Pruning Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Peony

Tired of all those blooms? Read This!

It has come to the Grump's attention that many of you love, love, love peonies. You think about them night and day and worry yourselves sick about their health and welfare. You want to know if the care you're giving them will encourage the production of gargantuan, fragrant flowers again next year with which to torture your jealous neighbors. Keeping peonies pruned is important to those beautiful blooms, but you don't want to make the mistake of doing it at the wrong time. Here's what you need to know about pruning peonies.

Don't Trim After Blooming

I thought you'd be interested in the following question I received from Ellen in Boaz, Alabama, because it may be something you've also been wondering about.

"I have some peonies I transplanted from my mom's house," she writes. "They are over 50 years old and beautiful when in bloom. They're not so pretty after the blooms are gone, though. Can I trim down the foliage now?"

Grumpy's heart just skipped a beat. No, Ellen, you cannot! Don't even think about trimming your peonies now! If you do, you will get no flowers next year, and that would be a terrible way to thank your mother.

Why Pruning Needs to Wait

You see, what the leaves do all summer is soak in the sun's rays and convert that energy into food reserves for the peony. It takes a lot of reserves to produce the dozens of eye-popping blooms you've come to expect. Peony foliage needs to bask in full sun from spring until fall. Cut off that foliage beforehand and a bodacious bloomer becomes a flowerless flop. You'll be left with fewer blooms next year and plenty of disappointment.

When to Prune

Put away those pruners for now. Wait until the leaves yellow in the fall. That's your sign that the peony's larder is fully stocked and it's OK to trim. Peonies actually need little pruning, but it is important for the plant's good health and to maintain its shape. Cutting away dead foliage also helps control insects and diseases.

How to Prune

It's OK to cut diseased or damaged foliage during the growing season. If foliage is dense, thinning out the foliage will help increase airflow and the amount of sunlight the plant gets. To prune, after a hard frost in the fall and once the plant has died or yellowed, cut the stems back at or near ground level, being careful not to damage the crown. Throw out the foliage with the trash to make sure it doesn't harbor diseases and insects over the winter.

Types of Peonies

Though growing peonies in the South has its challenges, it can most definitely be done. These coveted plants may not like clay or sandy soil and may wither at the thought of the hot Southern sun, but with a little shade and moist, well-drained soil, your garden can be home to heat-tolerant varieties.

Herbaceous peonies are the familiar varieties whose foliage dies back in winter. They can grow in Zone 8, from Texas to Alabama to North Carolina. Woody-trunked tree peonies have dinner plate-sized flowers and stems that don't die down. Hybrids boast large flowers and handle the heat, with foliage that dies in winter.

Peonies to Try

For a burst of color in your spring garden, there are many varieties to consider. 'Coral Charm' is an early bloomer with large flowers. For a spot with full sun, 'Kansas' gives long-blooming pink color. 'Bartzella' is a good heat-tolerant option with a long season of blooms. A dependable Southern variety, 'Festiva Maxima' blooms throughout the South bearing double white flowers flecked with red.

Once you've enjoyed a season of fragrant peony blooms, just remember to hold off on the pruning.

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