Today I’m sharing something I tried for the first time ever – refrigerating peony buds for months of blooms.
The reason I thought of doing this in the first place is that my mother and I were SO busy with her moving, that I knew we couldn’t fully enjoy them.
I’ve read about this technique before, as a way to ‘hold them’ for up to 8 weeks, but never actually tried it.
So, we picked loads of her peonies to take with us and experimented away.
I was thrilled with the results!
Here are some of the peonies (left) six weeks after refrigerating them in April.
In this bouquet, I intentionally mixed them with other summer-blooming flowers (agapanthus and phlox) to prove that they did, indeed, last until July!
Once the dust settled from the big move, it was so meaningful to have one last bouquet of my mother’s favorite peonies.
So if you have peonies right now, I highly recommend trying this easy technique to enjoy them over the next few months.
As you’ll see below, the process is quite simple.
1) First and foremost, it’s all about timing and the stage in which you pick the peony buds.
You don’t want to use fully open flowers (like the one, left) as they won’t survive the weeks of chilling, having already spent their energy fully opening up.
You don’t want to use tight buds, either (like the ones below) as they’ll never open once refrigerated.
Just like Goldilocks, you want to pick the opening buds when they’re ‘just right’.
What’s ‘just right‘?
I’ve heard some describe the ideal firmness of the bud to a marshmallow.
What I do is take the bud between two fingers and lightly press down with your thumb to see just how dense it feels (left.)
Here’s the exception: When refrigerating a double-flowered variety (like my ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ left), choose buds that are a little more open than single petal varieties.
Also, cut the stem as long as you can, as you’ll need to trim them again when you remove them from the refrigerator.
2) Strip away the leaves and roll the flowers loosely in a layer of paper towels.
I’ll leave one or two leaves at the top, but basically you don’t want the foliage to rob the flower of its precious energy.
The paper towels should be dry to absorb any and all moisture.
Moisture is the ENEMY of this process, resulting in a most unfortunate surprise when you pull them out (ie: mushy, rotting flowers!)
3) Loosely cover the flower heads & stems with two plastic bags.
Gently tie both of the bags closed. Again, the goal is to prevent moisture from getting inside and ruining the flowers.
I placed my flowers in my refrigerator’s vegetable bin, and they were perfect when I pulled them out 6-weeks later.
When it’s time to remove them, trim the stems at least 2-3 inches before placing in a vase.
Sit back, and enjoy!
For the best video that shows this process step-by-step (plus beautiful music, to boot!), click here.
Next, I’d like to share some of my favorite varieties that thrive in my Zone-9 hot and dry garden.
My peonies are on the same irrigation schedule as the rest of my garden, receiving water twice a week during the hotter months.
However, if it’s going to be a week or more of triple-digits, I might give them an extra bit of water (but usually not, as I always seem to forget!)
My all-time favorite peony is ‘Felix Crousse’, which was a division from my mother’s garden.
As you can see, it’s a prolific bloomer with vibrant, dark magenta blooms.
Several years ago, I posted this photo on Facebook (left) and polled people about whether they liked the pink/orange combination or not?
I received SO MANY comments that were split down the middle between the lovers and the haters.
There’s something about pink and orange that seems to send some people over the edge!
Personally, I love this color combo and don’t think it clashes at all.
If you look at the color wheel (left) you can see the purple/pink color is adjacent to the reddish-orange colors (aka: analogous.)
Analogous colors typically include groups of three that are next to one another on the color wheel. The result is a harmoniously pleasing combination.
Even so, people still seem to have a strong reaction combining pink and orange!
Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’
My second favorite peony is ‘Sarah Bernhardt.’
Quite honestly, she’d tie for 1st place except in my garden she’s taken her sweet time to get established.
Apparently this is common when dividing peonies (sometimes taking up to 5 years!) but since Felix didn’t waste a moment giving me tons of blooms, he wins 1st place.
The huge, full, double-form flowers are the softest pink imaginable and are the epitome of elegance.
In my garden, I particularly like surrounding the dark green leaves with the soft, velvety foliage of senecio ‘Silver Gleam’ (left.)
But there’s so many ways to echo or contrast ‘Sarah Bernhardt’s’ soft colors. Just take a look below…
For example, in my mother’s garden, she created a vibrant, contrasting pink color echo by placing a towering weigela ‘French Lace’ behind the peony (right.)
In the example (left) both ‘Felix Crousse’ and ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ are planted near the chartreuse foliage and bright pink flowers of a spirea ‘Goldflame.’
The result is a long-lasting, eye-popping spring combination.
Below, on the other hand, is a much softer color echo when combined with the creamy white blooms of a climbing ‘Sally Holmes’ rose.
Itoh Peonies ‘Creme a l’orange’
Over the past few years, I’ve fallen in love with Itoh peonies (named for the man who bred them, Dr. Toichi Itoh.)
In a nutshell, Itoh peonies (also called intersectionals) share qualities of both the tree and herbaceous peony varieties.
They’re vigorous growers with profuse and oversized flowers (sometimes blooming twice!) with lush, deeply-lobed foliage. Their stems also seem more substantial than other peonies and haven’t required any staking (a plus when it rains!)
