Do I need to protect my tree peonies from winter winds and freezing temperatures?
I live in Bar Harbor on a hill where it is very windy. I routinely have mulch blown off the garden beds, petals blown off my daylily flowers, etc., when storms blow through. I have several tree peonies that have been in my perennial garden for the last three winters. Each winter I have been putting stakes around each plant and wrapping burlap around the stakes, and filling the burlap container with leaves. I used to live in MA with these same tree peonies and never wrapped them in the winter, but it was not super windy there. Should I continue to do this?
Lynne M. Holland, Horticulture and Social Media Professional
Tree Peonies (info on the tree peonies is towards the end of that linked page) are incredibly hardy and the temperature difference between Bar Harbor and most of Massachusetts is not that great so you may in fact be overdoing the protection in the winter. The little enclosure you have created may invite small varmints in to spend the winter and they may find the stems and base of the peonies to be “breakfast in bed” for the whole winter.
It does sound like your peonies may be too much in the open and wind is the one thing that can really stress that plant. For both summer and winter, a windbreak of some sort would be in your best interest as it would not only protect your peonies but your gardens in general. An 8-foot tall windbreak can protect lower plants 30-40 feet away. While the height is the biggest factor of the windbreak the density is the second biggest factor. A windbreak should not look like evergreen soldiers in a row. A combination of deciduous as well as needle and broadleaf evergreen shrubs and trees at various heights planted in front and beside each other will block more wind. Since the predominant storm winds are from the NE and NW there will be no problem with shading the garden in the summer. In addition, that new windbreak may actually create a new microclimate in your yard immediately next to it that is warmer.
It is not easy to get an “instant” windbreak, but for the winter, at least in the short term, consider some snow fencing or privacy mess on the side of the plants where the winds predominantly blow. There are other some attractive options that you can buy as well. It does not need to be right up against the plant and it should be to the east, west and north of the plants. In addition, staking the plant will help with stability as well.