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How To Care About Peonies In Fall & Winter [Guide]

If you are a flower gardening enthusiast, you must be aware of the beauty of peonies and the sweet aroma they bring to the homestead yard. These perennial trees are popular in the United States, Europe, and many other countries that often experience icy weather in the winter.

Unlike many flower plants, which die off after a short while, peonies are famed for their longevity, with a lifetime of more than 100 years. This means that if afforded the necessary care, your peonies can be healthy throughout your entire lifetime and beyond.

Caring about peonies in fall & winter

The most significant task is in identifying the appropriate care that you need to give your peonies to ensure that they survive the harsh winter conditions that often leave most plants dead.

Peonies exist in different colors, scents, and tree’s lifetime. Some of the common flower scents popular in many gardens in the US include the Bomb, Japanese, Double, and the semi-double.

When selecting the scent, you are also spoilt for choice. For example, there are those with a lemon-like smell while others, such as the Duchesse de Nemours’ exhibit strong scents similar to those of roses.

Some varieties are also odorless, and therefore individuals who don’t like flower scents are also sorted out. The varying qualities of the peonies’ plant varieties, coupled with their ability to grow in various environments, make them such a popular choice for flower gardens.

Why Take Care Of Peonies During Fall?

Like all perennials, peonies undergo massive changes during fall and winter. Since they exhibit deciduous plants’ qualities, they are less vegetative during the cold weather to prevent water loss via exposure to the harsh conditions.

In that regard, most peonies species are reduced to shrubs during winter, but at this time, they are usually undergoing growth in the root regions. Towards late fall, as spring approaches, leaves and flowers begin developing.

Therefore, the kind of care that the peonies shrubs are provided with during winter and fall is imperative in determining the plant’s quality after the cold season is over. While peonies are not delicate plants that will consume the bulk of your time, they still need to be regularly attended to.

Fall is the most crucial period in taking care of these hardy trees. It’s the only season when they require a little more special treatment.

Different species

As mentioned earlier, peonies are existent in different species. The most popular peonies species in the US is the non-woody, herbaceous kind that is synonymous in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zone 3 to 8.

Since this species is not woody, it dies off completely in the winter, leaving just stumps. However, at this period, the plant undergoes growth in the root region and sprouts when the temperature increases during spring.

The other kind of species is the tree peony that is characterized by a hard stem. This species is hardier than the non-woody; herbaceous peonies are well adapted to USDA zone 4 to 8. It forms a leafless shrub in the winter to prevent water loss and later grows leaves when the cold season is over.

The kind of care that is requisite for the development of vigorous peonies plants is dependent on the species, and thus it is imperative to be aware of the kind that you are growing. All in all, both species are delicate during cold weather, and they deserve closer attention to warrant a healthy bloom in winter.

Requisite Peony Tree Maintenance Practices During Fall

The following are some of the necessary practices that guarantee the healthy development of the peonies flower plants during the fall and winter seasons:

Cutting Back Foliage

As much as peonies plants have adaptability mechanisms intended to aid their survival during the cold seasons, you must aid this process to ensure that you have stronger plants in the summer. One of the most crucial means of achieving that is through cutting back foliage.

The process is critical, especially for the herbaceous non-woody species that lack a stalk to enable survival through the cold weather. At the onset of winter, the leaves of the herbaceous species begin to turn yellow due to the cold weather frosting.

This is the ideal period for cutting back the foliage. During this process, there are several precautions that you are required to undertake to ensure that your peony plants remain healthy throughout. They include:

1. Ensuring That The Cutting Blade Is Sharp

Peonies, just like any other plant, are prone to attack by fungal diseases. One of the precursors of such an infection is a poorly cut stalk that leaves the surface exposed to the diseases. To prevent it, the cutting blade should be sharp enough to guarantee a one-time cut that will ensure that the stalk is clean.

For the woody peony species, the cut should be slanted enough to prevent ice accumulation on the exposed surface, predisposing the plant to rot.

2. Sterilizing The Cutting Blades

The pruning blade should also be well cleaned with alcohol to ensure that it is free from any substance that can lead to the introduction of an infection to the plant. This is especially important if the cutting blades are used for cutting a variety of other plant types.

3. Discarding The Cut Parts

Your peonies are not safe if you do not discard the cut foliage appropriately. During winter, there is a high preference for developing a fungal disease known as botrytis blight that affects peonies. This disease is capable of surviving during the cold weather even in cut foliage, and it has lethal effects on the peonies trees in the event of an outbreak.

Therefore, leaving the cut foliage close to the stumps predisposes the peonies to the fungal infection. An appropriate means of ensuring that the disease is kept at bay is the burning of the cut foliage.

How to care about peonies in fall & winter

Provide Winter Protection

You also need to protect your peonies during the cold season as it is a period when the extreme weather can have a devastating effect on their survival. This is especially necessary for the icy areas where the weather can lead to the stems’ rotting.

For the herbaceous peony plants, there is a need to provide a mulch layer to generate a little warmth to aid the plant’s root development. The ideal mulch should be approximately 2 to 3 inches thick and can be composed of various materials.

For example, straw sawdust, shredded bark, and many other uncontaminated plant parts can be used to make the mulch. The mulch cover can be applied at any time, although the best timing is after the ground is completely frozen.

The mulch cover should also be regularly changed, especially if it begins rotting as this predisposes the plant to attack by fungal infections such as the botrytis blight.

