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Expert pruning is one of the cornerstones of peony care. The lavish flower beauties thrive as herbaceous perennials or woody ornamental shrubs. So that the romantic peonies actually reach their legendary age, the optimal cut pays special attention to the different growth. From the ideal point in time to the perfect cutting tool to the correct cut, these 10 tips sum up all aspects. How to properly prune your perennial and shrub peonies.

perennial peonies

The peasant peony (Paeonia officinalis) and the Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora) are the most well-known representatives within the genus. We have these floral gems to thank for a romantic blossom festival in spring with bulging blossoms in beautiful colours. What the species and varieties have in common is that they withdraw completely into their rootstock in autumn and thus survive the winter.

To cut

In the spring, perennial peonies happily sprout again from the buds dormant in the ground and repeat the floral masterpiece over an incredible period of up to 100 years.

Tip: The best time to cut perennial peonies is in autumn

After their flowering period, perennial peonies adorn the summer garden with their green foliage. Anyone who already grabs the scissors will affect their legendary lifespan. Instead, the maintenance program continues with a well-measured portion of compost to help set the next buds deep in the ground. Only when a perennial peony has drawn in all its stems and leaves between October and November is it cut. Discolored, wilted leaves and stems are a visible indication that your peonies are absorbing the nutrient residues they contain and storing them in the rootstock. Growth and willingness to flower next year benefit from these reserves.

Tip: Cut off perennial peonies close to the ground

When all parts of the plant above ground have moved in, they have fulfilled their task and can move away.

How to do it right:

  • cut off all visible plant parts of a perennial peony in autumn
  • place the scissors just above the ground
  • do not leave the clippings in the bed

A thin layer of compost mulch is beneficial for protecting the overwintering buds in the rootstock.

Tip: Pruning perennial peonies with disinfected bypass scissors

Every cut on perennial peonies is a welcome target for pests and pathogens. The smoother the cut and cleaner the blade, the lower the risk of infection. Therefore, use bypass scissors to cut the herbaceous stems. It has two sharp blades. By squeezing the handles, the blades slide past each other, leaving the smallest possible cut. Before cutting back, please wipe the blades with a cloth soaked in alcohol to avoid accidentally transferring pathogens to them.

tree peonies

In contrast to the perennials within the genus, tree peonies grow up to 300 cm long, woody shoots. In autumn, the ornamental shrubs shed their leaves and have already created the buds for next year's spring bloom. Because of their upright habit and majestic size, Paeonia suffruticosa are also known as tree peonies.

Tip: The best time to cut shrub peonies is in late winter

To cut

Shrub peonies are less frost tolerant than their herbaceous counterparts. For this reason, pruning is only done in late winter or early spring, in good time before the new shoots. Until then, the shoot tips act as a natural cold buffer for the buds underneath. Therefore, please choose a date between the end of January and the end of February if you are planning an extensive shape and maintenance cut. From March 1st, the Federal Nature Conservation Act only allows for light care cuts, for example to cut off frozen branches.

Tip: Rose or pruning shears are perfect for cutting peony bushes

The growth of young tree peonies is comparable to roses or grapevines. Thus, a rose or pruning shears are ideal for the cut. These are based on bypass technology, whereby a curved, sharp blade slides past a straight, sharp blade. If you cultivate shrub peonies as a hedge, the specialist trade offers electric or cordless pruning shears for effortless cutting.

From the age of 10 to 15 years, the older shoots are so lignified that a stable hand saw can now ensure smooth cuts. It is important to note that you sharpen and disinfect the blades of scissors or saws regularly.

Tip: Pruning peony bushes according to the minimum principle

Tree peonies do not need topiary for their breathtaking abundance of flowers and elegant growth habit. On the contrary, with every pruning there is a risk of irretrievably removing buds that have already been created. Therefore, cut the flowering bushes according to the minimum principle: the desired goal of a magnificent, healthy shrub peony is achieved with a minimal pruning, which does not remove more than is absolutely necessary.

The use of scissors is only necessary in the following exceptional cases:

  • Cut deadwood close to the ground
  • Cut back frozen branches into healthy wood
  • Thin out the weaker shoots from branches that are too close together

If there is still dead foliage on the branches, it will be removed in connection with the cleaning cut. Since the danger of fungal infections is omnipresent on peonies, this measure can also be taken in autumn.

Tip: Cut off wild shoots promptly

The most beautiful tree peonies thrive as grafts on a robust wild base. When planting, they are planted so deep in the ground that over the years the scions will take root and the rootstock will become superfluous. Until then, the game base is constantly trying to drive through. This striving can be seen in wild shoots that point steeply upwards and have smaller leaves. Remove these water shoots immediately so that they do not overgrow the grafted part of the plant.

Itho hybrids

Intersectional hybrids

They are the ultimate in breeding peonies. Intersectional hybrids - Itho hybrids for short - create an ingenious bridge between perennial and tree peonies. A stroke of genius was achieved by a Japanese breeder who brought forth a new generation that combines all the virtues of both types of the noble genus. Strains with this dual pedigree possess the hardiness of perennials and the stability of shrubs. The lignified shoot skeleton becomes stronger from year to year and forms the basis for fresh shoots after the winter. These innovative peonies are characterized by healthy, decorative foliage, loosely filled flowers, compact growth and a long life expectancy.

Tip: The best pruning time for Itho hybrids is in late winter

To cut

Depending on the local winter climate, Itho peonies will more or less freeze back. So wait until the end of winter before pruning. At this time you can easily see whether frost damage has occurred in order to regulate it.

If your garden is in a region with mild winters within the Z8 winter hardiness zone, you are free to cut your Itho peonies back to the woody shoots in late autumn.

Tip: Itho peonies cut like subshrubs

As the happy medium between a herbaceous perennial and a woody shrub, the pruning of intersectional peonies is comparable to subshrubs. In the spring, the Asian flowering wonders sprout again either directly from the rootstock or from the woody shoots. To make room for this year's flowering generation, prune Itho peonies like this.

  • Cut back young Itho peonies to a hand’s breadth above the ground
  • Prune older plants down to the woody base
  • Prune frozen branches down to healthy wood

Please do not leave the clippings in the bed to reduce the risk of fungal infections. The slightly poisonous plant parts should only be disposed of on the compost if animals do not have access to them.

Tip: Trimming ensures an extra long flowering period

This last tip about the professional pruning of perennial and tree peonies applies to all species and varieties. By cleaning out faded flowers in a timely manner, you make room for more flowers. This measure increases the chance of reblooming in many varieties. At the same time you prevent the exhausting growth of seed heads.

How to proceed professionally:

  • Cut off wilted blossoms on shrub peonies down to the next pair of leaves
  • on perennial peonies, cut stems with withered flowers 5-10 cm above the ground

Consistent cleaning of withered blossoms is particularly worthwhile on tree peonies, since the blossoms open at different times. If you heed this tip, the flower beauties will maintain a well-groomed appearance and will be encouraged to develop more buds.

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