‘Crème a l’orange’ (left) has thrived under the oak trees in my garden.
Its flower has the most exceptional colors, in shades of soft apricot and orange. A heavy bloomer, the flowers last for three to four weeks, beginning mid-April.
‘Canary Brilliants’ Itoh peony (left) is a newer one in my garden, with a very unusual flower.
When it first opens, the double-form flower is in soft shades of peach and apricot – for about a week.
But then (seemingly overnight) it turns into a buttery yellow color with no hints of peach at all.
Take a look below at the same plant, one week apart – it looks like an entirely different flower, doesn’t it?
I guess the word ‘canary’ should’ve tipped me off!
I’ve planted ‘Canary Brilliants’ near a drift of carex ‘Everillo’ to echo its bright chartreuse colors.
Even when the peony blooms are a thing of the past, I appreciate the oversized, dark green foliage that toughs it out during my hot summers.
The plants rarely wilt in the heat and provide a lush atmosphere.
AND, did I mention they’re deer-resistant, too?
And once the cooler temps of fall finally arrive, many varieties reward you all over again with another burst of color.
For more information about peonies, click here for Margaret Roach’s informative interview with peony expert, Jeff Jabco.
And if you love ball-shaped flowers as much as I do, click here to see more of my favorites.
Gorgeous blooms, reliable foliage, and fall color? What’s not to love about peonies!
I realize I’ve only touched upon the vast topic of peonies, so please feel free to share with us your favorites, any tips, and if you feel like it – what’s your opinion on the pink and orange color combo!? (I promise, no judging!)
Inspired by you, I just mixed some peony plants in with my Japanese maples, gardenia and pittosporum. They look beautiful and offer a different texture and height along with beautiful flowers. Looking forward to trying my hand at the refrigeration process next year! I hope you had fun at you nieces wedding in Seattle. I know how much you adore her and her mother.
hahahaha – yes, I do adore that sweet neice but her mother is a piece of work. 😉 I’m so glad you now have a beautiful bouquet – the Japanese maples are a fantastic idea, mixing wispy textures with the big, fluffy balls of flowers. (btw: her flowers are drying nicely, as are the citrus slices. can’t wait until a few more weeks when I can take them out of the press!)
I knew that peony blooms could be refrigerated but was unaware they could be held for as long as 6 – 8 weeks. Growers always pick peonies in bud for easier shipment.
Many years ago I read an article by a lady who was frustrated because her peony buds would never open. Finally one day she decided to make an arrangement using just the buds. To her amazement the buds eventually opened. I don’t remember what zone she lived in. Also, if you live in warmer zones (like my zone 9), be careful to cover the “eyes” with no more than 1″ of soil or they will never produce blooms. Thank you for the informative article!
Hi Sharon, In the video I attached I believe the lady said she’s kept then longer than 8 weeks – if I ever grew enough I might experiment with the timing (but I’m usually so frugal with the blooms I have, I’d hate to ruin them by refrigerating them too long!) Great tip about not covering the ‘eyes’, thank you.
I love pink and orange together! Can’t wait to try refrigerating some peonies next spring. I would never have guessed this was possible. Great article, thank you Rebecca!
Hi Cathy – I couldn’t believe it either, but yes it definitely works! Pink and orange is winning in the polls, btw. 😉
I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE peonies but I’ve just moved to Palm Desert — can I grow them here or is it just too hot and dry for them to survive?
Hi Joan, I did a quick google search and while I thought you couldn’t grow them in Palm Desert, it seems you might be able to. I’m shocked! You should definitely pursue it a bit to see if that’s true, and if so I’d love to hear about any success you have! Fingers crossed for you! 🙂
What a great article!
Thank you ❤️
You’re so welcome, Kathy, thank you!
Rebecca, you delight your readers with the most wonderful gardening articles over and over. Thank you for what you take the time to do! I always am happy to see your name in my emails!
What a lovely comment, Marilee, thank you for making my day. I’m so happy you enjoy my blog. It’s a labor of love, to be sure, I only wish I had more time to write as I have so much to share! Happy Gardening – Rebecca
Great info on peonies. I just read the Jeff Jabco article too. Are the peonies you describe in your article tree peonies? I know nothing about peonies and when I get some I want things to be done right. I live in zone 9 too.
Hi Chris, The first two I mentioned are regular peonies (the ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and ‘Felix Crousse’) but the Itoh peonies are the ‘intersectionals’ which are a blend of regular and tree peonies. I’ve never planted a tree peony and am thinking I might need to try that next! Not all varieties will bloom in warmer zone 9 climates, but the ones I mentioned worked really well. You might try googling warmer climate varieties to make sure you don’t buy some that really want that winter chill. Best of luck! 🙂
Thank you for this timely email! The peony buds in my zone 5b garden are just beginning to open. I will definitely try refrigerating some of the blossoms for later enjoyment. Love it!
I’m so glad the timing was right, Dorothy – I meant to share this a few weeks ago but just couldn’t find the time. I was afraid I was too late! Good luck refrigerating yours – I hope they turn out as nice as mine did 🙂
I love the color combo! And I love reading this blog!
How interesting about refrigerating peonies! Thank you for sharing!
I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Nevenka – thank you!