Last updated on April 27th, 2020
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The peony is a beautiful and stunning garden plant but it is particularly finicky about the growing conditions it receives. It needs sun with a little bit of chill, it doesn’t want to be buried too deeply in the ground, and if you don’t give it the perfect growing conditions, you won’t get the perfect flowers.
Sometimes people who grow the peonies in their garden don’t get any flower buds or flowers at all and other times they get the buds but the buds never open and become flowers which when also combined with wilting leaves and is actually known as Peony Wilt which you can read about here.
The buds will develop on healthy plants in some situations and then suddenly turn brown and fall off. So what are other potential causes?
No flowers or buds forming on a seemingly healthy peony plant
If you have no flowers and no flower buds appearing on your plant at all throughout the entire growing season, it is likely due to inadequate growing conditions rather than a disease.
Inadequate sun – move to a sunny postion in autumn
Peonies need sun in order to produce blooms. Like many plants, without proper sunlight, they will still survive but they have to put all of their efforts into maintaining the health of the main plant which means you don’t get any flowers. If your plant is not getting enough sun in the early springtime it won’t be able to generate buds.
If this is the cause we recommend lifting the plant in autumn once the foliage had died back and replanting in a sunny location.
Not enough nutrients – Feed with a liquid feed or slow release fertilsier
If your peony is under fertilized it might not be able to support the development of buds. This is very similar to inadequate sunlight. You can add liquid or slow-release fertilizer to the ground to help them.
Have recently moved the plant to a new position
Peonies don’t like to be transplanted. Make sure you find a position with adequate conditions and leave it there. If you transplant it, it can take years for the plant to recover from the move. While it will likely survive, during those few years while it is establishing itself in the new location, you probably won’t get any flowers.
Peony need cool temperatures to set buds – remove mulch that may be around plants and don’t cover in fleece
Peonies like a lot of sun but it also likes cool temperatures. If it doesn’t get enough cold during the colder months it won’t be able to set the buds or subsequently flower. If you suspect that this is a problem, although it’s not typically an issue in the UK, you can create an environment that provides it with a little bit extra cold such as removing mulch or protective fleece from around your plants during the winter.
Planted to deep – buds should be just under the soil surface
Peonies do not like to be buried too deeply. Whether you put it in its original position after dividing or transplanted into a new location in your garden, the eye buds on your tubers need to be slightly below soil level. If you plant buds to deep under the soil, you’ve planted it too deeply and it simply won’t flower.
Flower buds appear but die and don’t open
If the buds appear on your peony but they simply failed to open, there could be other causes as they have obviously been able to develop buds.
Fungal diseases (Peony wilt)
Fungal diseases such as peony wilt caused by Botrytis paeoniae can attack the flower stems just under the buds although it is infrequent. Primarily they attack the plant when the conditions are wet and cold.
The best practice to prevent this is to remove any dead flower buds and foliage you see in the late spring and get rid of any diseased foliage from the ground.
A late frost in April or May
A late freeze in April or May, an unexpectedly delayed freeze later in the season can seriously damage flower buds that have already appeared on the plant. This isn’t something that happens often and you will be well aware if your area sustained a late freeze so you will know if that is the cause. if buds have formed and the weather forecast does mention frost it mat be worth putting some fleece over the plant until late morning.
Extreme weather such as drought when the buds are forming or about to open
Other extreme weather conditions can result in your peony flower buds appearing but failing to open. Extremely dry conditions in the summer can leave your plant very weak and if you don’t water it properly, it will produce fewer flowers the following season.
Insects such as thrips
Insects that were other pests on rare occasions can damage the flower buds so severely that they reduce flowering. Pests like thrips on rare occasions can be so damaging but at this point, insecticides are often ineffective because the damage has already been done.
Lack of nutrients
Peony plants need proper nutrients but if they are growing poorly and not given enough nutrients to produce blooms, you might see the buds start to grow in the never open because there simply isn’t enough energy in the plant to keep the plant alive and produce the flowers. You’ll know when your plans are going poorly because they are weak, yellowish, little spindly, and a bit off-colour overall. You might have to transplant to a new location that’s more favourable and add fertilizer to help keep them healthy.