Peonies are one of the longest lived herbaceous perennials. Some anecdotal evidence reports upwards of 80+ years. How did your peonies do this year? Did they flower okay for you or have they started to fizzle in their performance. Working with clients I have found two major sources for poor peony performance. 1. planted to deep. 2. Lack of sunlight.
Peonies are a full sun, all day sun plant. They can tolerate 6 or 7 hours of direct, uninterrupted sunlight but do so much better when they can enjoy all day sun. I have ran into several clients who planted peonies 20+ years ago and to be gradually shaded out by a tree. If this is the case, now is the time to dig, divide, and relocate peonies into a new spot.
Peonies are unique in the perennial world because they have strong underground storage roots. These roots are often called attendee roots. They are thick and robust and some reaching diameters up to a half inch. After you cut back the foliage you will dig out the clump. It is best to dig about 8″ around the clump and as deep as you are able. You will hear popping and cracking as you start to lift the crown out of the ground. Not a pleasant sound but it doesn’t do any lasting harm to the plant. You will notice white structures on the crown and those are called “eyes” These are the shoots for next year’s plant and care should be taken not to damage them.
It is okay to leave the cut stalks from this years plant on the crown. They do not need to be removed.
This is also the point where you can divide the crown. Each attendee root needs to have one eye – otherwise it will not grow. Take a sharp, clean pruning saw or pruners and cut the crown. Allow the crown to air dry over night before replanting.
Once the crown is out of the ground and a new location has been found you will need to dig a hole big enough to accommodate the mass of the plant. This can be tricky so it is best to set the crown on the new location and dig a hole around it.
Another reason why peonies fail to perform their best is because they get planted too deep. The “eyes” need to be no more than 2 inches blow the soil surface. A hole needs to be dug deep enough to accommodate the crown but at the same time shallow enough so the eyes are at their proper depth. Taking a few minutes and measuring to make sure will save a lot of frustration and disappointment in the future.
Once crown is proper placed you can back-fill with the surrounding soil and water it in and you’re done. No need for fertilizers. The plant that you will get next year will be smaller and maybe produce one or two flowers. This is normal. It will take one or two growing seasons for the plant to recover from the transplanting process so do not be alarmed.
Transplanting peonies is easy and it is a great way to make sure that your beloved plants continue to provide years of enjoyment.