Yard and Garden: Peonies

August 18, 2011, 3:00 pm | Richard Jauron, Willy Klein

The garden peony is a popular, long-lived perennial that provides abundant flowers in spring and attractive foliage throughout the growing season. If given a good site and proper care, an established peony will flower for many years. 

When is the best time to transplant peonies? 

September is the best time to transplant peonies. Begin by cutting the peony stems near ground level. Then carefully dig around and under each plant. Try to retain as much of the root system as possible.  Promptly replant the peony in a sunny, well-drained site. 

What would be a good planting site for peonies? 

Peonies perform best in full sun and well-drained soils. When selecting a planting site, choose a location that receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Avoid shady areas near large trees and shrubs. Poorly drained soils can often be improved by working in large amounts of compost, peat moss or leaf mold. 

What is the proper way to divide peonies? 

September is the best time to divide peonies. The first step is to cut off the peony stems near ground level. Then carefully dig up the plant. Gently shake the clump to remove loose soil from the root system. Using a sharp knife, divide the clump into sections. Each division should have at least three to five buds (eyes) and a good root system. Smaller divisions will require several years to develop into attractive plants.

When planting a peony, dig a hole large enough to comfortably accommodate its entire root system. Position the peony plant in the hole so the buds are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface (peonies often fail to bloom satisfactorily if the buds are more than 2 inches deep). Fill the hole with soil, firming the soil around the plant as you backfill. Then water thoroughly. Space peonies 3 to 4 feet apart. 

Is it necessary to periodically divide peonies? 

Peonies do not need to be divided on a regular basis. Peonies can be left undisturbed in the garden for 50 or more years. However, large, vigorous peonies can be divided if you want additional plants. 

When should I cut back the peony foliage? 

Peony foliage should not be cut back until it is destroyed by a hard freeze in fall. The foliage manufactures food for the plant. Some of the food is stored in the plant’s root system. The more food the peony plant can store in its roots, the better the flower display next spring. Cut off the peony stems at ground level in late October or November. Remove the peony foliage from the garden and destroy it. The removal and destruction of the peony debris helps to control leaf blotch and other fungal diseases.


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