By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Are peonies cold hardy? Is protection needed for peonies in winter? Don’t worry too much about your prized peonies, as these beautiful plants are extremely cold tolerant and can withstand subzero temperatures and winters as far north as USDA plant hardiness zone 3.
In fact, a lot of winter peony protection is ill-advised because these tough plants actually need about six weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees F. (4 C.) in order to produce blooms the following year. Read on for more information about peony cold tolerance.
Peonies love cold weather and they don’t need much protection. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure your plant remains healthy throughout the winter.
Tree peonies aren’t quite as tough as shrubs. If you live in a cold climate, wrapping the plant with burlap in late fall will protect the stems. Don’t cut tree peonies to the ground. Although, if this happens, there should be no long-term damage and the plant will soon rebound.
This article was last updated on
Remove the peony hoops if you used them to support your peony shrubs. Store them away over the winter for use next spring. Cut back all the stems so that they extend approximately 2 inches above the crown of the plant. The crown is the point where stems and roots meet.
Secondly, how do you take care of peonies in the fall? Summer: Herbaceous Peonies do best with an inch of water a week. Fall: Cut stems of Herbaceous Peonies back to soil level and remove from the area. Dig and divide plants now if necessary. Mulch new plantings with evergreen boughs or salt marsh hay after the ground freezes.
Herein, do peonies need to be covered in winter?
Peonies (Paeonia spp.) love a chilly winter for their annual rest called dormancy. However, when awake in the spring and facing a late frost just before bloom time, peonies can lose their buds. Peonies should be protected with a light cover if frost threatens.
Do I need to cut back my peonies?
Garden peonies are herbaceous, which means they die back to the ground each fall. Early fall or after the first frost is the ideal time to cut back the plants. Cutting peonies in the fall helps remove foliar diseases and reduce infection next year. Simply cut all the growth off at the soil level and discard.
Peonies are classic garden plants that can thrive for decades with minimal care when planted in a spot they like, in soil that meets their needs. One of the longest-lived of all garden plants, peonies are sometimes handed down from generation to generation in families. But it is very important to do the initial planting correctly because peonies can be temperamental about being moved once they are established.
Give each peony plant enough space to grow to maturity without being crowded. That means a 3- to 4-foot diameter for each plant. Peonies are especially prone to gray mold (botrytis) when planted too closely and air cannot flow freely between plants. Choose a location that is sheltered from strong winds. Plant your peonies well away from other trees and shrubs, since they don't like to compete for nutrients and water.
Peonies like a good chill in the winter. In order to set their flower buds, so peony roots should be planted relatively close to the soil surface—only about 2 to 3 inches deep. It may feel odd to leave roots so exposed, but peonies actually need this chilling to attain dormancy and set buds.
Bloom time for peonies varies from late spring to late summer, depending on variety, but all types are best planted in the fall, about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the plant time to settle in and establish roots before winter. This is especially true when planting bare root peonies or when transplanting, but even when planting potted peonies, fall planting gives better results than spring planting.
When mulching around tree peonies, keep the mulch at least 1 to 2 inches away from the stems. Lay the mulch several inches away from the crown of herbaceous peonies. This prevents moisture from building near the bark of the plants, which can result in disease or plant death. For the first winter, newly planted peonies should be mulched with organic material such as straw or evergreen boughs, or mound up the soil around them to prevent heaving of the roots. Remove the mulch in the spring before new growth begins.
Do not use manure to mulch peonies, unless you’ve worked it into the soil for a few years prior to planting. Manure requires consistently high temperatures to compost in or on top of the soil, so if another material is available, it’s best to use one that composts more rapidly instead. Do not use wood chips as mulch on your peonies or any other perennial bed. While this mulch material is acceptable for trees and shrubs, and looks attractive and neat in the landscape, it is not beneficial for peonies.
Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.
Peonies have been grown in Minnesota for more than 100 years. Pioneers carried peony starts with them as they settled the region, beginning a tradition of growing this herbaceous perennial in the cool Minnesota summers where peonies thrive. Cool summers also mean cold winters, however, and peonies die to the ground with the first hard frost. The hardy crown survives under the snow and sprouts readily the following spring, but despite their tough nature, peonies do need care when temperatures drop. Preparing your peonies for winter will keep them blooming next spring.
Cut back peonies within 2 inches of the ground after the first hard frost, when the plant shows obvious damage. Cutting down a peony earlier prevents the plant from storing food for the following spring. Although peonies survive an occasional early trimming, they are slowly weakened by overly eager gardeners who cut them down too early year after year. To prevent transferring potential disease from plant to plant, the University of Minnesota Extension suggests spraying or dipping pruning shears with a 10 percent bleach solution between cuts, especially if a plant shows signs of disease.
Clear any fallen leaves or other debris from the peony. Toss the cuttings in the trash. Keeping the area clear is the best prevention against botrytis and other fungal diseases. Don't compost peony trimmings fungal diseases may be dormant and could re-infect the plant.
Work compost into the first 2 inches of soil around the peony. Peonies are fast-growing plants that bloom heavily, and, although they are tough plants, they respond well to the extra boost. Compost will provide nutrients as the ground warms in spring, when the peony puts on the most growth.
Surround the peony with mulch. Deb Brown of the Minneapolis-St. Paul "Star Tribune" recommends placing 4 to 6 inches of mulch over perennials to insulate the ground and prevent peony crowns from heaving up during freeze-thaw cycles. It also provides extra protection for the peony during early thaws, when the plant may send up shoots if the ground is warmed too quickly. A thick layer of mulch also keeps the soil from drying in case of little or no snow.
Fungal diseases may not be visible on peony plants. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure clean pruning shears and remove any debris.
Tree peonies are woody shrubs that are winter-hardy. Do not cut or prune them for winter.