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Tips on Taking Care of Peonies

Cham Tanteras 11 May 2022
orange, pink, yellow, and white peonies

Peonies are one of the most beautiful flowers, known for their soft, ruffled petals that always brighten up special occasions. When peonies are fully open they make a magnificent statement bursting with color and texture that far exceeds most other blossoms. But in order for peonies to be fully open at the right time for your wedding or event, they require individualized care. This guide will explain the phases and variables you'll need to consider, how to store and care for peonies in order to achieve the look you want. We'll even explain how to deal with peonies that are already fully open and in need of slowing the bloom.

Stages of Blooming

Pink peony in the sun being held by its stem

The most important thing to understand about peony care is that these flowers are cut to order and shipped from the farm in bud form. The freshly cut stems go into hibernation for the journey and will arrive in different stages of blooming; from tightly closed round buds to buds that are starting to crack open. Depending on when your event is you will decide whether or how long to keep the peonies in hibernation and when to process and hydrate them to open up for arranging. Timing is crucial because as soon as peony buds are cut and hydrated they get the "signal" to finally bloom! You want this to happen at the right time so they are perfectly bursting when you want them to be. Color and variety can also affect how and when a peony blooms so you'll need to assess each peony upon arrival and determine next steps.

Hibernate or Hydrate?

ivory peonies against blue background

Upon opening your boxes (do not remove the packaging around the flowers yet) and take a look at the buds of each bunch. Golf ball-shaped buds can take up to 3 days of hydration before they start to bloom, while buds that are starting to crack will bloom sooner. If your event is more than 3-5 days out you may want to keep the buds in a state of hibernation so they do not start to bloom. The secret to keeping peonies in a state of hibernation is to NOT unwrap the stems; keep them tightly packaged in bunches and place them in a cold, dark room. Crank up the air conditioning, keep them away from direct sun and they will sleep. We do not recommend refrigeration as these delicate blooms may be damaged by the wrong temperature or exposure to other food items. See our notes on refrigeration at the end of this article. Once you are ready to take the buds out of hibernation and invite the blooms to open, you will follow the steps for processing and hydrating. The timing and steps below explain the options for both a bud that is golf ball-shaped or already cracking.

Processing & Hydration

Remember, that when you trim the stems and place them in water, the peonies get a signal and start to bloom. However, depending on the buds and whether they are tight like golf balls or cracking open, there are two different instructions. When peonies are tightly closed, they usually have a few days of hydration before they start blooming. You’ll want the buds to loosen up slightly, so room temperature storage is good to encourage opening at this stage - cold temperatures slow or halt the blooming process.  Inspect your peonies as you unwrap the stems and choose the option that best describes your peonies in bud form.  You may have some stems that are golf ball-shaped and others that are cracking; thus each stem will require assessment and individualized flower care to achieve its full potential. Follow these steps to prepare your peonies:

How To Steps for Peony Care

man holding bunch of yellow, hot pink, and light pink peonies

1. Prepare the Water

Gather buckets or containers to hold the flowers while they hydrate. Ensure that your buckets or containers are clean by rinsing them out with warm and then cool water beforehand. Avoid buckets that may have residue of any kind - this could injure your flowers. Next, fill the containers with at least 4 inches of fresh, cool water. Taking care of peonies means giving them enough nutrition. We recommend using flower food in the water to further prevent bacteria and give added nutrients to the stems. Flower food packets are often available where bouquets are sold. If you have stems in varying bud stages, prepare two containers with fresh, cool water; one for golf ball-shaped buds (which may need up to 3 days to bloom) and one for cracking buds (bloom in 1-2 days). If your event is a few days out you may prefer to keep the cracking buds in hibernation for another day while the golf balls are hydrating and opening.

2. Remove the Peonies from the box

When your boxes are delivered (or come out of cool storage/hibernation), it is important that you delicately unwrap the flowers, cut stems and get them into water as quickly as possible. Gently open your boxes and remove any protective packaging, such as foam or paper, rubber bands and cut any straps inside the box. Strip the stems free of leaves that would be below the water line and potentially cause rotting leaves and bacteria to build up. Any foliage below the waterline may cause bacteria to form, shortening the life of your flowers. Remove it with sharp, clean flower shears or scissors. Pro tip: don’t throw the boxes away — they will come in handy if you plan on transporting the flowers later.

3. Cut stems and hydrate

One at a time look at each stem and determine if it is bud stage. Cut two to three inches off the stem under running water. Place the golf ball-shaped stems in one bucket and the cracking bud stems together in another bucket; this allows you to provide optimal water and room temperature for the bloom stage. Ensure that you have sufficient room in each bucket for the number of stems you will be storing — you never want to overcrowd your containers. Overcrowding may damage stems and affect the blooming process.

Remember.....your peonies will respond to your care. Adding warmer water or placing them in a warmer room will help tight buds open faster, but you must always be gentle and gradual. Never expose peonies in any stage of bloom to extreme temperatures. Mother Nature has designed cut peonies to receive gentle signals; open when cut and warmer (or over time) and to keep tight, hibernating when cold.  Start the hydration in a cool to room temperature  area and gently warm over time if you need to quicken the bloom. Be careful not to expose peonies to direct sun or heat as this can inhibit blooming or cause them to peak and taper too quickly.  Monitor the blooms closely to check the bloom stage, adjust water temperature as needed and refresh water every 24 hours. The attention you give is what nurtures the fullest bloom on a peony!

4. Monitor the Progress

Allow the flowers at least 4 hours to hydrate. It can take up to 8 to 12 hours to properly rehydrate. Periodically check the water levels, as flowers drink a lot of water when they first arrive and the water may need to be refilled. Change water every 24 hours and re-cut stems every 24 to 48 hours to keep flowers fresh. Gently adjust water temperature or room temperature if your peonies need encouragement to bloom. It’s so important to continuously check the water level and add additional water throughout the day as needed.  Here are the daily care steps for hydrating peonies: remove the peonies first and place in an empty bucket, then pour the old water out. Rinse your bucket and refill it with 3-5 inches of fresh water - use temperature based on the bloom timing for your event day - cooler to slow the bloom, room temperature to open. Re-trim the stems of the peonies at an angle (under running water), and place them back into the bucket.

5. Arrange

Gather buckets or containers to hold the flowers while they hydrate. Blooming peonies are using stored energy and it's important to handle each stem with love and care. As you begin to create your bouquets, arrangements or centerpieces, gently lift its stem from the bucket where its hydrating and arrange in your prepared vessel. Be sure to leave extra length on bouquet handles so that you continue to hydrate and trim the stems until ready for use. Peonies are an impressive focal flower that will sparkle in any arrangement and steal the show!

6. Storing Arrangements

Like most flowers, peonies should be kept in a cool, dry area until ready to use (unless you are trying to speed up the blooming process, in which case you’ll want to introduce light and some warmth, but not direct sunlight). Many people believe that they need to keep their flowers in a refrigerator, but for the most part, this is not needed! See our notes on refrigeration at the end of the article.

Care Tips for the Night Before Your Event

wet pink peony on mirror

The night before you are planning on arranging the flowers is the time when you want to look at your peonies and decide if their bloom stage matches your creative vision.  If the bloom heads are more closed or open than your preference, don’t panic!  Follow these steps above to encourage your flowers to either loosen up or maintain their form. It's essentially a gentle equation of warmer or cooler. You can determine what's needed and do this using this care guide. Remember, you can also apply a mix of bloom strategies in order to achieve the popular au natural look of flowers in mixed stages of bloom. Peonies in bud form make beautiful accents in arrangements and are perfect for boutonnieres; not every bloom will open perfectly and you can find creative ways to use every stem. Pro Tip: Just as cool and dark locations slow the flowering process, warm and sunny locations will mimic spring-like conditions and help take care how these peonies bloom quickly.

Peony Care when Already Blooming

bunch of yellow peonies against a white background

Taking care of peonies in full-bloom when you purchase them requires another set of considerations so that your design will be fluffy and fresh for several days. To keep fully opened peonies looking good you'll want to store them in cooler conditions that will slow their bloom rate. Use only very cool water, keep in a dark, cold room and you will maximize their appearance and vase life.

A Note on Refrigeration

We don't recommend refrigerating flowers because if the temperature of the refrigerator varies, the flowers may become damaged. Instead, we recommend that you allow your flowers to hydrate in a cool and dry place away from sunlight, such as a basement or an air conditioned room with the blinds drawn. The average household refrigerator is kept much colder than a florist’s cooler and therefore could damage flowers. In addition, most flowers are sensitive to ethylene gas, a gas that is emitted by fruits and vegetables, which makes the refrigerator a dangerous place for flowers. So make sure if you opt to store peonies in a refrigerator, it should be empty. In general, we do not recommend refrigeration for flowers. However, the exceptions are dahlias or peonies that are already cracking or opening too fast upon delivery. In this case, refrigeration may be considered to minimize bloom progress.

Tips if you Choose Refrigeration

Remove bunches from the box, but keep them wrapped in their packaging or protective paper. You’ll want to keep the flowers cold— gently place each uncut bunch (on their sides) onto refrigerator shelves (ideally set around 37 degrees F). The blooms should not touch the inner walls and should not be kept in the coldest part of the fridge. Cold temperatures slow the blooming process and preserve flowers in their current state; however, too much cold (i.e. contact with fridge walls) can damage them.

girl with black hair holdin pink and white peonies

As you have learned, the level of care required for peonies to be fully opened and optimally blooming for your special event requires more consideration and attention than other flowers. But, take one look at a peony in full bloom and you'll be convinced that following our How to Care for Peonies guide is worth every step!

Some say... things that are worth doing, take time.  Choosing to accent your special day with the bounty and beauty of fluffy, gorgeous peonies is certainly an effort that will surprise and delight your guests while honoring the day with exquisite beauty. Browse our collection of lovely and romantic, fresh-cut peonies in white, yellow, coral, pink, lavender, burgundy, blush and classic pink. Peonies are often available April through June but that's up to Mother Day! Thanks to our partner farms around the globe whenever peonies are available we will offer them - check our peony page to view Peonies available by month.

Updated by Kailee Palileo

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