Cutting peonies - tutorial for a flawless cut

Cutting peonies - tutorial for a flawless cut

Peonies - an overview of the differences

Knowledgeable pruning on peonies takes into account striking differences in growth . The following table gives a summarized overview of the relevant categories with information on cutting requirements:

also read

  • Peonies: Cut back before overwintering
  • When exactly should you cut peonies?
  • Suitable companion plants for peonies
Perennial PeoniesIntersectional (Itoh) hybridsShrub Peonies
growthherbaceous shootslignified base, predominantly herbaceous flower stemsshrub-like, completely woody
Cutting needseach yeareach yearas required
best time to cutLate winter (February / March)Late winter (February / March)Late winter (March)
alternative timeautumnautumnnone

Autumn is not an alternative date for pruning shrub peonies as required. The cause is the risk of frost damage. As with all shrubs, every cut causes adequate, initially herbaceous-soft shoots. Shortly before the onset of winter, the time window is not open long enough for fresh shoots to mature, lignify and be prepared for frost. Even a few degrees below freezing point leave pronounced frost damage, which in the worst case affects the entire peony bush.

Cut perennial peonies at ground level

Peonies in this category thrive on herbaceous shoots that produce impressive flowers in spring. These shoots come from so-called overwintering buds, which have spent the cold season deep around the ground on the thickened roots. After the floral spring fairy tale in the bed and tub, the shoots gradually move in and die off after the first frost. Ideally, the dead parts of the plant function as natural winter protection for some time. How to properly prune perennial peonies:

  • The best time is in late winter
  • Alternatively, prune in autumn when all leaves and shoots have moved in
  • Clean and sharpen the cutting tool
  • Cut back all shoots to 5 to 10 cm

Thus, perennial peonies do not differ from other garden perennials such as phlox, aster or foxglove. The permanent alternation between becoming and fading with a frost-resistant root as the starting point guarantees that the blossoms will unfold anew every year. The main task of pruning is to create space for the fresh shoot.

If you decide to cut back in autumn, please wait until all parts of the plant are completely absorbed . This process is important for your peony's continued existence. Important nutrients are shifted from the old leaves to the rhizome as an energy reserve for the next year's shoot.


Trimming promotes blooming

When inspecting your garden in spring, scissors should be handy. Regular trimming of wilted flowers increases the abundance of flowers and improves the chances of wasteful second flowering. On perennial peonies, cut either the withered stems back to 10 centimeters above the ground or just the withered inflorescence. On shrub peonies, remove withered flowers to just above the next, healthy pair of leaves. This cut clears the way for previously shaded or dormant buds, which are then brought to life by the sunlight.

Cut Itoh hybrids moderately

Intersectional - Itoh for short - hybrids are a successful cross between shrub and perennial peonies. Starting from a woody base, strong stems sprout each spring on which the picturesque flower heads are enthroned. As a result, Itoh peonies play in a league with popular semi-shrubs such as lavender and rosemary. However, Itoh hybrids have the advantage that they can cheerfully sprout fresh shoots even from old wood. How to Properly Cut Intersectional Peony Varieties:

  • The best time is in late winter, in good time before budding begins
  • Place scissors over the woody shoots
  • Ideally, cut at a slight angle at a short distance from one eye

The lignified parts of a shoot should remain standing for good reason. Often there are valuable buds on these approaches that sprout fresh in spring. However, the majority of this year's flower stalks develop directly from the hibernating buds of the rhizome. It is therefore not a cause for concern if one or the other lignified shoot stump dies in spring.


With bypass secateurs, you are well equipped for pruning herbaceous peonies. Two sharp blades create smooth cut surfaces that close quickly. For a cut in woody shoots, rose or pruning shears are perfect, which ideally also have a bypass mechanism. To thin out an old shrub peony, master the wood with an agile folding saw.

Cut shrub peonies if necessary

For shrub peonies, a cutting date is rarely noted on the care plan. In contrast to their herbaceous counterparts, the flowering shrubs naturally develop a harmonious silhouette with abundant blossom wood. Uncut, shrub peonies gain in splendor and size over time, which cannot be improved by any pruning. There are, of course, two exceptions that suggest using scissors or a saw:

Stimulate branching

If the location does not have ideal conditions, shrub peonies are stingy when it comes to sprouting side branches. You don't have to be satisfied with two bare scaffolding shoots. The sedate growth gets going by ordering the flowering bush to be pruned vigorously in spring. How to proceed professionally:

  • Cut back sparsely branched ground shoots by half to two thirds
  • Best interface: 5 mm above a bud facing outwards
  • Lowest point of intersection: 30 cm above the ground

Measure the circumference of the cut according to this rule of thumb: the sparse the current branching, the more powerful the cut back. The growth law of peak funding comes into play here. As a result, buds on shoot tips are preferred and supplied with nutrients under high pressure. By cutting off the upper parts of the shoot, the sap pressure increases on the remaining buds, which now sprout vigorously.

