How to Prepare Peonies for Winter (Easy Care Guide)

So, winter’s coming and you need to prepare your peonies for the cold season.

Thankfully, it’s quite easy to winterize Paeonia. These plants actually LOVE the cold.

In fact, exposing your peonies to freezing temperatures help ensure bigger blooms next growing season when they come back.

This guide will teach you the various things you can do to help protect and prepare your peonies for the freeze.

Quick reference: Peony care guide

Plant type Flowering, decorative
Seasonality Perennial
Sunlight requirement Full sun
Hardiness zones 3-9
Soil type Loamy soil
Soil pH 7.0 (neutral)
Soil density Well-draining
Bloom time Spring, summer
Spacing 4 feet
Planting depth 0.5-2.0 inches
Max height 3-8 feet
Max width 2-3 feet
Fertilizer requirements 5-10-10
Days to germination 14-25 days
Propagation From seed, division
Good for beginners? Yes
Indoor/outdoor? Outdoor
Flower colors Pink, red, purple, white, green, blue
Special features Deer resistant, low maintenance, smell good

The cold is good for peonies

A sphere in the cold wintertime for peonies.
These plants actually like the cold.

Peonies (Paeonia) need a good period of cold temperatures to help spur their bud development.

During the winter is when these plants focus on developing their newly sprouting buds in the springtime.

They need about 30-40 days of cold temperatures below 40F, which equates to about 700+ hours of chilling time.

So don’t try to prevent this, as it’s natural for the plant to withstand some cold exposure.

How to winterize peonies for the cold season

Do you want the biggest and best blooms next spring?

Many gardeners are worried about protecting their peonies from the cold, when in fact it’s a necessary function of the plant’s natural cycle.

Depending on your hardiness zone, you may or may not get enough chilling hours. If you’re in zones 3-5, you should be getting plenty of chilling time in the winter- more than enough for the typical peony.

Similar to preparing other flowering plants for the winter, such as delphiniums, the soil type you use makes a huge difference.

But if you’re in a warmer region, such as zones 6-8, you’ll have fewer days of cold exposure for your plants.

This is where you may need to do some work to get the best blooms possible next season.

  • For people in zones 3-5, you should have enough cold exposure naturally and you don’t really have much to worry about.
  • For people in zones 6, 7, or 8, you’ll have to work harder to get your plant enough chilling hours.

But don’t worry, it’s not hard.

With some extra steps, you can ensure that your plant gets the right amount of cold in the winter to thrive next season.

Plant at the right depth

A pink peony fully bloomed.
How deep you plant your peonies matters for heat insulation.

Planting depth is one of the easiest things you can adjust to accommodate your hardiness zone.

The depth of the plant directly affects the cold tolerance of the plant. The deeper you plant it, the less susceptible to cold your peony becomes.

So that means if you’re in a colder zone, you can plant it deeper. If you’re in a warmer zone, plant it closer to the surface.

Here’s a quick reference guide:

  • Zone 6: plant the eye of the peony 1” deep
  • Zone 7: plant it 0.75” deep
  • Zone 8: plant it 0.50” deep

Planting at the right depth can help you get the most bloom out of your peonies- with more flowers and brighter colors next spring.

Colder air temperatures are necessary for warmer zones. Colder areas can be planted deeper for less cold exposure.

Cutting back peonies for the winter

A bunch of peonies ready for winter.
These peonies have been properly handled during the winter and returned with a full bloom.

To properly winterize peonies, you need to cut them back to stem.

Peonies need to be cut back depending on late autumn. The plant will naturally start changing to a yellowish, color and the leaves will dry up. This is normal.

So don’t be worried about it. Give your peony the care it needs during the winter for the best blooms and even more flowers next year.

After the first frost, you should start to see your peonies wilt. This is when you should cut back. This prepares peonies for the winter.

Here’s how to cut back herbaceous peony cultivars:

  • Just use a pair of nice, sharp garden shears and cut the leaves all the way back. Remove them with the shears so that you’re left with a bare stem.
  • Without the leaves in the way, it’s easier to cut back the stem.
  • Cut the stem to about 1” above the soil.
  • Put a plant marker next to the stems so you don’t step on them over the winter

That’s it. That’s typically all you need to do for cutting back peonies before the winter.

Depending on the peony cultivar you have, the process may take place at different times.

Don’t save the leaves as they may be ridden with fungus or bacteria since they wilted. Toss them out.

When you cut back, don’t remove the pink buds.

These are called the “eyes” of the peony which are found near the soil surface. They’re fine with being exposed to the frost and you shouldn’t need to worry about that.

For intersectional cultivars:

  • Cut off the wilted foliage
  • Trim the stem back to 6” above the soil
  • Place markers where the stems are so you don’t damage them throughout the winter.

If you’re in an area where temperatures are below 40F throughout the winter, you can cut it down to 1” from the soil, just like the herbaceous peony cultivars.

Pruning

Keeping your plant nice and tidy will do wonders for your peonies.

This will help prevent any fungal or mold from developing on your plant.

Clean up debris around the stem regularly. Check for fungus or mold.

And clean up leaf litter regularly. This is how you take care of peonies in the winter.

It’s basic. Remove any dead foliage and clean up the plant as you usually would throughout the spring or fall.

Mulching

Mulching peonies for the cold season.
Mulch can be added to help protect the plant from extremely cold temperatures.

