Tips for Using Peonies as Cut Flowers
Peonies are the most decadent and captivating flowers in the late spring garden. Their never-ending layers of petals, delightful perfume, and old-world charm are impossible to resist. While enjoying their blousy blooms outside is a delight, the true joy lies in cutting an armful of these gorgeous flowers and filling your home with their intoxicating fragrance. Better still, tuck a few away in the frig to enjoy on a cold and rainy day.
Peonies make excellent cut flowers and when harvested properly will last 7-10 days in the vase. You can cut them for home enjoyment, sell them at a farm stand, hold them in dry storage for a wedding, or sell them to a wholesaler or florist. Whatever your cut flower needs, here are tips on how to harvest, condition, and store peonies for a long and happy vase life.
Proper planting will set you up for success
Peonies can be grown in zones 3-8 and should be planted in the fall or early spring. First, select a site that has full sun and well-draining soil. Then position the peony root so that the eyes are 2 inches below the soil line. If a peony root is planted too deeply it will produce foliage but no flowers. However, if a peony is planted too shallow it can heave out of the ground in winter causing damage to the roots.
Be patient with young peonies
Fall planted peony roots with 3-5 eyes will often put up 1-2 flowers their first spring, while spring planted roots will often produce only foliage. It’s best to wait three years before harvesting peony flowers so the plants can become well established.
There are two schools of thought on how to treat two-year-old peonies. Some growers will advise not cutting any blooms, some growers will advise removing all the buds, while others will say to cut one short stem per plant to ensure the variety is what you ordered. Whichever school of thought you subscribe to the moral remains the same. Wait until year three to make a significant harvest from the plant.
To disbud or not to disbud
Mature peonies put up many flowering stems, and most varieties carry multiple buds on each stem. If you plan to sell your peonies to a wholesaler or florist, ask if they would like the side shoots disbudded. This results in a single stemmed peony with a larger flower head. Generally, wholesalers expect a disbudded peony, and florist preferences vary.
How to harvest peonies for the longest vase life
Peonies are ready for harvest when the buds have swelled and feel like a stale marshmallow when squeezed between your fingers. Also, the sepals will have started to pull slightly back from the petals when the bloom is ready. If the bud feels hard like a marble when squeezed, it’s too early for harvest and may not open in the vase. On the contrary, blooms that are allowed to fully open in the sun will only last 3-5 days and will shed their petals rapidly. A correctly harvested peony in marshmallow stage will fully open in 24-48 hours in a 68° F location.
When cutting your peonies leave as much foliage on the plant as possible so the root can regenerate itself for next year. As with all cut flowers, cut in the early morning or late evening and place immediately into fresh clean water. Peonies can be held in water in a cooler for one week.
Dry storage and rehydration
Peonies that will be held longer than one week should be stored dry. It’s crucial that any dry stored flower is COMPLETELY dry when put into storage. Even the morning dew can cause serious molding or botrytis issues in storage.
For dry storage, harvest the peonies in marshmallow stage and wrap bunches of ten in paper. Next, place the wrapped bunches in bulb crates alternating the peony head placement as you stack them. Then place the crates in your cooler at 34/35° F. Dry stored peonies can be held for 3-4 weeks.
When rehydrating dry stored peonies leave the paper wrapping around the stems until fully rehydrated. Remove only the amount you need from storage and cut one inch off the base of the stem. Then, place the wrapped peonies in a bucket of fresh clean water in a room temperature area. The paper can be removed in a few hours once the stems are fully rehydrated.
Favorite varieties for cutting
Festiva Maxima – This heirloom peony has generations of admirers. Festiva Maxima has plush, creamy white flowers with loads of petals that are flecked with a touch of crimson. It’s the perfect peony for weddings with an exceptional perfume and huge blooms. Festiva Maxima was introduced by French breeder Auguste Miellez in 1851 and won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
Coral Charm – A favorite with florists and a Gold Medal winner from the American Peony Society in 1986. The loose, semi-double flowers feature a flounce of coral and cream petals surrounding a golden yellow center. The plants have strong stems and attractive, deep green foliage.
Sarah Bernhardt – Sarah Bernhardt is one of the world’s most beloved peonies, and it’s as popular today as when it was first introduced in 1906. The buds resemble raspberry ripple ice cream that open to a pale pink petticoat of a bloom.
Black Beauty – This dazzling, wine-red peony will sparkle like a jewel in your early summer garden. Its blossoms are packed with silky petals and you’ll want to bury your nose in their wonderful fragrance.
Duchesse de Nemours – This gorgeous heirloom peony is still considered among the best double whites ever introduced. Glossy foliage and tall, sturdy stems make it an outstanding cut flower. Moreover, she received the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1993.