9 Reasons Peonies Don’t Bloom

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20180619A Renee Firmingham. www.publicdomainpictures.net.jpg

Some people have trouble getting peonies to bloom. Read on to learn why! Source: Renee Firmingham. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

The garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora) is among the most popular and reliable temperate climate perennials. Most gardeners are more than satisfied with the results they get: their plants bloom in late spring or early summer and produce a profusion of large flowers, often double, frequently delightfully scented. Just the plant they need to decorate their gardens or fill buckets full of cut flowers. And peonies are very long-lived: plants, many still thriving after more than 40 years in the garden, still blooming massively each year, yet require little more care than a bit of hand weeding.

Yet not all gardeners are so successful. Their peonies bloom very little if at all. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:

Problem 1: The Plant Is Too Young

20180619B www.southernpeony.com.jpg

This peony was divided leaving only one eye … and not much of a root, either. It will probably take several years before it blooms. Source: www.southernpeony.com

Peonies are very slow-growing. A newly planted peony plant bought in a typical nursery may well take a year before it first flowers and 3 to 5 years before it’s really starting to bloom heavily. Less mature starter plants, like those inexpensive Chinese imports—or divisions you made yourself with only one or two “eyes” (buds)—can take even longer before they first bloom: 2 to 3 years! And it’s no wonder so few gardeners grow peonies from seed. You probably won’t see the first bloom for at least 3 to 5 years and it will then take them 7 to 8 years before they’re really blooming abundantly.

Solution

Be patient! Your plant will bloom … eventually!


Problem 2: Excessively Deep Planting

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Peony eyes need to be covered in no more than 2 inches (5 cm) of soil. Source: statebystategardening.com

When you plant a peony, you have to ensure the eyes are buried, but not too deeply (about ¾ to 2 inches/2 to 5 cm). Never any deeper. Otherwise, the foliage will come out in perfect condition, but there will be no flowers … or very few.

Solution

Dig up and replant the peony at the right depth, preferably in early fall (the best time to replant a peony). Or wait. Because a peony planted too deeply will eventually correct itself and grow closer to the surface … but you may have to wait 10 years or more before it blooms.


Problem 3: Mature Peony Transplanted Without Division

20180619KK www.southernpeony.com.jpg

It’s best to divide mature peonies rather than replanting them intact. Source: www.southernpeony.com

Peonies simply don’t like transplantation and mature plants, with dozens of long, thick, carrotlike roots carrots, are even less enthusiastic about the idea than younger ones. You’ll often discover that a mature peony (one planted 7 years ago or more) refuses to flower after it’s transplanted, or at least, only does so after several years. Gardeners often find that when they transplant several mature peonies, at least one will begin to flower as if nothing had happened, but the majority are still stubbornly refusing to flower 4 or 5 years later.

Solution

Divisions of peonies take moving much better than mature plants transplanted with all their roots and buds intact. Dividing a peony rejuvenates it, in the sense of “making it young again.” Properly done, divisions give renewed, vigorous plants that will likely bloom the following spring. Aim for divisions with three to five eyes. If you divide the plant into smaller divisions than that, with only one or two eyes, you’ll end up with a plant that is too young (see Problem 1) and is not yet ready to bloom. So, instead aim for the middle ground: a peony that is neither a stodgy old-timer nor a wet-behind-the-ears baby: essentially, you want a full-of-pep teenage peony!

To find out when and how to divide a garden peony, read Fall is For Dividing Peonies.


Problem 3: Too Much Shade

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In shady spots, stick with the shade-tolerant woodland peony (Paeonia obovata). Source: www.pinterest.ca

Garden peonies are sun-loving plants and do best in full sun in all but hottest climates, where partial shade is better. In most gardens, they’ll still bloom in partial shade, but with fewer flowers and may well have weaker flower stalks. In true shade, though, the common garden peony is a total washout.

Solution

Move your peony or reduce the shade, perhaps by eliminating overhanging tree branches. Or plant shade-adapted peonies, such as the woodland peony (Paeonia obovata).


Problem 5: Foliage Removed Too Soon

20180619E www.southernpeony.com.jpg

Leaf peony leaves intact all summer. If you want to cut them back, wait until fall. Source: http://www.southernpeony.com

After flowering, a peony rebuilds its energy supply and starts to prepare for next year’s flowering thanks to the photosynthesis its leaves carry out. They essentially “recharge its batteries.” Without them, the plant will peter away and die. And the peony is no spring ephemeral: it needs a good three months of foliage to store up the energy needed for next year’s bloom. So, its leaves must be left intact until the end of the season, at least until the beginning of September (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). If you mow down them on purpose or by accident in July or mid-August, the plant’s ability to rebloom will be severely impaired!

