What Is Rose Balling: Reasons For Rosebuds Dying Before Opening

Are your rosebuds dying before opening? If your rosebuds won’t open into beautiful flowers, then they are likely suffering from a condition known as rose flower balling. Read on to learn more about what causes this and how to fix the problem.

What is Rose Balling?

Rose “balling” normally happens when a rosebud forms naturally and begins to open, but once the new swollen bud gets rained on, soaking the outer petals, and then subsequently dries too quickly in the sun’s heat, the petals fuse together. This fusion does not allow the petals to unfurl like they normally would, resulting in rosebuds dying before opening or failing to open at all.

Eventually, the fused ball of petals dies and falls off of the rose bush. If seen by the gardener prior to falling, the bud may appear to have been infected with mold or fungus, as the buds can become slimy once it starts dying.

Treating Balling Rosebuds

The cure for rose flower balling is actually more an act of prevention than anything else.

Thinning or pruning rose bushes so that there is good air movement through and around may help. When originally planting roses, pay attention to the spacing of the bushes so that the foliage does not become too dense. Thick, dense foliage opens the door for fungal attacks to hit rose bushes, and hit them hard. It can also make rose balling more likely to occur.

Botrytis blight is one such fungal attack that can cause this balling effect. New buds attacked by this fungus stop maturing and the buds become covered with a fuzzy gray mold. The stems below the bud usually start turning a pale green and then brown as the fungal disease spreads and takes hold. Mancozeb is a fungicide that will help prevent an attack of botrytis blight, though some copper fungicides are effective as well.

The best practices appear to be the proper spacing of the rose bushes when planted and keeping up with pruning them. In some cases, if the balling condition is spotted soon enough, the outer fused petals can be carefully separated away such that the bloom may continue to open as it naturally would.

Just as with any problems with roses, the earlier we notice things, the quicker and easier it is to bring the problem to an end.

If you live in the Midwest, you are likely familiar with the summer-blooming shrub commonly called Rose–of-Sharon, but you may not know it by its other common name – shrub althea. You may not be aware that it is a Hibiscus, that its scientific name is Hibiscus syriacus or that it belongs to the Mallow family, Malvaceae.

Rose-of-Sharon is a large shrub, reaching up to 12 feet in height and nearly that in spread. The plant adapts well to most soil conditions, except extremely wet or dry, and is generally hardy throughout Indiana. It will perform best in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. The foliage is late to leaf out in spring, remains green through late autumn and has little, if any, display of fall color.

The primary attraction is its large flowers of white, red, purple or blue, beginning in late June to early July and often continuing through August and perhaps September. When all goes well, the plants are loaded with blooms, virtually covering the entire shrub.

However, failure to bloom and bud drop seem to be common problems with Rose-of-Sharon, and, yet, we don’t know exactly why. It flowers on the new growth each year, so even if the plant experiences winter injury, it is still able to produce flower buds. But many are frustrated when the plant puts on lots of buds that fail to open. Sometimes the plant may start out blooming normally but, as summer wears on, the buds start to drop prematurely.

Individual flowers of this plant are not particularly long lasting, so it is difficult to say what is premature blossom drop. Hot temperatures, heavy rain, wind, etc. will hasten drop of mature blooms. But, if buds and immature blossoms are falling, it may be caused by plant stress, such as too little or too much moisture and/or fertilizer. There is a fungal disease called Botrytis that infects flower buds and causes them to turn brown and drop, often before or just after they open. Thrips are an insect pest that feed on flower buds and can cause the buds to drop. It is possible that a combination of these factors is to blame.

But I do wonder whether some bud drop is just ‘normal” for this species. After all, the shrub does tend to produce huge numbers of flower buds, so maybe this is nature’s way of thinning out the load so the plant’s resources are not overwhelmed.

Since it flowers on new growth, you can prune Rose-of-Sharon in late winter or early spring. It can be pruned back hard to keep the plant more compact. If fewer, but larger, blooms are desired, you can trim back again in late spring to reduce the number of flower buds per stem. Some authors recommend pruning back to 2 or 3 flower buds per stem. I wonder if this would reduce the blossom drop as well?

Some people have trouble getting peonies to bloom. Read on to learn why! Source: Renee Firmingham. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

The garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora) is among the most popular and reliable temperate climate perennials. Most gardeners are more than satisfied with the results they get: their plants bloom in late spring or early summer and produce a profusion of large flowers, often double, frequently delightfully scented. Just the plant they need to decorate their gardens or fill buckets full of cut flowers. And peonies are very long-lived: plants, many still thriving after more than 40 years in the garden, still blooming massively each year, yet require little more care than a bit of hand weeding.

