When to cut back peonies - for a garden full of romantic blooms year after year

It may sound counter-intuitive to cut back peonies. But trust us; it’ll be worth it

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The idea of pruning your beautiful peonies probably sends shivers down your spine, but knowing when to cut back peonies will definitely work in your favour. And we have a feeling that a lot of people will want to know this nifty peony trick. 

After all, spend ten minutes scrolling through Instagram, and we guarantee that you’ll stumble across a vase of peonies on someone’s countertop. These romantic, low-pollen blooms are popular for houseproud homeowners and green-fingered gardeners alike. You can even grow peonies in a pot if you're short on outdoor space.

But while peonies are generally low-maintenance, they do require a little TLC every now and then - especially if you’re growing these perennials in pots or in flowerbeds. But when should you cut back peonies? We’ve asked the experts and even found out why you should cut back peonies. 

Why you should cut back peonies

Just as many people are unknowingly mispronouncing the name of this flower, they’re also unknowingly selling their peonies short. That’s because peonies need to be cut back every single year - for the sake of the plant itself and for the beauty of your garden. 

Pink Peony

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For starters, cutting back your peonies will help the plant hold itself upright. As the plant grows and the flowers bloom bigger and brighter, they can often be too heavy for the stem. This causes the whole plant to flop over, potentially smothering other plants in the flowerbed in the process.

By cutting back your peonies, you can ensure the full health of your peony, as well as the plant around it. This also allows you to shape your plants if you’re that way inclined. 

But that’s not all. Cutting back your peonies lets you control any insects or diseases that may be infecting the plant. By removing these things, you can promote a healthier bloom next year. 

When to cut back peonies

If you rejoice when your majestic peonies start to bloom in the spring, we don’t blame you. Their big and bold flowers are what make peonies so popular, and they’re an obvious choice if you want to add colour and texture to your potted plants or your garden borders.   

But as the summer goes on, you may notice that the flowers of your peony start to fade, and the leaves start to look a little ropey. You might assume that this is the right time to cut back your peonies - but it’s important that you wait. 

‘Autumn is the best time to start cutting back your peonies as this is when the foliage has begun to dry out, and the plant can’t receive any more sunlight,’ says Steve Chilton, a garden expert from LeisureBench. ‘Make sure the foliage is fully dry at the stage of cutting; otherwise, you will be limiting the amount of energy the peonies can gain from sunlight. Without the appropriate energy, the following years' growth is likely to be limited.’  

Pink Peony

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You should also prune right after the first frost of the season, so the exact month will depend on where you live and the current weather conditions. However, this is generally in October. 

If you cut peonies back too early, you may stunt the growth next year - so by waiting until the end of the season, you should give your peony flowers a better chance to thrive next year. 

How to cut back peonies

Whether you're growing peonies in a pot or flowerbed all you need to do is grab a sharp pair of pruning shears - like these JEOutdoors Pruning Shears from Amazon - and then prune the stems right back to ground level. However, it’s important that you don’t go below ground level or damage the plant underneath the soil, as this could ultimately kill the plant or stunt growth next year. 

Pink peony bush

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Deadheading vs pruning

It would be easy to assume that deadheading and pruning are basically the same thing. Yet, there’s a big difference. While deadheading lupins is enough to bring the blooms back even brighter the next year, the same can’t be said for peonies. 

Deadheading focuses primarily on the flowers rather than the whole plant. And while removing the dead flowers of peonies will definitely help next year’s growth of flowers, cutting back a peony (or giving a prune) will ultimately help the whole plant’s growth. In turn, this will result in more vibrant blooms, more fragrant smells, and an overall healthier plant. 

RHS Chelsea award-winning garden designer Martyn Wilson explains how to deadhead a peony. ‘Once a peony has flowers, simply deadhead by cutting the stem back to a healthy leaf bud,’ he says. ‘Leave the rest of the foliage for the rest of the season - it will start to turn a lovely red tone which looks striking in an autumn border.’ 


What month is best to cut back peonies?

The best time to cut back peonies is just after the first frost, in late autumn. Generally speaking, this is in October - but can be as late as November, depending on the weather conditions where you live. If you cut back your peonies prematurely, you can affect the growth of the plant next year. So, it’s important to wait until at least October before getting your cutting shears out - even if your peony bush is looking a little worse for wear. 

Do you cut back peony after flowering?

Peony flowers rarely flower for more than six weeks, and they normally stop blooming in late spring/early summer. It’s important that you don’t cut back peonies after flowering, as this is too early. It’s best to wait until the first frost of the season to cut back your peonies, as this will give the plant the chance to squeeze as much energy out of the leaves as possible. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.