Solution

Do not cut back peonies after they bloom. Leave the foliage intact until at least early fall. With many cultivars, the leaves will start to redden in September, a sign that their work is done for that year.


Problem 6: Too Much Fertilizer

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Try to keep nitrogen-rich fertilizers away from peonies or else dilute them to safer levels. Source: courses.cit.cornell.edu

It almost never happens that a peony is in soil so poor in minerals that it fails to bloom, but it will fail to bloom if it gets too much fertilizer, especially if the fertilizer is rich in nitrogen (the first of the three figures seen on the fertilizer label). The culprit is usually lawn fertilizer applied too generously right next to the peony.

Solution

Peonies are slow-growing plants, not fertilizer-guzzling weeds. With most fertilizers, apply at no more than half the recommended rate. That’s usually quite sufficient, especially if the first digit is greater than 10, as 20-5-10.


Problem 7: Late Frost

20180619G www.southernpeony.com.jpg

A severe late frost can kill peony buds. Source: www.southernpeony.com

The garden peony is actually quite cold hardy and often pulls through late frosts unscathed, but a really deep, penetrating frost at the wrong time, just as the flower buds are starting to form, can kill them, leading to a year without flowers.

Solution

If you know that a severe frost is expected just as peony flower buds are starting to become visible (their most vulnerable stage), you can cover the plants with an old blanket or some other cloth, using stakes to support its weight as if it were a tent. Usually, however, it’s easier to stoically accept that sometimes Mother Nature plays dirty tricks on gardeners and wait until flowering resumes the following year. It just isn’t something that happens that often.


Problem 8: Unacceptable Growing Conditions

20180619H classroomclipart.com, www.clipartpanda.com & www.kisspng.com.jpg

Peonies tolerate neither arid soils nor tropical conditions. Source: classroomclipart.com, http://www.clipartpanda.com & http://www.kisspng.com, montage: laidbackgardener.com

Every plant has its specific needs and peonies like rich, deep, fairly loose soil that is always at least a bit moist and has a pH of about 6 to 7. In addition, it’s a temperate climate plant that prefers a slightly cold to very cold winter, growing best in hardiness zones 2 to 7. In extreme conditions, such as a tropical or subtropical climate, severe aridity, rocky soil, very alkaline or very acid soil, or an abundance of invasive tree roots, etc., it will not be a very happy camper and likely will not bloom.

Solution

If you don’t have the conditions needed to successfully grow peonies, grow something else!


Problem 9: Diseases

20180619I www.oakleafgardening.com.jpg

Flower bud killed by gray mold. Source: http://www.oakleafgardening.com.jpg

Peonies are prone to various diseases, including gray mold or botrytis blight (Botrytis paeoniae), the one most likely to specifically harm blooms. It can kill or damage flower buds, leaving small buds black and dead and larger ones browning and unable to open. It also kills stems and leaves or provokes brown, water-soaked splotches on foliage. Diseases in general and gray mold in particular are especially frequent in cool, wet weather.

Solution

Cut off dead flower buds as soon as you see them. The plant still needs at least some of its leaves, though, so even if they are diseased, it may be better to leave the foliage in place for the summer so that what leaf surface is left can carry out photosynthesis, but do cut and destroy them at the end of the season. Applying fresh mulch annually can be helpful: it helps prevent disease spores that overwintered in the soil from migrating back up from the soil to the leaves. Ensure good aeration and good drainage at all times, even if that means you have to transplant your peony elsewhere. If the situation is repeated each spring, either apply a fungicide every two weeks … or give up on peonies.

20180619J Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden,mbgna.umich.edu.jpg

Peonies as far as the eye can see: something you just might be able to accomplish! Source: Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden,mbgna.umich.edu


There you go! A quick tour of nine reasons peonies fail to bloom. But don’t let the text above scare you off peonies! Yes, there can be problems, but most gardeners have no difficulties at all with their peonies and they come back to bloom massively year after year. You’ll probably find peonies among the easiest perennials you can grow!20180619A Renee Firmingham. www.publicdomainpictures.net

22 thoughts on “9 Reasons Peonies Don’t Bloom

  1. Hazel Myers

    My Japanese Peony is at least 10 yrs old now and has never bloomed. the bush has become huge and I think every year that I see a small bud that becomes another leaf – to my dismay. My Peony seems very happy and is crowding her neighbors quite a bit — but NO flowers ever. I t is planted in a rather shady spot but still gets a lot of sun.

