Three peony pruning mistakes that could be ruining your flowers 

Should you prune peonies? The experts explain what to do and when to do it (and when not to do it).

The beautiful blooms and foliage of peonies make for a stunning display. But sometimes our best intentions at pruning can lead to flowers that under perform. We’ve spoken to garden experts to reveal the top three most common peony pruning mistakes and how you can achieve an impressive display throughout the season. 

Instinct might tell you to prune them back ready for next year’s appearance, but according to experts who tell us they’ve never pruned a peony in 30 years, you could be getting it very wrong. 

So, before you set to with your secateurs, here’s what the experts advise, and the mistakes you could be making.

Pink peoniesCredit: Shutterstock/Fusionstudio

1. Pruning peonies too hard

It’s actually a case of less is more

When it comes to maintaining peonies we need to treat them differently to other plants. Saga Exceptional spoke to Nick Swankie, gardener at the National Trust’s Benthall Hall in Shropshire, about how and when to prune peonies.  

“Peonies are herbaceous perennials that all do pretty much the same thing,” says Swankie. “They all die back in the winter. They make tidy plants in an herbaceous border, and they don’t need a lot of work.”  

Swankie makes peonies sound like the ideal plant, especially when he told us they don’t need pruning. “In 30 years of gardening, I’ve never pruned peonies,” he says. “They die back in the autumn and all you need to do is gently remove the previous year’s growth.” 

For this reason, Swankie describes peonies as a good all-rounder, as there is more to the plant than just the flower. “As Alan Titchmarsh would say, they are a good ‘doer’, and the foliage is really pretty,” he adds. “You get some herbaceous perennials, such as delphiniums that look a mess once they’ve finished flowering and you have to cut them back, but with peonies, even though they have a short flowering season, they are good throughout the year.”  


How to prune tree peonies

Just like perennial peonies, tree peonies require minimal pruning. Simply deadhead the flowers once they have faded. However, tree peonies can become leggy and woody over time and may need pruning back to give it a tidy shape and reinvigorate the plant. This is a job for the spring before the new growth starts. 

A border of bright pink perennialsCredit: Primrose Hall Peonies

2. Deadheading peonies unnecessarily

They can often be left alone

While deadheading often encourages flowers to continue to bloom throughout the season, prompting good plant health and more flowers to flourish, this isn’t the case with peonies.  

Swankie explains that deadheading peonies won’t encourage further growth in the season. “Peonies only flower once on the season’s growth that they’ve put out that spring. You should be able to see all the flower buds in the spring before they open and that’s your show for the year.” 

However, in some cases, it’s worth removing the old flower heads. “Some of the doubles can look messy when they get wet and can start to rot on the stem,” says Swankie. “If that’s the case, it’s better for health hygiene to get rid of those, otherwise they can cause rot to run down into the main plant.” 

What is a ‘double’?

Double peonies have more than one layer of petals and form big, fluffy flowers.  

When removing a flowerhead, Swankie recommends taking it from where the flower stem meets the first leaf – there should be about a 15cm (6in) gap between the two. Remember always to use a sharp pair of secateurs to give a clean, healthy cut.   

In most instances, you won’t need to worry about deadheading the flowers unless any have started to rot and go mouldy, as once the flowers have finished, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful seed pods.  

Pink Peonies at the National Trust's, Ickworth HouseCredit: National Trust/Ray Dale

3. Pruning peonies too early in the season

Wait until the first frost otherwise they won’t be happy

“Lots of people think that if you cut back peonies that they’ll come back again, but they won’t,” says Swankie.  

“If you were to prune all the leaves off a peony in mid-summer, it won’t thank you. It won’t make any new flowers, and although it will probably return the following year, it won’t be very happy about it.” 

However, you can reach for your secateurs once the first frost arrives. Swankie says: “Cut the old leaves off the plant, compost them if you can and leave them alone. You don’t need to mulch them.” 

When do peonies flower?

“The main season is late April right up until the end of June,” says Swankie. And because of the timing of their flowering season, he recommends growing them with roses. “Peonies start a bit earlier and very often finish when some earlier roses have finished their first flush.” He also thinks that peonies have a ‘rose-like’ flower that makes them a perfect match for companion planting. 

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.