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Every plant has specific ways of signalling its distress when it does not get what it wants – it’s much like how humans respond to unfavourable environmental conditions.
We fall ill and exhibit signs and symptoms of the disease. For example, if you get the flu, you run a fever and some people even cough and get some gastrointestinal issues.
Then a doctor reviews all these signs and symptoms and goes, “Aha! You have the flu!” You get a list of meds to buy and are advised to stay home to let your body rest and avoid spreading the flu.
In the same way, you can be a plant doctor to your peony. Often, your peony will not exhibit any signs of distress.
But if you do not offer it the nutrients and care it needs to sustain a robust immune system, your peony becomes vulnerable to many problems such as pest infestations.
Other common problems your peony can face is lack of adequate light, pruned too early, roots are too entrenched, overfed, the wrong temperature and watering issues.
In this guide, I will show you how you can diagnose peony problems and what you can do about them.
What Are the Common Peony Problems & How Can You Fix Them?
Before I go any further, I’ll remind you that peonies exist in three categories. The first is the herbaceous/ perennial peony, the second is the shrub/ tree peony, and the third is a hybrid of the first two, the Itoh/ intersectional peony.
These peonies have quite similar growing needs and all bloom. The difference only lies in how long they bloom and the kind of light they require when they flower.
Most of the issues you will come across with your peony will be similar regardless of your species.
But where a remedy requires specialized care, I will be sure to highlight it. That said, we can now get into the fun part: the diagnosis!
1) Why is Your Peony Not Growing?
Anyone who has seen the blooms that result from peonies can attest that these plants are show-stoppers. They stand tall and proud.
And, of course, the more they grow, the more their blooms are evident from a distance. So, seeing your peony exhibit stunted or no growth can be disheartening. What could be the cause of this?
a) The Nature of the Peony
Regardless of the peony species you choose, you must brace yourself for quite a journey.
Peonies are slow growers, and it will take several years before they reach a mature height, especially if you choose to grow them from seed. It could take up to 5 or more years for your peony to stand out from the rest of the fray.
What You Can Do
If everything else checks out and the plant’s growth is still slow, then your peony variety is the slow-growing kind. All you can do is sit back and wait for the plant to mature in its own time.
b) Lack of Adequate Light
Peonies love light. And not just any kind of light but bright and direct light – the kind that comes straight from the sun with no obstructions whatsoever.
It is also known as direct sun. Moreover, they require exposure for at least six hours a day. Without such access, they cannot grow fast, nor can they bloom (please note this part as we will cover it later).
What to Do About Lighting
The best way to ensure your peony gets adequate access to light is as follows:
If the plant is outdoors, you should plant it towards the south of the garden, where it can receive adequate sunlight for at least six hours a day.
Ensure that the plant does not have any objects hindering it from accessing the bright and direct light. However, for tree/ shrub peonies, an east-facing position could be better.
These species require bright and indirect light when they flower. And the only way to ensure this is to allow them access to the morning sun and shield them from the evening sun.
Or you can invest in a shade cloth to protect the blooms when the peony flowers. But in the active growing months, the plant, like any other peony, must have at least 6 hours of exposure to bright and direct light.
If your plant is indoors, you can supplement the light by using artificial lighting. Your options include LEDs, fluorescents, incandescent bulbs, and even halogen lights.
These emit full-spectrum wavelengths that enable your peony to thrive like it would in the outdoors.
Please position the lights at least 6 inches away from the plant. That will enable the plant to soak in as much light as it would from the sun. Leave the lights on for at least 6 hours every day.
Sometimes, achieving such conditions requires you to uproot the plant and move it to another section entirely.
It’s worth the hassle because only a robust plant can give rise to healthy blooms. And that brings us to another common problem with the peony.
For more on lighting issues, check out our article on a peonies light requirements.
2) Why Won’t Your Peony Bloom/ Flower?
Showy is the perfect word to describe the flowers on peonies. But not every gardener gets to enjoy the awe that results from a peony’s flowers.
What hinders flowering in peonies, and how can you ensure that you get a full bloom each season?
I will cover the flowering issues in two categories: the first is where no buds appear, and the second is where buds appear, but your plant does not flower.
Why Your Peony Does Not Yield Any Buds
It can be pretty frustrating to watch buds appear on other peoples’ peonies, yet yours don’t even show a sign that they might flower.