    • It was probably planted too deeply. After 10 years without blooms, I think the time has come dig it up and divide it, trying it various spots to see what it likes. Do the division in late summer or fall.

  2. SueZQ

    I transplanted a fern leaf peony after we sold my father’s house, and it was 5 years before it began to bloom. This year it had 45 blossoms after being in the same spot for 10 years. In MN, peonies just need patience and full sun and they will finally reward you with flowers. The best thing is that the deer don’t like them!!!

  3. Christine Thudium

    I recently was advised to use azomite mineral formula from volcanic ash to promote healthy indoor orchids. Could midwest soil, often flooded with heavy rain, be mineral poor? Might this help? It is suggested for all lawns, foliage and vegetables.

    • Trace minerals are complicated. It’s very hard to tell if any are lacking in a given soil, but yes, it’s quite possible that certain trace minerals could be lacking in just about any soil and if soil, azomite could help. But then, if no minerals were lacking, you’d be wasting your money! If your orchids are doing fine, you might not need this product.

  4. Keith Kilbane

    My peonies bloom beautifully – very large red blooms – but with no repeat flowers. 2 to 3 weeks and it is all over, regardless of removing dead heads. I am almost ready to dig them up and give the space to my roses that bloom continuously from late May to well after the 1st frost. Any advice on prolonging the peony season before I am so drastic?

    • With the exception of the Itoh peonies, which rebloom immediately after the first flowering, adding maybe two weeks to their blooming season, peonies simply aren’t remontant (capable of reblooming a second time in the same season). They bloom once a year, then it’s over. You can plant early mid-season and late types to extend the bloom somewhat, but you’ll still face an entire summer and fall with no flowers. If you don’t like that, you should indeed consider replacing them.

  5. John Youngpeter

    My peony quit flowering a few years ago. Is there anyway to get it going again? Its been there 30+ years.

  6. Kimberly Cherrix

    I planted two wal-mart Poeny roots about 7 years ago. Every year two little peony plants pop up but never get very big and never bloom. The first 5 years a huge paper plate hibiscus crowded them out and the shade killed them back. Last spring I transplanted the hibiscus and the peonies came up, but again not very big. This year, mid-May they are about a foot tall, hoping they finally bloom. They do die back every winter. We are in zone 8a. If they don’t bloom in the next year or two, what else can I try?

  7. Joanne

    Hello

    I have a peony which has been planted in my garden fright next to a wall. The peony was here when o moved in 20 years ago. Until last year there were no blooms, last year I had five, now this year only one. I think the roots may be going under the wall?

    Please help as they are such lovely plants, jo.

    • Normally, a wall is set quite deep, otherwise it wouldn’t resist the seasonal movement of soil. I don’t think peony roots would go that deep and even if they did, it ought not to be a problem. Probably the conditions there are just poor ones for peonies. If you move it (or plant a new one) in better sun and soil, you ought to see lots more flowers!

  8. Bobbie St John

    I absolutely adore Peonies and I have several varieties including Itoh. This is my 3rd year with it and I am a bit disappointed as I only see 3 buds so far. I was hoping I would get more but maybe it will still take some time for it to get going. I did plant this past spring a double white one and I am excited to see how that goes as it’s my “Fav”. I do refrigerate some of the flowers prior to blooming in wet paper towels and plastic bags so I can submerge them weeks later and enjoy! That’s my tip for having them a bit longer.

  9. Karen

    Hello, great article. I have six Julia Rose itoh peonies, and this is my fourth year with them. They bloomed reasonably well the first couple of years, growing as expected.

    Then the year that I thought would “explode” with blooms, ended up being much less… with very strange, spindly flowers. I fed them (low N) last fall, and this year, I only see a few buds on 2 out of the 6 plants. They are well-spaced, get lots of sun and not crowded. Zone 5a.

    Would you wait another year (given they are slow)… or maybe dig them up this fall and divide and re-plant? The leaves are healthy, I’m at a loss. Thank you so much…

    • If it happens just once, don’t worry about it. These things happen. If if occurs next year too, reread this article and try to figure out why. Most likely, the conditions have changed and you may have to divide and move the plant.

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