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Peonies: When to Pick and How To Preserve

April 13, 2024

The Peony Flower Guide

A common question we get all the time is: What is the best time to pick my peonies and how do I make them last? Peony flowers are typically one of the first bloomers here on our farm. Their little red beaks poke through the soil, turn into red shoots, green bushes, balled tips and then gorgeous flowers. But they come at a quick rush, and we have built some techniques over the years to keep them. around the house for the longest period possible.

When do I cut peonies?

I would say that most gardeners cut their peonies a little too late, after they have almost fully opened. To get the longest vase life and enjoy the anticipation as the flower slowly opens, it is best to pick them as they transition from a hard ball to a soft “marshmallow” type firmness. If you put them out in a vase at this time, they will continue to open and bloom into the beautiful, large flower.

Master Gardener Tip: Always use very sharp pruners or snips to cut your peonies. This will ensure a clean cut, and help prevent pathogens from infecting your prized flower plants. You can see a variety of proper garden cutting tools here: Pruners and Snips for Cutting Peonies

When you cut, take the longest possible stem to the base of the flower. This will encourage root growth and energy storage for the next season.

When to cut peony flowers
Cut peonies when the buds are at the “marshmallow” phase

How can I save flowers and have a supply for an extended period?

The problem with peonies is that they all come at once, and then they are gone. So a few tips to extend the season and your enjoyment.

  • Planting Peonies – we have a rotation scheme here at Celtic that includes varying varieties, exposure and age. Different varieties of peony will bloom at slightly different times. So adding a bunch to your garden and landscape will result in an extended bloom season. As you grow your collection, we find that older plants typically bloom faster and earlier than the newer ones. Dividing the parent plant also adds a little difference in bloom times. Finally, varying exposure with different plantings will adjust the bloom schedule. Full 8 hour sun exposure vs a bit of shade in the morning or afternoon can shift the plant to a later bloom cycle. Using a combo of all 3 will give some great results.
  • Refrigerator – we have found that blooms that spend time right away in the fridge last much longer. In addition, putting your cuttings in damp paper or wrapping them in plastic can provide weeks of storage, even months for some varieties. When you remove them, cut the stems and put them in lukewarm water to initiate the bloom.

How long will peonies last in a vase?

Standard time for cut peonies is 5-10 days. If you cut them just at the right time, refrigerate for a bit and add floral preservative to the water, you can easily exceed that number and approach 2 weeks of peony bliss

cutting peonies late
Cutting peonies late will reduce their vase life significantly.

Using Floral Preservatives to Extend the Life of Cut Peonies

To ensure your cut peonies last even longer, incorporating a floral preservative into their care routine can be incredibly effective. Floral preservatives provide the necessary nutrients and antibacterial properties to keep the water fresh and support the flowers’ health.

Commercial Floral Preservatives: These are readily available at florists and garden centers and typically contain three essential components—a sugar source for nutrition, an acidifier to help the stem absorb water, and a biocide to reduce fungi and bacteria in the water. Following the instructions on the packaging is key to ensuring the right concentration for optimal results

Homemade Floral Preservative Solution: If you prefer a DIY approach or find yourself out of commercial preservative, you can make an effective version at home with common household ingredients. Here’s a simple recipe:

  1. Sugar: Acts as food for the flower. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar to the water.
  2. Bleach or Vodka: Keeps the water from getting cloudy and helps fight bacteria. Use about a quarter teaspoon for each liter of water.
  3. Lemon juice or white vinegar: Lowers the pH of the water, which can help water uptake. Add about two tablespoons per liter.

Mix these ingredients into the water in your vase, ensuring they are thoroughly dissolved. Change the water and re-mix the solution every few days to maintain freshness.

Both commercial and homemade floral preservatives can significantly extend the vase life of your peonies, allowing you to enjoy their beauty for up to two weeks with proper care.

Just a short post on lasting enjoyment of our favorite flower. How do you preserve yours?

FAQ on When to Cut Peonies

1. What is the best stage to cut peonies for maximum vase life? The ideal time to cut peony flowers is when the buds are in the “marshmallow” stage—this means they are soft to the touch but not yet open. Cutting at this stage allows you to enjoy the full opening process and maximizes the flowers’ lifespan in a vase.

2. How can I tell if a peony bud is at the ‘marshmallow’ stage? Gently squeeze the bud between your fingers. If it feels somewhat spongy and gives slightly under pressure, like a marshmallow, it’s the perfect time to cut. If it’s still hard, it’s too early; if it’s very soft or starting to open, it’s a bit late for optimal vase life.

3. Can I cut peonies in any weather condition? While you can cut peonies in most weather conditions, it’s best to do so during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. This helps reduce stress on the plants and keeps the flowers from wilting quickly after being cut.

4. Should I use any specific tools for cutting peony stems? Use sharp, clean garden shears or scissors to make a clean cut. This prevents damage to the plant tissues, promoting better water uptake and helping prevent infection.

5. How long should the stems be when I cut peonies? Cut the stems as long as possible, ideally leaving a few leaves on the stem to help nourish it. A longer stem not only looks more elegant in a vase but also benefits the plant by encouraging strong root development and energy storage.

6. Is there a particular technique for cutting peonies? Yes, make a diagonal cut on the stem. This increases the surface area available for water uptake. Immediately place the cut stems in water after cutting to prevent air from entering the stem, which can block water absorption.

7. What should I do with the peonies after cutting? After cutting, place the stems in a bucket of cool water and keep them in a cool, shaded area for a few hours to hydrate before arranging them in a vase. This process, known as conditioning, helps extend their vase life.

8. How often should I change the water in the vase? Change the water every two to three days to prevent bacterial growth. Clean the vase thoroughly each time you change the water, and re-cut the stems by about an inch to ensure the flowers can continue to absorb water effectively.

By following these tips and understanding the best practices for cutting peonies, you can enjoy their stunning beauty for as long as possible.

Some other great links on cutting and preserving peonies:

Michigan State Peony Flower Cutting Article

American Peony Society Storage Guide

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