The Q&A Archives: Moldy Peonies under Winter Mulch

Question: I planted 3 peony plants last fall on a southern exposure right next to our house. The location gets full sun regardless of the season. To overwinter them, I cut them down to about 1 inch and covered them with a light layer of leaves and some hay over that. With our warm weather here all of the snow has melted. I peeked under the mulch today and saw that all of the stems are moldy. What should I do to ensure that the plants survive? I don't want to remove all of the mulch because of future freezing and warming that may heave the bushes out of the soil.

Answer: Hopefully the mold is just feasting on the decaying stems, and isn't a fungus that attacks living roots. At this point, if it hasn't snowed since you sent this message, remove the wet leaves and straw, and trim the moldy parts from the stems. Replace the wet mulch with dry, fluffy straw. Straw is less likely to mat down and collect moisture than leaves.<br>So long as the roots looked healthy when you planted your peonies, and the soil is still frozen, they are probably fine. Keep an eye on the site - if another pre-spring heat wave hits, and meltwater puddles around them, lead water away with small drainage channels formed in the soil. As soon as you can, remove the mulch for good and allow that warm spring sun to dry up excess moisture. Hope this does the trick!

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