Yet not all gardeners are so successful. Their peonies bloom very little if at all. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:

Problem 1: The Plant Is Too Young

This peony was divided leaving only one eye … and not much of a root, either. It will probably take several years before it blooms. Source: www.southernpeony.com

Peonies are very slow-growing. A newly planted peony plant bought in a typical nursery may well take a year before it first flowers and 3 to 5 years before it’s really starting to bloom heavily. Less mature starter plants, like those inexpensive Chinese imports—or divisions you made yourself with only one or two “eyes” (buds)—can take even longer before they first bloom: 2 to 3 years! And it’s no wonder so few gardeners grow peonies from seed. You probably won’t see the first bloom for at least 3 to 5 years and it will then take them 7 to 8 years before they’re really blooming abundantly.


Be patient! Your plant will bloom … eventually!

Problem 2: Excessively Deep Planting

Peony eyes need to be covered in no more than 2 inches (5 cm) of soil. Source: statebystategardening.com

When you plant a peony, you have to ensure the eyes are buried, but not too deeply (about ¾ to 2 inches/2 to 5 cm). Never any deeper. Otherwise, the foliage will come out in perfect condition, but there will be no flowers … or very few.


Dig up and replant the peony at the right depth, preferably in early fall (the best time to replant a peony). Or wait. Because a peony planted too deeply will eventually correct itself and grow closer to the surface … but you may have to wait 10 years or more before it blooms.

Problem 3: Mature Peony Transplanted Without Division

It’s best to divide mature peonies rather than replanting them intact. Source: www.southernpeony.com

Peonies simply don’t like transplantation and mature plants, with dozens of long, thick, carrotlike roots carrots, are even less enthusiastic about the idea than younger ones. You’ll often discover that a mature peony (one planted 7 years ago or more) refuses to flower after it’s transplanted, or at least, only does so after several years. Gardeners often find that when they transplant several mature peonies, at least one will begin to flower as if nothing had happened, but the majority are still stubbornly refusing to flower 4 or 5 years later.


Divisions of peonies take moving much better than mature plants transplanted with all their roots and buds intact. Dividing a peony rejuvenates it, in the sense of “making it young again.” Properly done, divisions give renewed, vigorous plants that will likely bloom the following spring. Aim for divisions with three to five eyes. If you divide the plant into smaller divisions than that, with only one or two eyes, you’ll end up with a plant that is too young (see Problem 1) and is not yet ready to bloom. So, instead aim for the middle ground: a peony that is neither a stodgy old-timer nor a wet-behind-the-ears baby: essentially, you want a full-of-pep teenage peony!

To find out when and how to divide a garden peony, read Fall is For Dividing Peonies.

Problem 3: Too Much Shade

In shady spots, stick with the shade-tolerant woodland peony (Paeonia obovata). Source: www.pinterest.ca

Garden peonies are sun-loving plants and do best in full sun in all but hottest climates, where partial shade is better. In most gardens, they’ll still bloom in partial shade, but with fewer flowers and may well have weaker flower stalks. In true shade, though, the common garden peony is a total washout.


Move your peony or reduce the shade, perhaps by eliminating overhanging tree branches. Or plant shade-adapted peonies, such as the woodland peony (Paeonia obovata).

Problem 5: Foliage Removed Too Soon

Leaf peony leaves intact all summer. If you want to cut them back, wait until fall. Source: http://www.southernpeony.com

After flowering, a peony rebuilds its energy supply and starts to prepare for next year’s flowering thanks to the photosynthesis its leaves carry out. They essentially “recharge its batteries.” Without them, the plant will peter away and die. And the peony is no spring ephemeral: it needs a good three months of foliage to store up the energy needed for next year’s bloom. So, its leaves must be left intact until the end of the season, at least until the beginning of September (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). If you mow down them on purpose or by accident in July or mid-August, the plant’s ability to rebloom will be severely impaired!


Do not cut back peonies after they bloom. Leave the foliage intact until at least early fall. With many cultivars, the leaves will start to redden in September, a sign that their work is done for that year.

Problem 6: Too Much Fertilizer

Try to keep nitrogen-rich fertilizers away from peonies or else dilute them to safer levels. Source: courses.cit.cornell.edu

It almost never happens that a peony is in soil so poor in minerals that it fails to bloom, but it will fail to bloom if it gets too much fertilizer, especially if the fertilizer is rich in nitrogen (the first of the three figures seen on the fertilizer label). The culprit is usually lawn fertilizer applied too generously right next to the peony.


Peonies are slow-growing plants, not fertilizer-guzzling weeds. With most fertilizers, apply at no more than half the recommended rate. That’s usually quite sufficient, especially if the first digit is greater than 10, as 20-5-10.

Problem 7: Late Frost

A severe late frost can kill peony buds. Source: www.southernpeony.com

The garden peony is actually quite cold hardy and often pulls through late frosts unscathed, but a really deep, penetrating frost at the wrong time, just as the flower buds are starting to form, can kill them, leading to a year without flowers.


