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.


  1. Too far north for this to work for me but just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading your blog! Since you're writing about Itohs, do you have any follow-up on the Itoh experiments from a few years ago? Did many of the pieces root? If so, how are those new plants doing?

    1. Liz,

      Thank you so much for the kind comments! I'm glad to share my peony experiences with you. :-)

      Actually, yes, the intersectional experiment I did in 2012/2013 worked well, and almost all of them grew (and continued to grow) except the old wood stem with no roots. I have been able to share some of these peonies with my family.

      You can find all the details on that experiment on my Experiments page.

      Also here are the three specific posts on that experiment in case you have trouble finding them...

      This success has led me to another experiment this year for 2015 with planting intersectional peony stems. I'm currently working on a write up for this experiment. So look for a post on this soon!



  2. Went back and read all of the Itoh experiment updates, very exciting!
    I see pictures of beautiful Bartzella plants and flowers--it's one of the few Itohs that has not done well for me at all. I moved 2 this fall because they were not happy where they were and was discouraged to see the roots had not increased at all, if anything they're smaller! I moved them to a bed with other Itohs that are doing well, hopefully they'll enjoy the new site.
    I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of your new experiment. We're far enough north and cold (Colorado, zone 4B) so that no buds above ground survive the winter. If yours root I'll be doing some Itoh experiments with those same type of stems here!

    1. Liz,

      I'm sorry to hear that your Peony 'Bartzella' has not grown well for you in zone 4b. You'll have to let me know if the move improves the growth and performance of the plants, as this peony is one of the best performing intersectionals in my garden.

      I am excited to see what spring brings here too! I will definitely write an update as soon as I find out something!