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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bossing The Blooms

No, I haven’t found a magical way to make peonies grow in Austin – these flowers appear by permission of my youngest sister - she took their photos in her Illinois garden. They’re lovely, fragrant, old-fashioned, doubled peonies, ready to cut for vases.

My sister said she wished she could hold back the peonies until out-of-state guests arrive in a couple of weeks. That reminded me of an old trick for keeping peonies in storage, ready for June graduations and parties. Maybe you already know about it? Or is this another of those things that longtime gardeners mistakenly think everyone knows? Please let me know if you’ve done this, too.

The hard part is that you have to live where peonies grow – which eliminates many of us! And you need a couple of established peony plants like my sister’s. If I were at her house we’d go out and cut stems about 10 or 12 inches long, with buds that show some petal color, and are just starting to swell – something bigger than a golf ball – smaller than a tennis ball. There are several good buds at lower right in the photo below.

The flower buds need to be perfectly dry so you don’t get mold! Remove any leaves. Wrap each stem individually in paper towels or newspaper, bundle 6 or 8 stems together and slip them in a plastic bag. I used to use the sleeves in which the newspaper arrived. Cut a few more than you need, since some may be duds.
The bundles go on a refrigerator shelf, with the heads facing in. About twenty-four to thirty-six hours before you want to arrange them for your table, you take the peonies out, recut the ends and put them in water and most of them will be fine and unfold. Then make your arrangement, adding fresh peony foliage to make them look just cut. Be amused as your friends search your garden looking for the peony plant that blooms after all the others are done.

You can use this technique to delay peony bloom for a couple of weeks… wait too long and they'll probably still open, but the flower petals get dry on the edges. Have fun!


  1. Annie, I had never heard of this trick before! That's wonderful--I was just posting about how huge my peony bush is, so it will do it good to have some stems cut out of it anyway. I promise to report back in several weeks when I try them as cut flowers. Thanks!

  2. I hadn't heard that tip before either! Now that I finally have a peony, I'll have to keep it in mind :-)

  3. Annie, that's a great trick, I'm going to try it and see if it works for me! (Not that I have any company coming). This reminds me of a garden tour I was on last year. You know the old saying "you should have seen them last week". Well, one gardener took pictures of her peonies, blew them up, and clothes-pinned them to the plant which was past its bloom time. It was certainly amusing!

  4. Did not know this, did not know this, did not KNOW THIS. I want to try it and will be rushing outside soon to see if I have any peonies still in that "slightly bigger than a golf ball bud stage" to try this out! Thanks for the tip!

  5. I did read about this somewhere, but never tried it-thanks for speaking from experience! I did a bloom day post too, but kinda cheated cuz' it's a wildflower.

  6. Lovely colors on those peonies! Most of mine won't bloom for two weeks yet but that is a good trick however, now I need a bigger refrigerator! Peonies has such a delightfully light fragrance, don't they!

  7. Great tip! Sort of a variation of forcing spring-flowering shrubs. I need to send myself a reminder to try it next year. I wonder which other plants it might work with?

    I think the tip LostRoses picked up on a garden tour might be handy too :-) Or you could set up a big video screen and run a slideshow of last week's photos.

  8. You know all the tricks

  9. That's a neat trick-I must try it on some things here eg branches of citrus blossoms and see it if works! I did a variation on hibiscus once-I picked and kept the buds one night, wrapped in tissue and left them in the refrigerator till the following night, then put them in the bud vases for the dinner party-hibiscus opened at night!
    I do adore peonies in vases-I only get to see this when I visit my friends in Virginia.

  10. Thanks for that handy tip, Annie. Luckily I do live where peonies grow so I'll give it a try.

  11. I've been told my an Ohio native here not to bring the blooming ones indoors unless you want ants as they take cover there...

  12. I think I will be able to have Peonies in zone 6a or 6b. I am not sure which one my elevation will make me.

  13. Would love to know where in Il your sis lives...doing some design work in Kenilworth(next door to Glencoe)...I used to be a nanny in Glencoe a long time ago....small small world

  14. Hey Annie,
    Now I'll have to go raid somebody's peony bush just so I can try it! :) What great pics. See you soon.

  15. Blackswamp Kim, that was one of the nice things about peonies and lilacs - once they got going you could cut lots of flowers without making the plants look bare. It's more fun to cut them than to prune them later!

    Colleen maybe next year?

    LostRoses, this is also insurance against those violent spring storms that smash the flower heads in the mud.

    Wow, Carol, I'm glad I made this post. And hope it works for you.

    Hi Lisa - since when are wildflowers 'cheating'?? They're gifts from nature!

    Layanee, they're real classics, aren't they? My sister has some that came from our grandmother, supposedly via our Great-grandmother but the variety doesn't always open fully.

    Entangled - now you have me wondering the same thing... it would have to be something with the flower ready to go.
    We've put photos of the flower beds out for potential buyers when a house was up for sale... so many times the selling time of year is not the blooming time of year!

    Hank, whenever I remember fun trivia like this, it only seems right to pass it on and hope the next group of gardeners can have fun with it, too. I owe so much to the gardeners who helped me.

    Hello Nicole, that's interesting... my lemon trees are way too small to cut, and the tropical hibiscus died, but I have a couple of perennial hibiscus.

    Thanks for the idea!

    Yolanda, I hope you get good results and can stretch out the peony season for more fragrance!

