Prune in Fall for a Parade of Peonies Next Spring
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
As winter approaches, gardeners like to take advantage of any mild days to work in their gardens. There is always something to do! Although many tasks can wait until spring, one thing that really needs to be done in the fall is taking care of any peonies in the garden. For generations, the most common type of peonies grown have been the herbaceous peonies. These popular garden stalwarts are tough and long-lived, requiring little care other than sun and occasional fertilizing.
Today, gardeners are increasingly planting formerly rare tree peonies and the beautiful varieties of intersectional or Itoh peonies, both of which are still rather pricey. However, with thoughtful selection, one can enjoy over six weeks of peony blooms. Itoh peonies typically begin flowering while herbaceous peonies are in bloom, but peak as they are finishing. Then, the tree peonies, with their huge crepe paper-like blooms continue the floral show for another few weeks. In Central Indiana, this peony parade usually lasts the entire month of May.
Like hydrangeas, each species requires different pruning in the fall. With traditional garden peonies, it is extremely important to cut all foliage to the ground to prevent the spreading of both powdery mildew and botrytis blight. Discard all foliage and stems in the trash rather than composting if either disease was present.
Itoh peonies, with more substantial stems than herbaceous peonies should also be pruned to the ground for the same reasons. Although the stems look woody, they will naturally die to the roots, so should be removed.
Tree peonies, which can get up to five feet tall and wide, do have substantial woody stems that should be pruned only to remove seed pods and any weak or damaged branches. These peonies develop into stately shrubs and live up to one hundred years. They readily produce seeds that can be sown for new plants. Hint: Plant where they they receive afternoon shade to prolong the life of the delicate blooms.