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I have several different peonies in my garden so in this guide, I’m going to tell you what you need to do to make sure your peonies make it through long cold winters. Winter care for peonies starts in the autumn and there’s some work to be done whether your peonies are growing in your garden or in pots on your patio. Personally, I have them growing in borders and large raised beds as shown in the image below.
Cut back the peonies is optional but I always cut them back
Cutting back the peonies in the late autumn is actually an optional step. There are pros and cons for waiting until the foliage starts to die and cutting everything down to ground level. I like to keep my borders tidy in autumn so I always cut mine back to ground level.
Why I prefer to peonies back
I think cutting them back has several advantages, firstly, you get rid of all the dead blooms and foliage so pests and diseases can’t live in there over the winter time. This is a big point as many pests and diseases that attack peonies spend their winter in dead and dying foliage over winter. The second reason I cut them back is that the peonies will not look messy over the cold months – you can’t see it at all and I think bare soil looks better.
On the cons side of the equation, if you don’t cut them back in autumn, the leaves and stems die a natural death and fall down to the ground. Although they then turn mushy, this provides some protection for the new shoots that develop in the spring. You still have to clean up the plant in the spring, being careful of the new shoots in the process. Personally, I just cut them back hard in Autumn and have not had any issues with the shoots being exposed in spring.
Water if necessary
Winter care for your peonies includes slow watering if the cold weather season is dry. Although the plant is dormant, the roots still need water. And if they’re not getting any from melting snow or occasional showers, you need to provide it yourself. Remember, though, that peonies hate to be over-watered. So apply any water sparingly. Personally, I very rarely have to water them in winter but where I live we seem to get out fair share of rain
Treat newly planted peonies with special winter care, this is when they’re most at risk from cold winters
When it comes to newly planted peonies, I always give them some special winter care as well as peonies I have transplanted such as when I divide them every few years. For their first winter consider applying a layer of organic mulch around the plant. I use a few inches of bark but you can also straw, leaf mould or a thick layer of compost. Alternatively, you can make a mound of the soil around the plant but be careful not to mound too much soil as this can prevent flowering which I found out the hard way. All this serves to stop the roots (which are near the surface) from being damaged by hard frost.
In spring I try to remove the mulch before the new buds and shoots grow. I also like to use flower ring supports as shown below to stop peonies from falling over when they are tall and top heavy.
Tree peonies are different
Most of people grow the shrub kinds of peonies including myself. However, I have a very large tree peony in the front garden. These lose their leaves in winter but the trunk and branches remains, bare-leafed. if you have a small one, I recommend wrapping your tree peonies in fleece at the beginning of winter to keep them protected through the frosts and cold winds of winter. For larger ones there usually hardy enough and I just apply a layer of mulch around the base of the shrub/tree.
For peonies in pots
Like all plants grown in pots, peonies in pots are not protected as much as peonies in the ground. They feel the cold more. Winter care for these peonies can be to move the pots inside a cool covered structure such as a greenhouse. Or into a cold room in your home such as an unheated conservatory. Peonies need a cool environment to become dormant and rest, so don’t put them anywhere too warm. You could also leave the pot outside in a sheltered place and wrap it in burlap around the pot to protect the roots. I usually just put mine in the greenhouse or against a wall where they seem to have enough protection.