For those of us who are blessed to garden in northern states and higher elevations, temperature swings can be massive during peonies emergence in the spring. Customers from those states have been very active via phone, emails and social media as of late. Perhaps I may indulge you on some facts that we have experienced here on our peony farm since 2002.
The number one question we have been receiving is, ‘should I cover my peonies during the colder temps at night?’ Knowing the fact that we cannot cover our peonies here on our farm, what happens to our peonies after a frost or hard freeze? I’ll drill this down into two areas of growth; 1) no buds showing and 2) blooms/buds showing.
- No buds – this stage is by far the least likelihood of any current year frost/freeze noticeable damage. Yes we have seen rows of peonies tip over only to perk up again when the temperatures warm up again. We do not fret when viewing this example knowing that the roots are relatively warm underground. Sometimes we see leaflets curl up and not tip over only to open up again when it warms up. Finally in conditions like multiple nights below freezing and temperatures down to 12 F to 14 F degrees, the leaflets may brown on their edges or become all brown. Again we do not fret as I will summarize later.
- Blooms and buds stage – hang on friends as yes you will see damage. Buds and blooms are the most sensitive to temperatures below freezing. What happens? If in bloom, blooms will wilt overnight and cease to exist. Buds are a little trickier as they may turn brown overnight or in a few days. Buds may or may not open or because of the lower temperatures, they may appear inferior and/or smaller than normal. We’ve had instances in our fields where the bloom quantity was reduced by 50% because of a hard freeze. Hard to view, yes, but, this is the peonies way of reserving their energy into root structure growth for next year.
The mentality of ‘oh no the sky is falling because of a frost or hard freeze on my peonies‘ is dear gardeners, ok. ‘Yes but will my peonies die?’ Emphatically, no. Here’s the deal, peonies are not like annuals and vegetables that only have a one and done root structure. Peonies have multiple root structures knowing the longevity of their lives and have certainly been there done that. Massive temperature changes, too much rain, drought, lawn mowers cutting them down unexpectedly, irrigation systems, trampled on, over spray from chemicals, fire and oh yes male dogs to name a few. When some of our peonies are hit by a frost or hard freeze, it is certainly less of a wow factor in our fields for that bloom season but guess what? In the fall our root development is massive and next year’s bloom is amass with more blooms than normal. Of course next year we continue to pray for ‘normal’ spring temperatures, just the right amount of rain and that our male dog ‘Redd’ would use a pine tree instead of a tree peony? Thank the good Lord we don’t have to fret about lawnmowers, irrigation systems and chemicals!
So dear peony gardeners, if you want to cover your peonies with a sheet or light blanket, please consider doing that or like us, it is what it is!