Often, this boils down to the lack of sufficient access to direct sun. I mentioned earlier that your peony must get at least 6 hours of exposure to bright and direct light. If this is not the issue with your plant, you should consider:
1) Your Plant is Too Young
How great would it be if your peony flowered in its first year? Unfortunately, that’s not feasible in most cases.
Peonies take a while to grow and, as a result, take their sweet time when it comes to producing blooms.
You will likely need to wait until the second year for your transplanted plant to flower. And if you started your plant from seed, give it up to five years before you can watch any blooms on it.
Please note that this also applies to plants that have been moved or divided recently. It takes a while for the plants to establish themselves, and you may need to wait up to 2 years before they start blooming.
What to do About It
Patience is all that can get you to the other side. In the meantime, focus on giving your plant the care it deserves. It will be a long wait, but the results will be worth it.
2) You Have Pruned the Peony Prematurely
Having a beautifully shaped peony is a good thing. But sometimes, pruning the plant can work against it.
When you prune a peony before it starts flowering, you hamper its ability to make food. And without this energy, it cannot sustain the production of flowers.
Instead, it saves its energy to heal from the pruning and focuses on more leaf production, which is not what you want.
What Can You Do About It?
Instead of pruning the peony before it flowers, allow the plant to keep growing. And once it has flowered and the blooms are all gone, you can go back to pruning it before the cold weather sets in – it’s all about timing.
3) Your Peony’s Roots are Too Entrenched in the Ground
Does your peony have beautiful foliage but does not give rise to equally breath-taking flowers? You may have planted the plant too deep.
Usually, most people plant their plants deep in the soil to offer them stability. But with the peonies, this does not work out well because these plants have shallow roots.
These roots feature tiny tubers from which new growths result, propagating the plant’s growth. And if you bury them too deep in the soil, the plant will develop healthy foliage but will not blossom when the time comes.
What Can You Do About It?
There are two solutions. The first will set your peony back a year or so. You will need to uproot your peony and replant it in a section where the tubers are at most 2 inches below the soil surface.
Moreover, you should ensure that the tubers face upwards, enabling them to grow much faster and stronger. The second option is to wait.
Eventually, your plant can correct itself as it grows. However, there’s no timeline on this, and it could be years before your plant ever blooms.
I’d advise replanting the peony and knowing that it will give rise to some blooms about two years from now.
4) You Have Overfed Your Peony
Sometimes, we feed our plants because we reckon that their growth will stimulate flowering. And that’s not a wrong notion. But with the peony, you must be careful.
These plants are generally light feeders. Moreover, they don’t need as much nitrogen as most other plants. In fact, it’s best to use an NPK feed with 5-10-10. Why?
When your peony has access to too much nitrogen, they focus on developing healthy foliage. So, your plant develops leaves at a fast rate, forcing you to prune it often, and does not give rise to flowers.
Can You Stop This Cycle?
Sure! First, you must change your fertilizer to one with low nitrogen composition. Focus more on the other nutrients as they have a smaller effect on foliage development.
Secondly, you must dilute the fertilizer rather than use it in its stated strength. Ideally, dilute it to half or a quarter of its strength and apply it at the base of the peony.
Timing also matters when feeding the peony. You should not feed it when it’s about to bloom. Instead, feed it after the plant has bloomed and never feed it in the cold months.
Can you forego fertilization entirely? While that might be tempting, doing so would not be a good idea.
Underfeeding can also hamper peony growth and keep the buds from growing. The trick lies in balancing too little and too much feeding.
You may also like: Do peonies bloom more than once
3) Why Your Peony Produces Buds That Do Not Open
Suppose your peony produces buds that do not open. That can even be more frustrating than no buds.
After all, the sight of buds may have you thinking that you are weeks away from a full bloom, only for it not to happen. Why would your peony taunt you like this?
1) The Climate is Too Cold
Peonies are suited for US hardiness zones 3 to 9, which tells you that they can withstand cold temperatures. Even so, late frost can sometimes damage your peony buds as they form.
And this kills them and robs you of the chance to enjoy a full bloom. The good news is that this rarely happens, but the bad news is that when it does, the results are devastating.
Can You Prevent Frost Damage?
