Do you prune your tree peonies?

aachenelf z5 MplsMay 2, 2014

I only have one of these - about 20 years old - and other than removing dead wood, I must admit I've never done any pruning to speak of. After reading a few articles about pruning, I'm thinking maybe I need to do something this year not only to bring it back to a size better fitting to the space it occupies, but maybe I could improve its shape.

Any experience doing this? It seems like I might sacrifice some blooms this year. Did you find this to be true?


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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Yes. I prune to shape right *after* blooming - blooms set on old wood.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 8:14PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I've never pruned mine either. Actually, I don't particularly like the ones I have and have considered, at times, removing them - but I figure it'd likely be a PITA to do, so just leave them be.... Mine always get some sort of fungal(?) disease on the leaves by late summer, so the leaves get ugly and I end up stripping off the leaves in late August! A neighbour has a beautiful one with flowers of a mix of yellow and pink - looks like some sort of fruit sorbet :-) Mine is just an unexceptional dark pink. Twenty years old is old indeed - what is yours like? Pictures....?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 8:17PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

woody - Mine is an unknown red of some sort. It's pretty in bloom, but it does take up a lot of space. You really can't grow these just for the blooms because they seem to be so short lived around here. If the weather remains cool, I might get a week out of the flowers. Luckily I think it also makes a nice green shrub.
Sorry, no pics.

mxk - In regards to pruning, everything I've read so far says to prune in late winter or early spring which seems to suggest one would sacrifice flowers that year. I've also read you can prune after flowering, but the plant will take longer to recover. I'm not sure what I'm going to do.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:11AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Yours sounds a bit like mine - unknown variety; short bloom period; basically a green shrub (with an ugly late summer phase in my case!), although yours sounds larger - I can't remember when I planted mine but I'm guessing about 10 years ago so mine are younger than yours.

The RHS Advice information says this re pruning tree peonies:
'Tree peonies require minimal pruning. Just remove flowered shoots cutting back just above new growth in summer or in the autumn if seeds are desired. Over time the stems may become leggy. Removal of the oldest stems down to the base in the autumn after leaf-fall encourages bushier growth [..........] It is best not to attempt hard renovation pruning especially if the plant was grafted.' I know mine are grafted because herbaceous growth sometimes appears at the base. I leave it be in hopes that it make take over! Sometimes some pretty, single, pale pink flowers appear on that growth - and I much prefer them to the tree peonies! I have considered cutting off the woody part entirely and may do that at some point.

You can see one of the tree peonies in the picture below. They usually bloom with the Chinese wisteria 'tree' - and both the peonies and the wisteria only bloom for about a week. Very showy in bloom though so it's always a week we look forward to. A short bloom period is not sufficient reason, IMO, to not grow something. In an ever-changing garden display, flash-in-the-pan ornamentals have a place if they have sufficient Diva-power! :-)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:51AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I totally disagree with the advice re: prune in late winter/early spring. Now, I wouldn't wait until late summer (because flower buds set on old wood), but soon after flowering is fine - I've had mine for a long time, always prune after flowering, and trust me all is well. Don't be fooled by their beauty - these are tough plants, they do not need to be coddled (as Ken would say - they are not foo foo plants)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 10:59AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

This one is somewhere around 18 years old. I have pruned her a couple times since this photo was taken a few years ago and she still blooms gloriously every year:

These are younger, maybe 4-5 years, something like that:

A newbie, maybe 3 or so years old:

Believe me now? :0)

BTW: The plants are tough, but the flowers are not. They will be destroyed in high winds or pounding rain. Note the placement of the white one - I don't get weather damage on her. The red and pink ones are in more exposed locations, and some years I might only get to enjoy the lusty blooms for a day before they're wrecked. So, placement does matter in terms of bloom enjoyment.

As far as foliage, the bold leaves look great in shrub beds/borders and the plant overall is well-behaved. Even if I have a year where I don't get to enjoy the flowers much, the shrub itself gets top marks. :0)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 11:24AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I think you may be misreading the RHS advice... They are saying two things:
1) after flowering, prune to just above new growth (unless you want to collect seed - in which case wait until fall to prune off this year's flowered bits so the seeds have a chance to ripen)
2) if it gets too leggy, prune some of the stems down in fall to encourage bushy new growth the following spring.

That seems to make sense to me as it covers both encouraging new growth in spring each year and how/when to prune to reshape/rejuvenate an older shrub. So I don't see a conflict between their advice and what you are doing mxk3.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 12:23PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Not the RHS advice; rather, the original statement Kevin made regarding what he has read.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 12:36PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

OK - that makes more sense.... :-)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 12:59PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year, but here's an example of what I've read regarding spring pruning. I'm not saying either is correct, but maybe spring pruning is better for reshaping a plant even though you'll probably sacrifice flowers.

Here is a link that might be useful: pruing

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:25PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

I have only one, which is at least 20 years old, but has never achieved any size. I had serious winter die-back this year. It is budding nicely on the bottom third, however. Perhaps based on what was said above, mine will be bushier this year.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 11:05PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

linnea - I think I may be in the same situation as you. Everything is so late this year including my tree peony, but as of right now it appears there might have been a lot of die-back on mine too. I'm going to give it a bit more time, but about the top 1/4 or so of all the branches appears to be dead.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 11:13AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

I'm having the same issue with my tree peonies after this winter, although not quite as much die-back as others are describing. Are you seeing new shoots from the base? This year I am seeing way more shoots on a good majority of mine than other years. I remember one really, really bad winter with heavy snowfall when one of my large tree peonies had a great number of branches snapped off entirely. I was so bummed when I saw it, but then noticed a whole bunch of new growth from the base and it actually filled in much fuller.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 11:22AM
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mxk3, your plants are gorgeous!

I have new trees, but I see that they are lanky. I will try what you suggest.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 6:23PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

thyme - Yes I am seeing more growth from the near the base.

I finally got around to spending some time with my TP today and the winter die-back was worse than I thought. I went branch by branch and ended up cutting almost all of them back by 1/2 or more. There's a lot of new growth sprouting from down below, so at least the plant will recover at some point in time and probably be bushier too. I doubt I will get many blooms this year.

At least the pruning is done.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:59PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

Kevin, I spent some quality time with all of mine this past weekend and there are a few that are in quite bad shape. I'm hoping for some new sprouts but while some have quite a few, others don't...........I don't know why I let these plants torture me! I love them but hold my breath each year when they bloom that we don't have heat, rain, wind, or anything else besides beautiful, still 70 degree days for a week! LOL! Their blooms just knock my socks off!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 5:02PM
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I have a red one and a gorgeous yellow one (about 20 years) and have never pruned. I DID have to move the yellow one because of construction and I will GUESS that these shrubs do not like to be moved because it took probably 3/4 years for it to recover. I think they are fabulous in bloom and I love their leaves when not >.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 7:21AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

My pruning is exactly like mxk's. Right after blooming, or while blooming if you want to bring the bloom in the house for a few days. I am pruning for the shape of the tree, sometimes leaving NO foliage, but new growth breaks out immediately. Al

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:14AM
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