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September 7th, 2011

Peonies That Don’t Bloom

I inherited several peony clumps from my grandmother, who had an amazing garden. In my yard they refuse to bloom. What am I doing wrong?

blog-dougPeonies that thrive and flower in cemeteries and abandoned farmsteads, without any special care, attest to the sturdiness of this tough perennial. They’ll bloom in any good garden soil—so long as they get enough sun. The American Peony Society recommends planting peonies where they receive 8 to 10 hours of sunlight daily. In a shaded location, peonies produce leaves but no flowers.

A mistake that some gardeners make is to cut back peony foliage too early in the growing season. The purpose of leaves is to photosynthesize: to capture solar energy and transform it to a storable form to be used later by the plant. In peonies, the carbohydrates produced via photosynthesis are stored in the tuberous roots, then used the following spring to produce flowers. If the foliage is removed in spring or summer, photosynthesis comes to a halt and subsequent flowering suffers. Instead, wait until frost has browned the foliage in fall to cut it back.

If your peonies need more sun, move them in late summer or early fall. Divide the clumps at the same time, if you wish. Replant shallowly, with the pink growth buds or “eyes” no more than one inch below the soil surface. Deep planting is another reason some peonies fail to bloom.  —Doug Hall

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