Archive for March, 2013

Spring has arrived in most of the continental United States and peonies throughout the land are starting to put out their new growth for the season. We are often asked how to distinguish between new tree peony shoots and advantageous herbaceous graft root suckers. We hope that the pictures below might help to elucidate the difference. A degree of horticultural eye is required, especially when growth is first emerging, so if you are unsure, wait until the new growth has progressed to a point where you can distinguished between the different leaf types of tree and herbaceous peonies before removing any growth.

At Cricket Hill Garden, about half of our tree peonies are propagated by root division while the other half are propagated by grafting onto herbaceous peony rootstock. Some grafted tree peonies, if not planted to a proper depth, are prone to have their herbaceous under-stock sprout, or in horticultural terms, sucker.


Herbaceous under-stock sprouting on a grafted tree peony. Note the distinctive ‘bullet’ shape of the new shoots. A new herbaceous peony shoot will always have fatter and fleshier bud than a new tree peony bud (shown in the next image). If you are unsure of what you are looking at, you can always email us a picture at crickethillgarden@gmail.com and we will do our best to help you ID the new shoots you are seeing around your tree peonies.

If the new growth around your tree peony looks like that in the above photo, you should remove it. See our past blog post, on how to do this. Before you chop out any new growth, be sure that what you are seeing is not just the tree peony sending up new stems from its own root system, as shown in the picture below.

tree peony sprouting

Own-root tree peonies and grafted tree peonies which have been planted deeply enough will send up new tree peony growth from the root system as they mature. New tree peony growth can be distinguished from herbaceous root-stock suckering its narrower profile.

If you are unsure if the new shoots which you are seeing are tree or herbaceous peony shoots, its best to wait until the first leaves appear. Tree peony leaves will be dissected, while herbaceous peony leaves are more ovate.

Tree peony leaves are highly dissected and usually have three prongs.

Tree peony leaves are highly dissected and usually have three prongs.

Herbaceous peony leaves are ovate and are never dissected.

Herbaceous peony leaves are ovate and are never dissected.

If you have any questions, about this or any other peony related topic, please email us at crickethillgarden@gmail.com.

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 You can request a paper copy, or view an online version here. You can download a PDF here: 2013 catalog.

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Early spring is the best time to prune a mature tree peony. The window to do this after the buds have begun to swell, and before new growth has commenced.

buds awakening

Prune tree peonies once the buds have begun to swell a bit. This way there is no question if a bud is alive or not.

Recommended tools are a pair of bypass pruners and a small pruning saw. Make sure they're sharp!

Recommended tools are a pair of bypass pruners and a small pruning saw. Make sure they’re sharp!


Look at the plant as a whole and identify dead wood.


a dead side branch should be cut down to the main branch

In other cases an entire side branch may die. Cut the entire dead side branch down to the main branch.

Cut down to the nearest live bud

When pruning a branch which still has some viable buds, cut down to the nearest live bud. The cut should be positioned just above the first live bud and angled down, sloping away form the bud. This allows water to more easy drain off and results in better healing.

good pruning cut

A good pruning cut. We do not coat the wood with any substance.

bad stubby prining cut

A poor pruning cut. The stub of dead wood above the bud is too long. This does not promote good healing.

Dead wood at base

After you have pruned up the upper branches, examine the base of the plant. Spindly interior growth often dies and this dead wood should be cut to the ground.

Saw large diameter stems or branches

Saw large diameter stems or branches.

spindly growth

Finally, after all the dead wood is removed, examine the plant for small and spindly growth. If the plant is vigorous and growing well, remove these very small side branches. They are usually found in the interior of the plant. They will not flower and will only inhibit air circulation.

Remove pruning from garden, could potentially harbor fungal spoors.

Lastly, remove all pruning from garden, they could potentially harbor fungal spores.

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