Asked June 9, 2016, 8:53 PM EDT

I had a friend that moved and asked me to transplant her beautiful 11 year mature peony plants. I know that a Fall transplant is better, but with them moving, I had to dig them up. I live in the Pocono mountains of Pa. and we had a late Spring this year. It was the 3rd week of May and the ground was very damp due to much recent rain when I moved them. There are 4 plants that I moved and they were only 20" tall and had not started to "spread" much yet. I dug 4 oversize holes, at least 2 feet deep, and added some rich, humusy soil when I planted them. I think the move went well and have several blooms and the plants that are loaded with buds. But what I have noticed, there are also many buds that turned black and never got bigger than a small pea. I also had some leaves and stems by the buds turn black as well. I pinched off some of the "black buds", but not all of them. Over the last few weeks we have had a lot of rain. I also saw aphids on one plant. I certainly appreciate any help, advice or comments and cures you could offer to me. Thanks and Regards, Greg Homiller 215-519-2600 (cell)

Carbon County Pennsylvania flowers: annuals and herbaceous perennials

1 Response

peoniesing in herbaceous peonies (and this is true for peonies-2Blooming in herbaceous peonies (and this is true for most plants) is controlled by factors like light, nutrients, the premature removal of foliage, recent transplanting, and also various plant diseases (often triggered by weather conditions). Planting depth can also affect peonies adversely. The details:


Are your peonies getting enough sun, or has a nearby tree or shrub grown and reduced the amount over the years (hence a recent decline in bloom, perhaps)? Nearby trees can pose another challenge: When peonies try to compete with extensive root systems of large woody plants, they can lose…meaning reduced bloom. Peonies ideally want a minimum of six hours of full sun a day (you may be able to skimp a little in the more southern part of their hardiness range, Zone 8).


Overfeeding peonies, which can even happen inadvertently if they are planted beside a lawn that’s being fertilized heavily, can result in bountiful foliage and no blooms. Best to feed them compost or a balanced, all-natural organic fertilizer (never one high in Nitrogen), or some experts like bone meal. If your soil is good, just a sidedressing each year with compost will do nicely.


The untimely removal of foliage (too soon, before it can nourish the roots below by “ripening” intact on the plant) will reduce or eliminate peony blooms. Cultivate healthy foliage all season long; cut back to near the ground only after frost.

planting depth

With peonies there is also the “too deep” thing–they really do know if the growing points, or eyes, are buried more than about 2 inches beneath the soil surface. Though the roots will work to right themselves gradually (true!), too-deep planting can delay bloom until the plant makes its way into a better position (unless you bury it so deep it never can adjust).

excess soil moisture

Damp, poorly drained spots will be havoc for peonies. Why waste such a wonderful plant that promises many years of reward by sentencing it to this?

recent upheaval

Was your plant recently acquired, or recently transplanted? Peonies can sulk for a year or more after planting, especially when moved in fall, which is when they make their flower buds. Though that’s an ideal time to move them for many reasons, it can also be a bit of a distraction from their otherwise primary task of bud-production.

diseases and weather

Cold, wet weather in spring can trouble peony buds, and some or many may be lost to fungal outbreaks. Frost is another costly factor: One year we had a freeze here when my earliest bloomers were already coloring up. Not pretty; farewell to that first crop of blooms from those plants. Other reasons buds will “blast” (fail to fully develop, often blackening first and drying up) can include the stress of dry conditions. Always clean up well around peonies and if there were fungal issues, destroy (do not compost) the affected plant parts.