Assessing winter bud damage on tree peonies


As our tree peonies begin to wake up for the spring, we are seeing more flower and leaf bud damage than usual. The damage is most acute on the earliest blooming varieties of Chinese tree peonies. This freeze damage was caused by the few days of very low temperatures (-10° F) we experienced over the Valentines Day weekend. Fully dormant tree peony buds are hardy to temperatures below this low. Last fall's extraordinarily warm weather caused the buds on many of the early blooming tree peonies to break dormancy in December and thus be vulnerable to freeze damage. Lucky, the vast majority of our tree peonies remained dormant throughout the winter and appear the be leafing out normally now. We do not expect this spring's peony bloom to be any less spectacular than those in years passed, proving once again that tree peonies are a hardy, resilient plant which bloom beautifully year after year even in an age of unpredictable weather.

If there is any damage to this year's tree peony buds, it should be quite apparent by now. Damaged buds will be brown a shriveled, while viable buds will be reddish pink. 

Later blooming tree peonies, such as Japanese cultivars and the Lutea hybrids still have very little growth apparent. Because these did not break dormancy in the winter, we do not anticipate that these suffered any damage.

This early blooming variety of Chinese tree peony seems to have suffered severe dieback to the top growth. Very few buds on the woody stems look like they survived the winter. Tree peonies are resilient and already this plant is sending up new growth from the roots. It may be a few years before it next blooms.


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