Late Freeze Damage on Peony Buds


Just as one can never “step twice into the same river,” so to do we gardeners know that no two seasons are exactly alike. So far 2016 has provided us at Cricket Hill Garden with unprecedented challenges relating to our wildly fluctuating spring temperatures. Some of our tree peonies and fruit trees have not fared well after a very warm fall, a generally mild winter punctuated by brief periods of bitter cold and a spring which as seen a highs in the 70s and lows in the teens.

Tree peonies and many of the fruit trees are perfectly hardy to the -10 F we saw over Valentine’s Day weekend if they are fully dormant. This year, because of the warm fall and winter, many buds on early blooming tree peonies and fruit trees (particularly members of the genus Prunus such as peach, cherry, apricot and plum) were not totally dormant when the extreme cold struck and were thus much more vulnerable. The later blooming tree peonies, including the Chinese rockii, Japanese and hybrids were fully dormant when the severe winter cold struck and appear unaffected.

The plants most badly injured by our low of 17 F last week were the earliest blooming, and thus most far advanced, tree and herbaceous peonies. These were not uniformly injured; we saw the most damage in our nursery beds on recently propagated plants. For even the most badly injured cultivars, established specimens in our display garden came though without too much damage. The bottom line is the wild weather this spring once again demonstrates that peonies are tough plants which will continue to add beauty to a world with wild weather and changing climates.

Plump buds on ‘White Screen Reflects a Blue Jewel‘ lookin’ good a week after a hard freeze! 

Tree peonies which had damaged buds going into to last week’s freeze are looking pretty sorry. Luckily we only see a few cultivars badly effected like this.

Some early blooming hybrid herbaceous peonies had buds freeze.

Early to leaf out and bloom hybrid herbaceous peonies which were divided last fall were the worst effected of any peonies in our nursery.

Some 1 yr. tree peony grafts also suffered some damage. On very young plants like this we always pinch off the flower buds. This year a mercurial Mother Nature saved us the trouble!

All in all, the peonies in our nursery are looking great as we hopefully move into warmer and more stable weather. We looking forward to a great season!


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