Peony Growth Stages

Knowing the life cycle of peonies will help you become a better gardener. How does it grow?

Peonies bloom with the most magnificent flowers and lush green leaves, and they are absolutely stunning.

But exactly what stages of development do they go through to produce these lovely blooms? Today, I’ll go over the essential stages of the shrub’s life cycle: seed, germination, bud swelling, shoot emergence and elongation, leaflet opening and extension, flower bud enlargement, flower bud opening, and rest phase.


A seed is the beginning of a plant’s life cycle. It contains an embryo, which germinates and grows into a mature plant.

The peony seed is a dicot. Dicot seeds have two embryonic leaves, or cotyledons.

The seed coat is a tough outer coating that shields the embryo inside the seed. Some seeds may thrive even after many years if kept cool and dry.

Bud Swelling

Botanists use the term “bud swelling” to describe the stage that follows bud inactivity and precedes bud opening in the developmental morphology of flowering plants.

Buds are flowers that are still in the embryonic stage. The bud-swelling phase marks the plant’s transition from dormant to active development.

Warmer and longer days stimulate the production of endogenous plant hormones, and bud swelling on woody stems marks the start of the growth cycle.

The time between when the temperature rises and when the buds swell varies by cultivar.

Sprouting red and yellow peony plant in a rich soil

Shoot Emergence and Elongation

A leafy stalk will emerge as the bud matures and separates. You’ll notice that multiple new shoots emerge from the bottom stem at the same time.

Meanwhile, the baby leaves would be folded and firmly tucked within.

Young red peony flower with only its shoots

Leaflet Opening and Extension

At this stage, the leaves begin to expand outward, resulting in their drooping and flat shape. At this phase, the flower bud begins to form on top of the higher leaves.

Flower Bud Enlargement

At this stage, the bloom buds get significantly larger. The buds will eventually develop to the size of a golf ball. 

The color of the blossom will eventually come through during this stage.

After the bud reaches the size of a golf ball, it will take 5 to 10 days to grow to the next stage.

Young peony plant with its buds yet to bloom

Flower Bud Opening

At this point, the petals open up and the blossoms begin to reveal the cultivar’s specific aesthetic characteristics.

Each bloom can last from 7 to 10 days. Peonies often have a large number of flowering buds, and the blooms emerge at different periods over the course of 6 weeks.

Beautiful pink peony flowers in full bloom

Rest Phase

Peonies shed their vegetative components in the fall. That means the plant as a whole dies back in the autumn and goes dormant for the winter. 

You may remove all leaves between September and November and cut the stems all the way to the ground. 

When winter is over, the plant begins using its accumulated reserves to provide energy for shoot growth and development. This is the beginning of a new life cycle. 

Alaine Connolly
Alaine has been working way too hard in horticulture since 1992, beautifying golf courses, resorts, and hotels. She is a part time landscape designer who works full time caring for a 28,000 square foot public garden. At home, she maintains her own 400 square feet plot. Alaine lives in northern Illinois - zone 5b.
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