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Surprise: peonies produce gorgeous seed pods … when you don’t deadhead them! Source: www.southernpeony.com

Normally the term “going to seed” has a negative connotation, meaning to decline, go downhill, age out, etc., but with peonies, I mean it in the nicest possible way.

I think peony seed pods are absolutely charming, giving the spring bloomers a whole other season of interest. At summer’s end, when they split open to reveal their shiny black seeds, wow! Very impressive!

To Prune or Not to Prune?

Of course, many gardeners never see the seeds come to fruition. They’ve been told they have to deadhead peony flowers (remove their faded flowers) or that will weaken the plant. So that’s what they do.

Well, don’t believe everything you read!

Admittedly, deadheading short-lived perennials can prolong their usefulness and I definitely would deadhead any newly planted one, even a peony, as it won’t yet have settled in and could use some extra energy to put out new roots. However, flowering and producing seed really doesn’t reduce the energy level of most long-lived plants (peonies, shrubs, trees, etc.) to any significant degree.

I almost never deadhead, as I like the natural look drying seed capsules add to my landscape. Plus, so many of them feed the birds I want to attract in fall and winter.

And Babies to Share

Well, back to peonies!

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Self-sown peony, probably of Paeonia obovata or P. japonica… or it could be a hybrid. Source: crickethillgarden.wordpress.com

After the seed matures in early fall, it eventually falls to the ground where, some of it at least, germinates. True enough, peony seeds are slow to sprout (usually, there is no visible growth at all the first spring, although it will have germinated underground, with seed leaves only showing up the second year), but when they do bloom about 3 to 5 years later, they’ll give you a whole range of very attractive flowers. You can share these plants with friends and even give them cultivar names if you want. I see that as another advantage you only get if you don’t deadhead!

If There Are No Seed Pods

You’ll probably notice that some garden peonies, that is P. lactiflora hybrids, usually the very double ones, produce no seed pods. Bummer! That’s because their sexual organs have been turned into petaloides and are therefore essentially sterile. Still, some double and most semi-double and single peonies do produce seed pods, assuring this second season of interest.

The Winner Is…

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Woodland peony (Paeonia obovata) seedpod. Source: www.farreachesfarm.com

I especially like the open seed pods of the woodland peony (Paeonia obovata), with shiny blue to blue-black fertile seeds and brilliant red infertile ones. In fact, that’s what stimulated me to write this blog: my woodland peonies are startlingly beautiful right now. In fact, the seeds are probably even more attractive than the flowers, which, although nice enough, are fairly small for peony blooms (about 3 inches/8 cm in diameter), simple and white or red-purple.

A bonus is that the woodland peony, as the name suggests, will bloom and set seed even in shady locations, although partial shade is best, extending the range of where you can plant peonies in your garden.

Another shade-tolerant peony, the Japanese peony (Paeonia japonica), is very similar and shares the same brightly colored seed pods.

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Woodland peony (Paeonia obovata) in bloom. Source: alchetron.com

Woodland peony is not the most common peony and probably won’t be available locally, but if you do an Internet search, you’ll readily find plants or seeds you can obtain by mail order. I grew mine from seed I ordered from Gardens North many years ago.

The Final Show

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Many peonies have great fall color as well! Source: Sue Gaviller, http://www.pinterest.co.uk

Did I mention that many peonies, besides stunning flowers and spectacular seed pods, also offer great fall color?


Peonies: not just for flowers anymore!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

9 comments on “When Peonies Go to Seed

  1. I had a peony go to seed without ever blooming. It’s the first year since I planted it in September. Any thoughts? Is it unusual for that to happen?

    • I’ve never heard of that happening, but, since there are both male and female parts inside a bulb, it could certainly happen. Interesting phenomenon!

  2. Rhapsody Hooks

    I just when to the link you gave above to get a few seeds. Do you have any for sell?

  3. Hello,
    Last year I planted some seeds in pots and this year in a pot of 10 seeds 3 germinated and I have healthy seedlings. My question is this; I would like to replant the seedlings but I also understand that some of the other seeds may yet bloom. What is your advice on disturbing seeds that may or may not bloom next year in order to transplant seedlings that will crowd the pot should the other seeds germinate.
    Thank you,
    Odeide

    • Don’t worry about the ungerminated seeds. You’ll find them in the soil when you transplant the sprouted plants and you can just put them back into a pot of moist soil.

      • Thank you so much for responding. Stay well!

  4. Jeanette Holtz

    I planted a full grown peony and did not realize that I should have cut the seed pods off. Now I think the plant is dead, does that mean the seed pods are dead as well?

    • You don’t have to cut the seed pods off peonies. Many people do, but it’s not necessary. Your peony is probably not dead, but might be dormant. The seed pods probably contain viable seeds.

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