Questions about Peony Plant Care in the Winter?

You really don’t need to do anything to or for your herbaceous bush peony plants in the winter. But, if you realize you forgot to cut down the stems in the fall, you can do that now.

What happens if you don’t cut bush peony stems off in the fall?

The leaves and stems of herbaceous (bush) peonies, including the intersectional Itoh peonies will eventually die back as the plants go dormant for the winter. The leaves will start to deteriorate and the stems will fall to the ground and turn ‘mushy’. This is natural. the plant roots are not dying – they will grow new shoots/stems in the spring. Sometimes people panic and think their peony has died; but, this is the natural growth cycle of bush peonies.

When peony stems are cut off, near ground level, take care not to cut any exposed peony ‘eyes’ (usually pink or red buds) that will be next years’ stems. Dispose of the stems and leaves in the garbage. Do not compost peony leaves and stems, as they may attract botrytis (fungal disease), particularly in wet conditions. Clean up the ground area around each peony plant.

Mulching peonies is not required in most areas. If you do mulch your herbaceous bush peony plants, be sure to remove the mulch in the early spring to prevent the roots from being buried too deeply. Years of bark dust or mulch placed around bush peonies will eventually result in the roots being planted too deep – and you may see less blooms in the spring. Be sure to scratch that off, leaving just an inch or two of soil above the roots of herbaceous bush peonies.

It’s also natural that the crown of a mature peony eventually heaves up through the soil and shows some exposed ‘eyes’ in the winter. Don’t fret – peony plants love cold winters.

Tree peony leaves will also deteriorate and need to be removed from the branches and ground. The branches on a tree peony are not cut down in the fall – leave them standing, bare naked for the winter. In the event you or a helper cuts a tree peony down to ground level and you panic in despair – don’t worry too much. The roots are likely established enough to grow new branches in the spring. In 2 or 3 years it may be an amazing, reinvigorated tree peony. I know, as I have seen this happen. Tree peonies actually prefer more soil on top of the roots than bush peonies. If you have a tree peony that has lost its exuberance – try adding a couple of inches of soil around the base of the trunk. Yes, it’s just the opposite of recommendations for bush peonies. 

When the snow melts and you have a nice day, you can get back outside and tackle any 'forgotten' stems.  

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