The radical cut has its price. At least for this year the flowering time is canceled. With a large portion of compost and horn shavings (€ 6.39 at Amazon *) or an organic complete fertilizer, you can support the flowering bush as it grows again.

Repair snow pressure damage

Shrub peonies thrive on brittle wood. The branches break easily under the load of large amounts of snow. If the crown is otherwise dense and evenly shaped, cut off the damaged shoot below the break. As a starting point for scissors or a saw, choose an eye on the outside so that the fresh wood grows in the right direction.

If there is significant damage from snow or storms, a rejuvenation cut regulates the problem. According to the Federal Nature Conservation Act, the time for the deep pruning extends from October 1 to February 28. Cut or saw off all main shoots up to a height of 30 centimeters. Woody peonies will sprout reliably from old wood if it is a well-rooted shrub. Under this condition, there is sufficient root pressure so that new shoots sprout from old branch stumps.

This video offers an easily understandable explanation of the difference between perennial and shrub peonies and the right pruning care:



Plant pruning optimizes shrub peonies

In the case of perennial peonies and intersectional hybrids, you can delete a plant pruning without replacement. If your peony thrives as a shrub, the beauty of the flowers will benefit from this type of pruning for a lifetime. In the first spring after planting, cut off all shoots above the first or second bud from below. The resulting sap jam causes strong branching at the base. The first flowering period falls victim to the cut. In return, you optimize a stable, stable shrub structure whose branches reliably support the heavy flower heads.

frequently asked Questions

Are Peonies Poisonous?

Unfortunately, the magnificent peonies also have a dark side, because they are permeated by the poisonous alkaloid paeonin. If you like to decorate hot and cold dishes with colorful flower petals, peonies are not suitable for this purpose. Please do not use the green parts of the plant as food for pets such as hamsters, rabbits or budgies. Even horses, cows or goats can suffer from severe symptoms of poisoning when eating the clippings.

We would like to transplant our perennial peonies to a sunnier location. When is the best time? What should we watch out for?

When perennial peonies gradually retreat in autumn, it is the best time to move. Cut all shoots back to 5 to 10 inches. Then dig out the root ball so that the plants can take as much soil as possible with them and only little root mass is lost. Put peonies in the new place just as deeply as before. The eyes on the bulbous roots should be covered with soil no more than 5 cm. In the subsequent period, ensure that there is an adequate water supply.

What is the difference between rustic peony and shrub peony in terms of pruning care?

A farmer's peony is also known as a herbaceous peony because it thrives with herbaceous shoots. In terms of pruning, the opulent classics from the cottage garden do not differ from other perennials. A pruning close to the ground in autumn or spring is sufficient for them to sprout again. In contrast, perennial peonies lignify from the base over the years. Their harmonious growth develops without regular pruning measures. An exception applies to damage caused by snow pressure or to improve branching.

The semi-shrubby peony 'Cora Louise' has been growing uncut in our garden for several years. When and how far is a cut possible?

Semi-shrubby peonies, so-called Itoh hybrids, behave essentially like perennials. In autumn, leaves and shoots slowly dry up above ground. Throughout the winter, the dead plant parts protect the rhizome naturally from moisture and frost. Before the shoots appear in late winter, you can cut the peony just above the woody shoots. Please pay attention to whether and where new buds are already present. There is no cut at these points or you can set the scissors a bit higher.

Are peonies just as affected by soil fatigue as roses?

Indeed it is. Do not plant new peonies in a location where peonies have already been in the limelight. Otherwise, stunted growth is inevitable as a result of soil fatigue. If there has been a peony at this point in the previous 2 years, a floor change can solve the problem. In all other cases, we recommend a break of at least 4 years until you reintroduce peonies.

The 3 most common mistakes

This year's shoots have a hard time finding their way through the dead leaves on an uncut herbaceous peony. Those who like to let nature run free in the garden will struggle with their peonies with blooming laziness. This does not apply to shrubby species of peonies, which are by no means to be cut like a perennial, but are only a case for the scissors when necessary. The following table summarizes the 3 most common pruning errors in peonies with tips for expert prevention:

Cutting errorsDamageprevention
Perennial peony never cutdeclining flowering capacitycut every year in late winter
Shrub peony cut like perennialuneven growth, dense network of thin shootsCut shrub peony only when necessary
not cleaned upunkempt appearance, short flowering periodCut off dead flowers

Cunning pests and pathogens speculate on another frequent lapse in pruning. The uninvited guests prefer to use contaminated cutting tools as a means of transport in order to gain access to peonies. Please do not fail to treat the blade or saw blade with hot water and alcohol before and after a cut.


Peonies like to celebrate their picturesque flower festival in the house. All peonies are suitable for vase cutting, regardless of their species or variety. Cut flower stems with solid colored buds that feel nice and soft when pressed lightly. Ideally, leave two leaves per stem above the water to take care of the flowers. So that the plant can cope with the vase cut, you should cut out a maximum of a third of the flower stalks.