For the woody peonies, the mulching is similar to the herbaceous species. However, for those in relatively colder areas such as zone 4 and 5, the ideal mulch is burlap. This material should be applied around the shrubs, and it is intended to protect the plant from the cold weather and strong winds that are often prevalent in the zones mentioned above.

Pruning For The Non-herbaceous Peonies

Peonies do not necessarily require to be pruned regularly as other flower plants. However, the winter season is ideal for removing the old and unwanted stems to give room for the sprouting healthy during spring.

When pruning, it is advisable to cut the old or unwanted branches from their base as this will facilitate the sprouting of others. This should be done expertly as excessive pruning will limit the number of branches to grow flowers after fall.

The pruning scissors used for this procedure should also be well cleaned with a sterilizing agent such as alcohol to prevent infection to the peony plant. Also, as it is the case with cutting back the foliage, the cut plant parts should be discarded to prevent fungal infections.

This process allows the tree peonies to produce stronger stems, and it is not carried out for the herbaceous species as their stalks are cut at the base at the onset of fall.

However, not all the woody peonies are open for pruning. For the grafted plants to improve on the flower yield and the quality, pruning is not advisable. This is because the process may lead to cutting the plant at the joint where the grafting was done, which will destroy the grafted part.

Instead of pruning such a plant, the ideal process is to remove the branches that are not close to the base. Therefore, the renewal pruning process should only be limited to the non grafted plants unless under special circumstances such as when an infection attacks the plant part of a grafted tree.

Adding Fertilizers

Peonies require healthy soils to thrive best, and thus adding fertilizers is a cardinal process in improving their flower and stem quality. Clay soils are ideal for the plants’ development, although they do not do well if the soil is waterlogged.

The best fertilizers for use with peonies are the organic ones. This includes compost and other manures that are well prepared in an uncontaminated environment. A layer of 2 inches should be applied towards late fall to the plants.

At this stage, the peonies are ready for sprouting. It is the ideal period for the introduction of the essential nutrients that are vital for healthy growth. Besides providing nutrients to the plant, the manure layer also performs the role of mulch material, providing the much-required protection from water and wind to the peony tree.

Inorganic fertilizers are also essential in improving plant productivity. However, their use has long-term effects on the soil, and therefore a cautionary approach needs to be employed in the application.

Primarily, most inorganic fertilizers are toxic, and their application during fall may lead to the burning of the stalks, especially for the herbaceous peonies. Therefore, their use should be limited to the spring season when the weather is ideal for their absorption into the soil.

Moving The Peonies Plants

You might have been thinking of moving your peonies plants from one point to the other and wondering when is the best period to conduct this process. The fall and winter season is the ideal season that you have been probably waiting for.

Peonies trees that are moved during this season tend to have a high chance of surviving. However, this process should be conducted with immense caution as it is delicate, and if not well done, the chances of the moved tree dying off are high. The necessary steps to guarantee a seamless transition include the following:

  • Dig carefully around the peony plant base and once you attain a good depth, dig beneath the roots. In this step, care should be taken to ensure that one doesn’t destroy the plant’s fresh toot tubers.
  • After you have dug around the tree, the next step is unearthing the peony tree from the surface using a spade or shovel. This should be done while ensuring that the soil around the peony plant tree remains intact to increase survival chances after transplanting.
  • Move the peony plant to the required location in a hole of a similar depth to the one original dug during the unearthing. The aim of applying caution during this procedure is to ensure that the peony plant has identical conditions to those of the original habitat, which will increase the chances of survival. The soil in the new location should be well-drained and rich in minerals. The environment should have access to direct sunlight. The plant should also be watered regularly, and a mulch cover applied to prevent water loss via evaporation into the atmosphere.

See Also: Why Roses Are Wilting After Transplant?

Dividing Plants

This mainly applies to the herbaceous peonies. If you need to divide the existing plants to generate others, you can conduct the process seamlessly during the fall, as the weather is ideal for the procedure.

It is an important process that allows you to separate the peonies plants that have grown in one location for a long period, causing overcrowding that often leads to the development of unhealthy plants due to competition for nutrients and sunlight. The following are the steps that you should follow during the dividing process:

  • Begin by cutting back the foliage. This procedure is essential as it makes the digging process easier. It also ensures that the separated plant parts are less vegetative and hence lowering water loss through transpiration through the leaves.
  • Next, you should dig up the plant that you need to divide as carefully as in the moving procedure, taking caution not to destroy tubers. However, unlike in the moving process, the roots here are washed to remove the soil around.
  • Using a sharp knife that has been sterilized with alcohol, separate the peony plant into separate divisions for transplanting purposes. You should ensure that each division comprises at least three eyes and has a developed root system. The eyes are the points from where the new branches sprout from after a successful transplanting.
  • The divisions are ready for transplanting into the required new location. They should be placed at least two inches beneath the soil surface and watered regularly to facilitate fast growth and acclimatization to the new environment.

Final Words

The above-listed tips are the best means of ensuring that your peonies are well set for the fall and winter. For the best results, it is advisable to apply the respective precautionary measures as highlighted in each procedure to generate optimal results for your plants.

Also, beware of the specifications that exist for the individual plant type. All in all, seeing your peony plants through winter is an easy process that can be conducted at a very minimal cost for any gardener.

This is because the requisite tools for carrying out the various maintenance procedures can be locally acquired with a small budget. Also, there is little expertise required. It means that almost anyone can carry out the peony plant maintenance practices.

Remember that keeping your peony plant bush clean during winter is the primary means of steering clear from the prevalent diseases during the cold weather season.