When to cut back peonies – for more beautiful blooms next spring

Knowing when to cut back peonies will help to keep your prized plants healthy and disease-free

(Image credit: Getty Images/Claudia Totir)

Peonies are the ultimate spring flowering perennial. Is there anything better than peony blooms filling garden borders with color and scent? Renowned for producing large, open flowers, few plants offer such a vast range of forms and colors as peonies, from purest white to lemon yellow, softest pink to deepest red.

While you might already know how to grow peonies, knowing when to cut back peonies is an essential garden task, particularly if you want to keep your plants in good health and ensure maximum blooms next year.

Here, garden experts reveal how best to prune and cut back your peonies, the right approach to take, and the best time to trim. So, before you reach for your pruning shears, make sure you read our guide to guarantee brilliant blooms next year.

pink peonies

(Image credit: Jasenka Arbanas / Moment / Getty Images)

When to cut back peonies

Peonies grow best in US hardiness zone 3 to US hardiness zone 9. Your local climate will determine when to cut back peonies, and those gardeners living in warmer, southerly zones will notice that their peonies flower much earlier than those in cooler zones.

‘Renowned for their oversized blooms, peonies are a prized landscape plant often used for cut flowers,’ says Lindsay Pangborn, garden and plant expert. ‘Cutting back peonies is a critical to-do item, but it’s important to think about timing. It’s a careful balance of aesthetic and plant health considerations.’

When is the best time to trim peonies?

soft pink peony flower

(Image credit: Isabel Pavia/Getty Images)

It may be tempting to prune peonies as soon as the leaves start looking yellow or brown, which can happen in the summer, you must wait until fall to prune them. One of the most common peony pruning mistakes is pruning too early.

That's because your peonies need their foliage to produce energy for next year's growth. Cutting them sooner could affect next year's flowers, which you want to avoid at all costs.

When fall sets in, usually around October to November, your peony foliage will fade and wilt. It is then time to trim.

‘Cut your peonies back to about 1 inch (2.5cm) above the ground,’ says Jennifer Green, botanist and expert at Positive Bloom. ‘As a herbaceous perennial, peonies will die back only to reemerge next spring, so do not worry about cutting them too harshly.'

Remember to always use clean, sharp tools, such as these pruning shears available from Walmart.

'Do not be tempted to trim too early,' says Jennifer. 'August is not the best time to cut back peonies, as it doesn’t allow the foliage to absorb as much energy as it needs for the following year.'

The foliage of peonies tends to fade and wilt from August, and although the leaves may not look great, it is best to allow your plant to photosynthesize as much as possible and gather energy for next year's blooms.

Lindsay Pangborn headshot
Lindsay Pangborn

Lindsay Pangborn is a garden and plant expert based in Columbus, OH. She is currently a Brand Director at Bloomscape, helping to bring greenery to homes across the US.

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer is a botanist and plant fanatic, and in her spare time she is a passionate artist and decorator. She claims a house can only be a home when it’s enriched with plants. She is a garden writer on all things plants for Positive Bloom.

Can you cut back peonies in spring?

Peonies growing through a cage

(Image credit: Getty Images/PaulMaguire)

Unless you are trimming old growth left over from the previous year, you must not cut back your peonies in the spring, as this could harm the plant and prevent it from flowering.

The only peony you should trim in the spring is a tree peony. For those gardeners who do not how to grow a tree peony, it is important to know that you wouldn't cut back tree peonies in the fall like you do a herbaceous peony. Early spring is the best time to prune tree peonies.

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What happens if you don't cut back peonies? 

If you don’t cut back peonies, the old foliage will become unsightly over the winter and into the spring, but they should still flower the following year. If you can trim your peonies, it is important to do so as it can protect against fungal disease.

Knowing when to cut back peonies is a crucial part of peony care in the yard. Be sure to only trim your prized peonies at the right time, otherwise you risk a reduction in blooms the following year. For more peony-growing information, see our guide to deadheading peonies.

Melanie Griffiths
Senior Editor of Gardening Know How

Melanie has worked in homes and gardens media for two decades. Having previously served as Editor on Period Living magazine, and worked on Homes & Gardens, Gardening Etc, Real Homes, and Homebuilding & Renovating, she is now focusing on her passion for gardening as a Senior Editor at Gardening Know How. As a keen home grower, Melanie has experimented with pretty much every type of vegetable at some point – with mixed results. Often it is the simplest things that elude you, which may explain why she just can't seem to master zucchinis.

With contributions from