    If people will avoid peonies because of a couple of ants, Early Bird, they sure are sissy gardeners! There's also an old saying that if you don't have ants, the peonies won't open.

    Oh Christopher, I hope you can grow them at the new place - maybe you can even do Tree Peonies? Short on fragrance, but so exquisitely beautiful.

    Cityfarmer, I've never known anyone who lived that far North. My husband and I raised our family in various far Western Suburbs, and enjoyed easy access to the museums downtown. Most of the members of our large extended families are far SW siders.

    We only went up to Glencoe for the Botanical Gardens ;-]

    Thanks for the comments - please let me know if this works for you.


  16. Chris your comment came in when I posted... if you get caught, don't tell them it was my idea!


  17. That's incredible! My neighbors has peonies that were beautiful for less than a week. The blooms were heavy and quickly turned brown. Our drought makes it worse but I'll share this trick with her. She loves cut flowers in vases, as I do.

  18. Dear Annie,

    Hint from Hallelujah! thank you. Will pass this on to friends back in KY., where peonies grow.

    Peony lovers in the Lexington, KY, vicinity will want to visit the big peony garden at Ashland, former home of Henry Clay.

    A woman had the garden planted in memory of her mother, and it's a beauty. Lots of single peonies I'd never seen before as well as these gorgeous ruffles.


  19. Thanks for the great tip. I am growing peonies for the first time this year at my current house.

  20. Hmmm, I wonder if florists use this trick? Will you send the flying monkeys if I steal this trick?

  21. I've done this--I didn't totally believe it would work, but it did. I saved them in the vegetable drawer until my sister's birthday, about 3 weeks.
    And on the ant question--if I'm bringing peonies indoors, I submerge the blooms in cold water for abt 10 minutes--works like a charm.

  22. I'm just stopping by to say hi Annie. I'd miss peonys terribly
    if I had to move to a southern climate. The colors of these blooms are gorgeous.
    What a great tip. Nope, I didn't know it either. Thank you so much!
    I'm barely keeping my eyes open, so I'll have to read your other posts next time. We have too much to do here! Serves me right for being an obsessive gardner.
    I hope your weather isn't too hot yet. It's been beautiful here.

  23. Well, if only I had peonies in my garden...I'd definitely give this a try. It's one of the regrets of every southern gardener I think - I daydream about tree peonies. Sigh.

  24. Hi Mary - I'm not sure the buds would be able to open if the plants are so dry - the petals might not even be forming properly. I hope you get rain soon!

    Julie that sounds like a wonderful place for Kentucky visitors - thank you~

    OldRoses did you grow them before in another garden?

    Ha, ha, Ki - this is a Passalong trick!
    A long time ago peonies were cut from fields in Illinois and kept in huge coolers for Memorial Day - I once knew a guy who cut peony stems when he was in high school. Are peonies a cut flower today?

    Hello Lucette - thank you so much for sharing that you've also tricked the flowers. And for the hint about keeping the ants off the tablecloth~

    Hello Kerri - I'm glad to hear from you, but know how busy you are since spring finally arrived in New York State ;-)

    I had one wonderful tree peony in IL, Pam - before we put the house on the market, I dug it up and took it to my friend Barb's house. Maybe someday I'll be up there at the right time to see it bloom again.

    Thank you all -


  25. Hey Annie... if I may bother you with a question, here it is: Ever since you've posted this, we've had off and on rain. Can I get the peonies dry enough with towels and such, or do I need to wait for a really naturally dry day?

    It may dry out tomorrow, but just in case it doesn't, I thought I should ask. I've been putting it off, but I think that the peonies won't let me wait many more days for it to get dry. :)

  26. This is a wonderful tip - I had not heard of this before. It seems as if many of the gardeners above had not either.

    Those are beautiful blooms in the pictures!

  27. Annie, that's wonderful..! I had not heard of that. I love peonies, especially for dinner parties. Peonies don't grow in Austin? What is the climate like there?


  28. BlackswampGirl-Kim - I don't remember whether I ran into this problem, but I'll bet you could get them dry enough with paper towels.

    We're in an off-on rain here, too -and things are getting mildew!

    Kate, the response to this idea has amazed me - and I was surprised that more people haven't tried it before.
    I'm glad my sister sent the photos.

    Hi Josie. I love peonies for a table arrangement, but that belongs to my Illinois past, not my present!
    Austin gets some freezes in winter, but there aren't enough consistently cold days for things like Apples, lilacs, tulips and peonies. Peonies don't do well where the summers are so hot. We get a lot of days over 100ºF every summer, but unlike desert areas, it seldom cools off at night. Our local garden experts say it's the hot nights that make it impossible for many plants to grow here.
    But the milder winters mean there's something blooming just about all year.


  29. A great tip! I hope I remember it when my peonies settle in and flower. One flower on three bushes last year; promise of several this year (fingers crossed!)

  30. Annie,
    Thanks for the great tip. I didn't know about it either.

  31. What a cool tip! I have several peonies that are just starting to bud. This is a definate must try!

  32. Could you please tell me if the bag needs to be sealed? does the entire stem including the bud need to be inside the bag or does the bud stick out of the top of the bag when you store them?

    1. Sorry for the late reply, ReJoyce. The peonies go in head first. If the ends of the stems stick out a little it probably won't matter since you'll be recutting them when you put them in water. Good luck!


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