Are Peonies Perennials? Do They Come Back Every Year?

Peonies are beautiful flowers that have been cultivated for thousands of years. They originate from China and are the floral symbol for this country. But are peonies perennials, and do they come back every year?

Peonies are perennials and will come back every year. Peonies will start to die down in the fall. But, they will regrow in spring. Some peonies have been known to last over 100 years in the same spot.

Peonies tend to thrive in cooler climates and can withstand even the harshest winter conditions. How can peonies survive even in climates that have very cold winters? Read on to learn more about these hardy perennials.

Do Peonies Come Back Every Year?

Peonies are perennials. That means that peonies will come year after year. In late summer, the leaves will start to change their color. First, the color will change from green to yellow. Then, the leaves will turn red and finally brown. The plant will usually die back in autumn and then regrow again in spring.

Peonies can repeat that cycle many times. Some peonies are known to live and bloom for over 100 years. That means that they can live longer than a human.

Peonies grow from an underground tuber, just like irises. These tubers store all the nutrients for the following season’s growth. In fact, they need around six weeks of chill time (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celsius) every year to produce their glorious blooms in the following spring and summer.

Once the plant has finished flowering and the weather starts to cool down, the foliage will also brown and die back to allow the plant to overwinter successfully. Without this very important chill time, the plant is unlikely to bloom the following year.

How To Prepare Your Peonies For The Winter

In general, peonies don’t require a huge amount of maintenance as they are fairly hardy plants and will often thrive on neglect. However, if you want your peonies to put on a spectacular display, there are some things you can do.

Firstly, the tubers do need to be close to the surface. Otherwise, they may not produce a huge number of flowers. Therefore, make sure that you don’t bury them too deep when you first plant them. It’s also not necessary and not really recommended to mulch these plants.

Like most tuber-grown flowering plants, peonies only produce one set of flowers every year, in late spring to summer. Therefore, deadheading them will not produce another flush.

You should, however, snip off any spent blooms. This will prevent the plant from putting all its energy into producing seeds and direct it back into storing valuable nutrients into the tuber.

Remove Spent Flowers

Most peonies will grow their blooms in huge clusters. If just one or two of these blooms are starting to die off, you can just snip them off below the spent flower head. This is commonly referred to as disbudding.

Once the entire cluster has finished, you can clip this off to the first set of leaves below the cluster. Most importantly, make sure that you don’t cut these off too soon because this could inhibit the following year’s flowering.

Peonies also make excellent cut flowers. Wait until the blooms are fully open to cut them for displaying in a vase indoors. Cut peonies should last for at least a week. You could put a little sugar in the water in the vase. This will help to preserve them a little longer.

Remove The Foliage In The Fall

After your peonies have completed their beautiful flush of flowers, wait until you start to see the foliage go brown. This will most likely happen in the fall as the temperature starts to drop.

You can now cut the stems and foliage almost back to ground level. Be careful when you’re doing this, as you only want to remove this season’s growth. Make sure that you don’t remove any of the pink buds that might be visible at ground level, as these are the beginning of next season’s growth.

Preparing Tree Peonies For Winter

While herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) will die back every year during the winter months, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) do not and are generally hardier than the varieties grown from tubers. In fact, tree peonies are much more like woody shrubs such as rose bushes and can be treated in a similar way to these.

Tree peonies do become dormant in the winter and will lose their foliage. However, their stems don’t die back and form the basis of the following season’s growth and flowering.

But, if your winters are very harsh, some of the woody stems may die off. In this case, you should wait until early spring to give them a general tidy-up. Remove any dead stems by cutting them back to an outwardly growing bud.

Interestingly, if your tree peonies have become quite sparse and are not looking their best, you can actually cut them back to ground level, and the shrub will grow back. However, you might find that your tree peonies will not produce any significant blooms for a couple of years.

How To Take Care Of Your Peonies Over Winter

If you forget to cut back your peonies, don’t worry because the foliage will die back automatically as the temperature drops and the plants go dormant. You can then tidy up the plant in the springtime when it starts to come to life again.

Although peonies don’t like to be mulched, you can add around an inch of shredded bark or straw. This is especially good if it’s the plant’s first winter in the ground. Remember to remove this mulch in the springtime, though, as the tubers do like to have some exposure to the sun and warmth to flower well.

Fertilize Peonies In Spring

Peonies do not require regular yearly fertilizing. In fact, they should only be fertilized every few years with an organic fertilizer such as animal manure or bone meal.

If you want to encourage strong growth and healthy blooms, you should apply an organic fertilizer that is high in potassium in the spring, just as the new growth starts to appear. Apply the fertilizer in a ring around the base of the plant and avoid getting any on the crown or tuber of the peonies. Make sure you water this in so that it gets down to the roots of the plant.

Can You Grow Peonies In Every Climate Zone?

Peonies are best suited to cooler climates and don’t flower all that well in sub-tropical and tropical zones. Therefore, they’re not really suitable for gardeners who live in climate zones that don’t experience cold winters.

Most peonies will grow really well in USDA growing zones from 3 to 8. They also grow well in other countries that experience very cold weather as long as they get plenty of sunshine in the warmer months.

Commercial growers in warmer climates will generally grow peonies in pots and place these into a cool room to give the plants the chill time that they need to produce their glorious blooms. This is similar to other cool-climate flowers such as daffodils and tulips. It’s also the reason why you can often buy flowers that are not “in season” at your local flower shop.

By controlling the growing environment, these commercial growers can produce flowers all year round to meet the demand for them.

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