Peonies are a cherished addition to the home landscape. Long-lived and dependable, peony plants are prized for their gorgeous blooms and seasonal beauty. Despite their ease of growth, however, they need some special attention. This is especially true as temperatures begin to cool. How to care for them in the fall depends greatly upon the type of peony.
Fall Care for Established Peonies
Cut Back Foliage
Peony care in fall starts with the arrival of cooler weather. By this time, the plant’s foliage is probably already starting to deteriorate. Yellowing or spotted leaves are especially unattractive and often denote the presence of disease. By the first freeze of the season it’s likely that the plant’s foliage will have died back completely. Once this occurs, all foliage can be trimmed back to the soil level. All plant matter should be removed from the garden and disposed of to prevent the likelihood of disease in the coming season.
Divide, If Needed
Fall care for peony plants may also involve division. This is a good choice when the plants become exceptionally large, or when you simply wish to multiply your favorite varieties. Removing all foliage from the plant is the first step of this process.
To divide a peony, first dig around the plant, carefully working in a large circle. Since an established root system can be quite extensive, make your best effort to clear as much of it from the soil as possible. Cut apart the roots, making certain to leave at least 3-5 eyes on each section. New roots can then be planted directly into the garden.
Peonies can be fertilized early in the season, before the production of flowers. The plants will also benefit from feeding in the fall. Sidedressing peonies with a balanced, slow-release granular feed is preferred, aiding in root development before the arrival of winter. For the best results, make certain to avoid fertilizers that are especially high in nitrogen.
Fall Care for New Peonies
Plant Tubers or Divided Peonies
Fall is the ideal time to plant peony tubers and divided roots. Planting in autumn will allow for a longer period of establishment before new growth begins in spring. Peony roots should be planted into well-amended beds with each growing eye facing upward. Be careful not to plant too deeply, as doing so may negatively affect the peony’s ability to bloom.
After planting, water each new peony root thoroughly. This will help the soil to settle, as well as aid in growth. New plantings of peonies only seldom require supplemental water throughout the winter. However, they can be watered if conditions are especially dry or warm.
After planting, you may want to apply some light mulch atop new peony beds. While mulching will help to protect the roots from the cold, it will also prevent heaving. Heaving occurs when plants are lifted from soil due to seasonal fluctuations in temperature, like cycles of freezing and thawing. All mulch should be removed from beds in the spring, before new growth begins to emerge from the soil.
Tree Peony Fall Care
Much like with an established herbaceous peony, fall care for tree peonies requires fertilization. Plants can be side-dressed with a balanced, slow-release feed just after their leaves have started to fall. Avoid feeds with high amounts of nitrogen, as the primary goal at this time is not to encourage leaf growth, but to aid in root development.
Tree peonies grow exceptionally well when mulched. In fact, the plants will benefit from the use of a generous layer, spanning towards their dripline. Mulching will also help to regulate temperature and maintain soil moisture levels throughout the season. Some growers have even found hilling the plant to be an effective management technique.
Itoh Peony Care in the Fall
Care for Itoh peonies in fall is very similar to that of herbaceous types. After the foliage has died back, each plant can be trimmed to soil level. Plant matter can then be removed from the garden. Though new plantings may require mulch in their first season, established Itoh peonies will require exposure to cold temperatures throughout winter in order to bloom their best.