Glad you asked! If you suspect that the temperatures might be too cold, the best thing to do is protect the peony with a blanket.
Use poles to support the blanket so that its weight does not overwhelm the plant. You can take the blanket off once the buds have formed and are no longer vulnerable to the cold.
2) The Climate is Not Cold Enough
Interestingly, your peony may not flower because your climate is not cold enough – yes, that can happen too.
Ideally, your peony needs at least 500 chilling hours (in temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit). If it does not get enough of such exposure, it will form buds, but they will not blossom.
Can You Do Anything About This?
The only way to deal with this is:
- Ensure you live in the recommended hardiness zones (3 to 9), and
- Avoid covering the plant unless frost damage is likely. Covering the plant protects it from the winds, which reduces its chill exposure.
However, your plant should not be subject to temperatures below freezing.
3) Pests Have Invaded Your Peony
When your plant has inadequate access to essential nutrients, water, and light, it becomes susceptible to pests like:
- Mites and,
These pests feed on the stems and leaves of the peony, forcing the plant to redirect its efforts to healing.
Moreover, with damaged foliage, the plant cannot produce enough food to sustain the blooms. Some pests go as far as attacking the plant from its roots, which interferes with its nutrient absorption.
Can You Ward Off Pests?
The best way to keep your plant safe is to implement a sustainable care routine. But if the pests have already invaded your plant, you can get rid of them by rubbing the affected parts with insecticidal soap.
It’s always advisable to move fast to keep the pests from spreading to other plants and causing havoc. Also, use neem oil on your peonies as it wards off pests.
4) Your Peony is Diseased
Did you know that peonies can get sick? Your plant can suffer a range of diseases, chief among them being the botrytis blight, a fungal disease.
These pathogens affect the plant’s leaves, stems, and even root system, killing it from the inside.
And the longer the disease-causing microorganisms remain on the plant, the likelier it is that your peony could die. So, besides the death of buds, there’s plant death to consider.
How Should You Handle Peony Diseases?
The most important thing is to:
- Ensure your peony gets its basic needs as this strengthens its immune system and helps it fight diseases,
- Create enough room around the peony so that air flows easily. Most fungal diseases attack the peony when the environment is damp and poorly aerated. So, when you take away these factors, you make it hard for them to thrive,
- Ensure the plant has well-draining soil as waterlogging can also encourage fungal growth,
- Cut off all the affected plant parts (including buds) to keep the disease from spreading. However, you should leave some leaves intact as the plant still needs to keep making food, and
- Apply mulch to the base of the plant to keep the spores from returning to the peony.
You may also like: 6 reasons why your peony is curling
Those are the most common issues you will face with your peony.
Other not-so-common problems include:
Why is your Peony Wilting/ Dying?
A wilting peony indicates:
- Overwatering/ underwatering: Giving your plant too much or too little water can cause problems. Overwatering drowns the shallow roots and causes root rot, destabilizing the plant by affecting its ability to take in water and nutrients. And underwatering dehydrates the plant, causing it to droop. To prevent this, water your plant only when its top two inches of soil are dry. Do not water its leaves, as this can encourage fungal infestations. If you have trouble feeding the plant, use a moisture gauge to help guide you on when you should water it.
- High Temperatures: Your peony can wilt in the summer due to the hot temperatures. To prevent this, keep the plant hydrated, as shown above.
- Fungal Diseases: These include leaf blotch, peony wilt (Botrytis blight), and Phytophthora blight.
- Overfeeding the plant
Why is Your Peony Turning Brown?
The possible reasons include:
- Fungal Diseases: Examples include leaf blotch, peony wilt (Botrytis blight), and Phytophthora blight.
- Inadequate Access to Light,
- Overfeeding, and
- Pest Infestation.
For more information on this, check out our article on 8 reasons your peony plant is turning brown
Why is Your Peony Turning Yellow?
The most common cause of yellowing is overwatering. But the causes below could also be to blame:
- Lack of adequate access to light, and
- Pest infestation.
See? These are also problems that can keep your peony from flowering or growing.
Like medics always reiterate, prevention is the best cure. Your peony will rarely give you any trouble if you ensure it gets what it needs to survive.
Work on perfecting its care routine as much as you can, and you will notice how much less time you spend on diagnosing its issues. Instead, you can now focus on enjoying its blooms. Happy Gardening!