Q&A: Black Foliage and Buds on Peonies

Learn how to limit plant disease to keep your flowers from wilting.

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Q: My peonies have black stems and foliage. When the buds develop they also turn black and fall off. What's wrong?

A: Peonies are subject to a number of diseases and a wet spring encourages problems. Your symptoms sound like a fungal disease. Fungus can overwinter in the soil and attack plant parts as they emerge. It might be best to remove and destroy the affected plants and put new peonies in a different location. However, before doing that, you might want to take a sample to your county extension agent to identify exactly what is affecting your plant. From your description, the fungus is probably Phytophthora blight, for which fungicides are of little value, but you'll want to have this confirmed.

In general, the best method of limiting disease from year to year is to cut off, remove and destroy all peony foliage every fall after frost. You may also wish to cut off, remove and destroy all the blackened plant parts now; after each cut, dip your tool into a disinfectant of one part household bleach per one part water to avoid spreading any disease to uninfected parts.
And of course, the best aid to disease prevention is to give peonies their preferred conditions: full sun, moist but well-drained soil and good air circulation.

— National Gardening Association

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