snake!

Brown Garden Snake

It was kind of neat to have a companion for a little while in the garden, and nice to let him just be. I felt a little worried about him because he appeared to have a boo-boo on his tummy. I hope he'll be okay and get to live. I didn't finish with all of the peony cleanup today. I only got one peony bed cleanup finished and started on one more peony bed. So there's still a lot left to do. Maybe I'll see him out in the garden again the next time I'm out there. Hope he finds a warm place to sleep!

I Got to Hold Him

And I Put Him Back

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 Saunders 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 Saunders 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 Saunders 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