By OCMGA Master Gardener Steve Schultz (article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 newsletter
“The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty,” wrote garden writer Henry Mitchell. Of course, he was speaking about my obsession, the peony! I’ve lost count of the different peonies in my garden, but my guess would be that I have about 25 the last time I looked. And yes, I found a ragged Coral Charm peony at Lowe’s last week that cried for me to take it home. Now I have to find that open area to plant it. That could be a bit difficult.
As we come to the fall of the year, there are often questions about seasonal care. The care really depends on the type of peony you have.
If you have the type of peonies that your great grandmother grew, it is probably an herbaceous peony. In short, it dies completely to the ground each winter. After the first killing frost, you can clean up these peonies with your clippers. I leave about three inches showing so I know where they are in the garden. I have also left the dead foliage until spring and all seems fine. The only time you really want to get rid of the foliage is when you have any kinds of mildew during the summer. Then it’s important to dispose of the foliage to prevent the spread of the mildew. Do not compost or you will simply perpetuate the problem!
Do you have intersectional peonies such as Bartzella? These are a cross with herbaceous and tree peonies. The care is identical to that of the herbaceous peonies. Simply remove the dead foliage and in spring you will see all new growth coming out of the ground.
Tree peonies have an entirely different kind of care. Do not cut them to the ground in the fall! Their leaves, buds and flowers come off the woody stems. I wait until spring to remove any stems that seem dead. This will be obvious because they will have no leaves and will look dried out. I also put chicken wire frames and mulch around my tree peonies right before the first snowfall or below zero temps. I think that the rabbits would love a mid-winter snack and I’m not go- ing to oblige them!
Taking care of your peonies this fall will prepare them for a nice nap this winter so you can rejoice in their beauty this spring!
Some of Steve’s peonies