Many gardeners eagerly await the annual early summer explosion of peonies. Whether ruffled, double blossoms or open-faced single flowers, peonies make a striking display, particularly in established cottage-y perennial gardens.
Adding to their popularity, they are relatively disease-free and long-lived. Unlike many herbaceous perennials, they do not need to be divided every few years. In fact, they prefer not to be disturbed. However, transplanting is a smart choice if the location has become too shady, the plant has outgrown the space or aesthetically it just isn’t in the right spot.
Fall is the very best time to move the plants as they are not actively growing and are preparing to go into dormancy. If transplanted in September or October the roots will have time to settle in while temperatures are cooler but before frost sets in.
Here are some tips for successful transplanting this popular plant.
Removal – excavate as much root as possible, by digging straight down and around the plant about eighteen inches from the crown. Carefully lift the root ball from the soil and try to avoid breaking the stems. The foliage can be trimmed at this time; it will yellow and die after the first frost.
Relocation – choose a site that gets at least six hours of full sun to insure prolific blooms. An added benefit of fall transplanting is the ability to properly space the plant in the full grown garden. Edit surrounding plants if needed to accommodate the new resident and allow for good air circulation.
Preparation – the planting hole should as large or slightly larger than the rootball. Amend the hole with one third to one half of compost mixed into the garden soil to improve drainage. Peonies will not thrive in heavy clay soil so don’t skip this step if your soil drains slowly.
Planting Depth – the “eyes” of the plant should be planted no more than two inches deep. This insures the plant will bloom successfully. The “eyes” are the white or pink fleshy nubs on the rootstock; they will become next year’s flower stems. Peonies that produce few blooms are often planted too deeply.
Division – if you choose to divide the plant, each new segment should have at least three to five eye buds and attached roots. Divisions can be cut with a knife and inspected. Discard if the clumps show signs of insect damage or are mushy.
Moisture – water well once transplanted and watch for periods of prolonged drought through the winter. Plants can be mulched after frost sets in.
The plant may take an additional year to get comfortable in its new home and rebloom. Don’t despair – given a sunny location, proper soil preparation and planting depth, your peony will thrive for many years to come.
Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener