Don't Squeeze the Bud: Three Ways to Extend the Life of Your Cut Peony

Don't Squeeze the Bud: Three Ways to Extend the Life of Your Cut Peony

Nothing marks the gentle return of summer like a peony. At Bear Creek Farm, we are obsessed with this extraordinary flower - and always moved to write about them. Their season is short. We, here at the farm, are so busy harvesting this glorious bounty that we too often miss the moment to share what we have learned about tending, harvesting, and extending the life of a peony. 

So, we wanted to pause. We wanted to slow it down enough to share the benefit of our experience with our friends while it is actionable. (While it is still high peony season.) 

For those of you growing peonies, know that we, at Bear Creek Farm, make it a point to learn by doing. This is another way of saying that we learn from our mistakes. Trial and error is at the heart of so much of what we do. We enjoy sharing the benefit of any knowledge we glean along the way. Experiments gone sideways are teachable moments, never mistakes. From the Department of True Confessions, when I began growing peonies I was told to pick a peony at “the marshmallow stage,” advice I confess to have found confusing. I understood that this analogy was intended to align with the relative “feel” of the bloom – soft, medium, or firm. Still, I found this advice difficult to apply. It did not really tell me when to harvest the bloom. In addition, I wondered why one would be advised to squeeze every bloom prior to cutting. I had questions about the risk of transferring oils (if hands are ungloved), or bacteria (if using gloves) to those gorgeous petals with every suggested squeeze.

  • Pro tip: in essence, when the green sepals separate from the bloom and the flower colors up, your peony is ready to harvest - and it will open. Forget about marshmallows. Peonies have nothing whatsoever to do with marshmallows. After much experimentation and observation here at the farm, we find that peonies are part of nature - and can be treated like any other flower. They throw both colors and clues. They tell you when they are ready to be harvested with visual cues. Don’t squeeze the peonies. 
  • Pro Tip: Freshly cut peonies must rest. After harvest, peonies must “rest” for ½ an hour or so. (In other words, you do not want, immediately, to submerge the stems in water.) If they are put in water immediately this will cause them to “blast” open, thinking the party has begun. 
  • Pro tip: the question of how best to store your peonies presents. (This is perhaps more for growers than home gardeners.) We suggest initial storage of freshly harvested peonies in a cooler (34°-36°) containing enough water to provide adequate moisture. Having experimented in numerous ways, we at Bear Creek Farm prefer wet storage to dry storage. In our experience, the petal simply looks fresher as the stems and blooms rest and prepare to be displayed. For years, many have understood that it is best, initially, to store peonies dry. This has not been our experience.

There are few things more beautiful than the early summer dappled light falling upon a vase full of peonies in a kitchen; nothing sweeter than seeing peonies (just ready to harvest) bent over in rain and beaded in droplets of water. They come to stand strong once more. Peony season underscores the power of the gentle choreography and partnership between the grower and nature, and evidence of miracles.

Now that you've finished reading this article, you should check out our tulip planting primer, dahlia growing guide, and cutting guide for dahlias. And if you're shopping for dahlia tubers, make sure to check out our giant dahlia tubers (10"+ blooms), micro dahlia tubers (under 2" blooms), dark pink dahlia tubers, dark red dahlia tubers, and bicolor dahlia tubers.

Leave a comment

Please note that comments are reviewed before being published.

Elizabeth Severino

Thank you so much for this … I was taught by a major grower to squeeze the buds and it’s never worked for me, it never felt right, but I also didn’t know what else to do other than wait until I saw an actual bloom unfolding … thank you for giving me a vocabulary and understanding around when to harvest …

Mary Jane Risch

Peonies are lovely, but bring ants into the house is not. I find that ants get up late in the morning and go to bed relatively early. So I cut peonies either well before 10am or after 5pm.

tina fischer

Thank you so much for this, but I’m left needing more info about storing: can I put them in my home fridge? Should they be in a vase of water? Or should they be NOT in a vase, but wrapped somehow? And for how long can I ‘store’ them???

Korinne M Umbaugh

Great peony care information but I do have a question about the cut and rest for 30 minutes. Can you please give the details. Once cut are you placing in the shade of a cool room and laying flat like on a table or are you placing in a vase without the water for 30 minutes? Also after the 30 minutes of cooling off, are you then re-cutting the stems and placing in water then into a cooling box that the flower farmers have? Can us home growers wait the 30 minutes, re cut the stems and then place the stems in water? Sorry for asking so much detail but I have my grandmother’s peonies and I want to learn how to do this right as I am the only back yard cut flower grower in my family and I am the annual Mother’s Day Peony Flower Fairy that delivers porch petals and I need to do this right. Thanks so much and I look forward to your response.

Michael Dolan

Do all peonies bloom at the same time ? Or can you extend the season with early and late bloomers? Thanks so much I really find your email advice both interesting and helpful, your a good storer.