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Care for peonies after they bloom

Now that the peonies have finished blooming, what’s the best thing to do with them – leave them or cut them back? Ours often get an ugly coating of powdery mildew on the leaves in the summer. Is there a way to prevent this?

After they bloom, peonies spend the rest of the summer gathering strength to bloom next year before they die back to the roots in winter. A good first task for the gardener is to cut off the faded flowers. Garden expert P. Allen Smith suggests removing the seed pods and lightly fertilizing in late spring or early summer. But be sure to leave the foliage. After the blooms are gone, the rich green leaves of peony shrubs remain an attractive feature in the garden – except when it develops a case of powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew is a fungus that develops in humid weather, particularly in moist, shaded locations. The fact that it develops may be an indicator that the shrub is in too much shade (in which case, it may not bloom well, either), or getting sprinkled too often and staying moist too long. Peonies should be planted in full sun in an area with good air circulation.

Prevention of powdery mildew is easier than treatment. Cleaning up around the plant after it blooms, and in the fall after the leaves and stems die down, is a good way to prevent many diseases and conditions in peonies and other herbaceous perennials. Garden experts at Gardening Know How suggest a homemade solution that may help: Mix together a tablespoon each of baking soda, horticultural oil or canola oil, and liquid dish soap without bleach with a gallon of water. Spray on the peonies every 10 to 14 days throughout the summer. Do not spray during hot and sunny days, and always, always test a small part of the plant before spraying the whole plant.

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