Should peonies be cut back in the fall? This is what experts are doing right now

The process behind the perfect peony is timely – this is the timeframe the experts follow – including what to do this fall

Planting peonies
(Image credit: Future)

Few flowers possess the same allure as peonies. This perennial garden favorite knows how to impress with its pompom-like blooms and subtly jasmine scent, so it is only inevitable that you will want to care for them properly. 

Knowing when to cut back peonies is among the most important things you can do (after learning how to grow peonies, naturally). And while this flower is not too tricky to care for, it requires an annual prune for maintained health – and a prolonged lifespan that will see them blossom long into the new year. 

'Let's make one thing clear: peonies have a good chance of surviving the winter and blooming again next spring even without being pruned. But just because your plants might make it to the next season – it doesn't mean that they will thrive,' says Kev Tara, a garden expert from LEAFnJOY. The solution? Cutting back your peonies this season.

Should peonies be cut back in the fall? 

Yes, fall is the perfect time to prune your Herbaceous and Itoh peonies.'These plants naturally die back in fall with their leaves turning yellow and wilting,' Kev says. 

pink peony flowers

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Kev explains that this process will help to protect the new growth that will come next year from potential pests and diseases that might be lingering in the old foliage – and allow you to inspect the overall health of your plants.

Lorraine Ballato, the author of Success With Hydrangeas and resident hydrangea expert at New York Botanical Garden, agrees. She, too, urges you to cut your peonies in the fall and emphasizes that you should undergo the process when the foliage has yellowed. 'That will be your sign that the plant has finished absorbing the all-important light that feeds it for next season,' she explains. 

Do peonies need to be cut back before winter?

Yes, as Lorraine Ballato, the resident hydrangea expert at New York Botanical Garden, suggests, your peonies should be cut back this season to improve their overall health. However, before cutting, it is essential to note that the act may not cure some plant diseases. 

'It is highly likely that by the end of the season, your peonies have acquired leaf spot disease. Most often, it is botrytis, but it could be another of these fungal issues,' Lorraine says. 

'The bad news is that all fungal spores overwinter unless you are in extremely cold climates like most northern Canadian provinces. So next season, when the conditions are right, those spores will reinfect your plant and at the least mar the foliage.'

Usually, these fungal diseases won't kill your flower, but they can make it more unsightly. 'Since no part of peony is beneficial to native insects, cutting them back doesn't deprive those insects of their winter needs,' the expert adds. 

red peonies planted with lavender

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Should peonies be cut back to the ground in the fall?

Knowing when to plant peonies (and when to cut them) is vital to your plant's health, but how far to cut them is another significant question at this time of the year. 

Lorraine Ballato suggests cutting your peonies to the ground before leaving time to inspect the base of your plant. 'This would be a good time to pull back the mulch from the crown of the plant if it has shifted during the season,' she says. 

One of the things you may not know about peonies is that if it's planted too deeply (or the growing buds are more than 2 inches below ground), the plant might not flower. 'At the least, flowering will be reduced. Those little eyes must have some sort of light, so the 2-inch rule works well for them,' Lorraine says. 

'While you're at it, you could inspect whatever irrigation you have for your plant. Drought conditions are likely to occur next season, so you can get a little ahead of that issue now when it is more pleasant to be working outside.'


(Image credit: GettyImages)

When maintaining your fall garden, it is a good idea to compost your peony cuttings. However, Lorraine warns that you should only compost clippings if they are disease free. 'Otherwise, they should get bagged and put in the trash. You don’t want to have those fungal spores in your garden, ever.'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.