Avoid Making This Crucial Mistake When Caring For Your Peonies In The Fall

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Avoid Making This Crucial Mistake When Caring For Your Peonies In The Fall

Peonies are a popular perennial flower that is loved by many. They are known for their stunning and reliable spring blooms that come in shades of pink, white, and red, making them a perfect choice for both formal and cottage gardens. In addition, they make excellent cut flowers. Peonies are low-maintenance plants, but you need to pay attention to some specific aspects of their growing conditions to keep them healthy. One important thing to note is that you should never use fertilizer on your peonies in the fall.

The reason behind this is that adding fertilizer in autumn may cause the plant to produce new growth, which could make it vulnerable to cold weather damage. Moreover, stimulating growth during the peony’s dormant season might affect its ability to bloom the following season. A well-grown peony requires a period of cold to rest and replenish its energy, allowing it to form buds and bloom in the spring.

Peonies are particularly sensitive to high-nitrogen fertilizers at this stage of the growing cycle. To be safe, avoid using any fertilizers in the fall, and only fertilize your peony in the spring, right after buds appear. If your plant has healthy, well-draining soil and is planted in a sunny location, it should not need fertilizers to form healthy blooms year after year.

How to nourish peonies

Peonies with dark pink petals

Emils Lukso/Shutterstock

The greatest food for peonies is rich garden soil. When planting, ensuring they have plenty of well-draining, loamy soil is the best way to give them a good start. Once your peonies are established, they shouldn’t need extra fertilizers. However, if you want to give them an extra boost in their first two or three years, a bit of balanced fertilizer in spring after buds appear may help the flowers become more vibrant. But mature peonies shouldn’t need fertilizer and will still reward you with beautiful blooms each year.

Peonies do enjoy some nourishment in the fall, however, to help feed them slowly during the winter months. It’s recommended that you put a light layer of aged manure or compost around the base of your peonies. This is called “top dressing,” and it adds some nutrients to the soil to be released slowly over the dormant period — preparing your peony for its active growth period starting in spring. Peonies like slightly acidic soil, so if you use mulch, a type of natural mulch, like shredded pine bark, breaks down slowly and adds some slightly acidic nutrients to the soil over time. Another soil amendment that helps acidity is used coffee grounds. These can be mixed in with your compost or manure and added to the top dressing in the fall. These amendments are also good for improving soil drainage, which helps peonies avoid root rot.

Improving blooms on your peonies

three pink peonies in bloom

Ania Samoilova/Shutterstock

When gardening with peonies in the fall, there are a few things to do to get them ready for winter. Autumn is the time to prune them back, and also, if you want to divide or move them, you should do this before the cold weather sets in. Peonies are very cold-hardy plants, but they need to be planted at the proper depth for the flowers to develop. Peonies get small bud-like growths called “eyes” on their roots; these pink or white eyes later become new stems with buds. Occasionally, you may see the top of an eye poking through the soil, and this means the base of the peony has become exposed (possibly by heavy rain or some wildlife). The eyes should be two to three inches beneath the surface of the soil, so if you see any poking through, add some soil over the top to make sure the roots are properly covered.

If you’re concerned about your peony not blooming properly, there may be two other factors to consider. First, it may not be getting enough sun. Peonies are long-lived, and over time, mature peonies may get over-shaded by trees or shrubs as they grow. If so, they’ll need to be relocated to a sunnier spot. Another factor may be planting depth; if peonies are planted too deep, they may struggle to form good buds.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.