The subject of mulching comes up often, and it should.

Proper mulching needs to be taken with caution because adding any additional substrate to the soil affects the planting depth we spoke about earlier.

Once you add mulch, sand, peat moss, newspaper, or compost to your soil surface, you reduce the cold exposure your peonies need during the winter.

Of course, this could help if you planted the peony too close to the surface and the chilly knights are damaging the plant.

Adding some mulch to the top layer of the soil can help protect the plant from the cold temperatures.

Depending on which hardiness zone you’re in and the current weekly forecast, you may be able to add some substrate to the top layer to shield it from freezing temperatures.

If you’re in a colder area or you notice your peony is starting to suffer from the freezing nights, add some straw mulch to protect your plant.

Straw is light and allows the plant to still receive some cold.

Straw is light and allows the plant to still receive some cold.

Mulching is only recommended for those in cooler climates. If you’re in zones 3-5, consider adding mulch if it’s too cold.

Otherwise, avoid mulching and focus on planting depth for zones 6, 7, and 8.

You can use straw or shredded bark- both work well for keeping the plant warm during the first winter or northern climates.

After the frost, be sure to remove the mulch so you don’t overheat your peonies during spring.

Peony plant care during the winter: Common FAQs

Here are some common questions asked by readers about caring for this plant over the winter.

As you’ll see, the process is very easy- even for the complete beginner!

What temperature is too cold for peonies?

Although Paeonia are excellent cold-tolerant plants, and temperatures that hover below 30F consistently can kill a peony.

This is where adding some kind of substrate like mulch can help offer some protection against cold weather.

If you’re in a cold hardiness zone, such as Alaska, you’ll want to monitor your weather during the chilly nights in winter. If it’s too cold, plant the peony at least 2” below the soil and add substrate to the surface.

Otherwise, zones 6-9 should be fine for planting depths between 0.5” to 1.0” throughout the year.

You probably also don’t need to add any mulch as they benefit from the cold chill.

Will a freeze kill peonies?

Peonies can withstand a short freeze even if the temperature drops below 30F.

But if this is going to last for a few days or more, you’ll need to do something about it. Start by laying some mulch around the perimeter of the plant.

Do NOT touch the stem with the mulch as this may lead to rot from trapped moisture.

Additionally, you can cover the peony to shield it from frost. Use a trash can or some kind of plant insulating cloth.

Remove when the freeze is over and temperatures pick back up. Extended temperatures below 20F can do some serious damage to your peonies.

If you’re expecting a harsh winter, you should use a deeper planting depth.

The soil protects Paeonia from frost and makes a significant difference.

Although peonies can handle a freeze, it shouldn’t be constant. Only short periods of cold weather are tolerable to this cold-hardy plant.

Do peonies need to be cut back for winter?

Yes, peonies need to be cut back because they’ll drop their leaves anyway.

You don’t want to leave behind the leaves because they’ll attract bugs to your dormant stems.

So cut the plant back and you’ll reduce the chances of bugs eating up your peony while it’s going through the winter.

Depending on the cultivar (the type of peony), how far you cut back varies. Read the section above for more details.

Do peonies need to be covered in winter?

No, peonies do NOT need to be covered up with plant covers, bags, or row covers during the winter.

Remember that these plants NEED cold exposure to get those rich, large, and colorful blooms during the season.

So you need to let them enjoy the cold temperature and give them the chill hours they need (up to 600 hours).

The only thing you may consider doing is adding a soil surface substrate like straw mulch to help keep some chillout. You can do most of the work by simply planting deeper or closer to the surface.

Deeper planting shields the plant from cold. Surface planting doesn’t. Choose according to your climate and hardiness zone.

What temperature can peonies tolerate?

Peonies are cold-loving plants and can safely tolerate temps as low as 30F.

You don’t need to be afraid of keeping them out in the cold because they need it.

Preventing them from their natural cold exposure will harm them and result in smaller blooms and lesser foliage.

So the trick is to give them the cold they need while protecting them from being too cold. Balance is everything.

How cold hardy are peonies?

Depending on the type of peony, some are extremely hardy to the cold.

Herbaceous ones are the most popular amongst gardeners and able to withstand cold temperatures- as much as 20-30F.

Do peonies die back every year?

This depends on the cultivar.

Herbaceous peonies die back every single year but will come back next spring with another bloom.

You don’t have to replant it as herbaceous peonies are perennials and come back on their own.

Some cultivars will need to be replanted.

Best peony cultivars for warmer regions

There are many different varieties of peony for different hardiness zones.

Choosing the right one for your specific climate makes your job a lot easier.

Warmer climates benefit you because you can get the right type adapted for your area.

One popular cultivar is Green Lotus, which is specifically adapted to warmer hardiness zones. Expect beautiful white and green flowers with this early bloomer.

Single and semi-double flowering peonies often are suited for warmer climates. Gardeners in zones 7-9 can benefit from these varieties.

Further reading

Here are some references you may find useful:

Did you winterize your peonies?

A cold hardy peony plant.
And now you know!

You’re now armed with the knowledge of protecting your peonies during the winter and increase your chances of a bountiful bloom in the coming spring.

These cold-hardy plants love the cold, so don’t starve them of what they expect.

Do you have any questions? Drop a comment and I’ll get back to you!

If you have any tips to share, leave a comment, and help out fellow casual gardeners- what we’re all made of.

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