If you know that a severe frost is expected just as peony flower buds are starting to become visible (their most vulnerable stage), you can cover the plants with an old blanket or some other cloth, using stakes to support its weight as if it were a tent. Usually, however, it’s easier to stoically accept that sometimes Mother Nature plays dirty tricks on gardeners and wait until flowering resumes the following year. It just isn’t something that happens that often.

Problem 8: Unacceptable Growing Conditions

Every plant has its specific needs and peonies like rich, deep, fairly loose soil that is always at least a bit moist and has a pH of about 6 to 7. In addition, it’s a temperate climate plant that prefers a slightly cold to very cold winter, growing best in hardiness zones 2 to 7. In extreme conditions, such as a tropical or subtropical climate, severe aridity, rocky soil, very alkaline or very acid soil, or an abundance of invasive tree roots, etc., it will not be a very happy camper and likely will not bloom.


If you don’t have the conditions needed to successfully grow peonies, grow something else!

Problem 9: Diseases

Flower bud killed by gray mold. Source:

Peonies are prone to various diseases, including gray mold or botrytis blight (Botrytis paeoniae), the one most likely to specifically harm blooms. It can kill or damage flower buds, leaving small buds black and dead and larger ones browning and unable to open. It also kills stems and leaves or provokes brown, water-soaked splotches on foliage. Diseases in general and gray mold in particular are especially frequent in cool, wet weather.


Cut off dead flower buds as soon as you see them. The plant still needs at least some of its leaves, though, so even if they are diseased, it may be better to leave the foliage in place for the summer so that what leaf surface is left can carry out photosynthesis, but do cut and destroy them at the end of the season. Applying fresh mulch annually can be helpful: it helps prevent disease spores that overwintered in the soil from migrating back up from the soil to the leaves. Ensure good aeration and good drainage at all times, even if that means you have to transplant your peony elsewhere. If the situation is repeated each spring, either apply a fungicide every two weeks … or give up on peonies.

Peonies as far as the eye can see: something you just might be able to accomplish! Source: Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden,mbgna.umich.edu

There you go! A quick tour of nine reasons peonies fail to bloom. But don’t let the text above scare you off peonies! Yes, there can be problems, but most gardeners have no difficulties at all with their peonies and they come back to bloom massively year after year. You’ll probably find peonies among the easiest perennials you can grow!

Peony problems aren’t that common, as these plants have all the qualities gardeners value most highly in perennials.

They have fragrant flowers, are long-lived and easy to grow, cold hardy and deer and drought resistant.

But sometimes things can go wrong with peonies. Here are solutions to potential problems.

Solving herbaceous peony problems

My peony buds start to grow in spring, but they stay very tiny and die.

This is a condition called “bud blast” that can occur in newly planted peonies. The flower buds grow about the size of a small pea but then stop growing and fail to open.

Peony plants form their buds in the fall. A clump that’s been divided has a much-reduced root system, and it sometimes doesn’t have the strength to develop all its buds. This problem goes away as the plant matures.

In more mature plants, possible causes include poor soil fertility, too much shade, dry spells or cold injury after an extreme winter. Winters that are colder than normal and late spring frosts can abort the buds of mature as well as new plants.

The best remedy is to protect peony clumps with winter mulch (fall leaves or Christmas tree boughs work well) applied in late fall or early winter after you have cut down the previous season’s foliage.

A few stems on my peony suddenly got a gray mold and then wilted and turned brown. What’s wrong?

In cool wet springs, peonies can be affected by botrytis blight. A number of stems in a clump can be affected in older plants, while young plants can have all stems affected.

You should remove any wilted stems, cutting below the affected area. Be careful not to allow diseased material come into contact with healthy stems. Discard in the garbage (not the compost), and disinfect your pruners with rubbing alcohol or bleach. Your peonies should recover when conditions get drier and warmer.

To prevent problems, always plant your peonies in a sunny spot, spacing them to allow for good air circulation, and do a good clean-up of old leaves each fall.

More information about fungal diseases on peonies.

I’m having peony problems: my plants have been in the same spot for years, but now they aren’t blooming as well as they used to.

Generally, peonies grow well for many seasons, as long as they have humus-rich soil, adequate moisture and full sun.

However, if your plants have been in the same spot for years, the soil may be depleted. Mulching them each spring and fall with a couple of shovels full of well-rotted manure or garden compost can help.

If your plants are getting crowded or are now shaded by surrounding trees and shrubs, consider dividing or moving them.

The best time to do this is in late summer or early fall. Cut into the fleshy roots to make divisions that have at least four or five eyes (the little buds you see on the roots). Replant into enriched soil and make sure the eyes are set no deeper than two inches. See tips for improving your soil.

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