Answer: Peony flower buds that dry up and die (blast) before opening, or young shoots that suddenly wilt, could be caused by the fungus Botrytis. Botrytis is mostly a problem on heavy, poorly drained soils and under humid conditions. To control this fungus, remove diseased buds and shoots, space plants so they have good air circulation, remove winter mulches early in spring, and spray young shoots with a fungicide, such as Bordeaux mixture, several times in spring.
Another possibility is that your peonies are infested with thrips, which burrow into buds and drink their juices. If you have any of the fallen buds, take a closer look to see if you can identify their work - pale, desiccated tissue, and
dark fecal matter. The bugs themselves are hard to see because they're tiny, and the adults flit away as you approach. They usually attack plants that are drought-stressed, however, and you mention you have plenty of soil moisture.
Peonies like soil that is well drained but never dries out completely. Clay soil often doesn't drain well, so make sure you aren't overwatering. Add compost to the soil every year. The organic matter will improve the soil's drainage and provide nutrients. Are you fertilizing at all? Scratching a bit of bonemeal (an organic source of phosphorous) into the soil around the perimeter of the peonies and working it in would also be beneficial. We're pleased that you find the service useful and I hope that one of these suggestions will work on your mother's peonies!
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