Regular readers of the
You may be noticing, or soon will notice, your peonies are
beginning to look a bit ugly with glossy green foliage taking on a
rather sickly, mottled appearance, and some of the leaves are falling
over. First, relax; they are not really dying!
Second, resist the urge to cut them down to the nubs for the sake
of a pretty garden until after we get our hard freeze.
Important things are happening underground as their surface
beauty fades. Your peonies
are simply going dormant. But the leaves
(as long as there is some green present) and the plant are still
working to make and then store nutrients into the root system
(photosynthesis) for over wintering and strengthening next year’s
plant, and growing new “eyes” (dormant growth buds) from which next
year’s stems will emerge. Do not prune your leaves until you cannot
stand their appearance any longer and then prune down to where they are
would I want to divide my peonies? If your Peonies are happy,
and you are happy with your mature Peonies, leave them alone. After all,
you may be thinking, “But Peonies don’t need dividing….ever!” Or
“Mine have been in the same spot and are doing fine!”
However, you may want to consider division if you want to:
Relieve garden overcrowding that can be signaled in large clumps by the
onset of stem and leaf disease or decreases in the number of
Rejuvenate older plants. Again, you may have noticed fewer and/or
Multiply the number of Peonies in your garden, or
The desire to share specimens with family or gardening friends.
should I divide? If you decide to take divisions from your
mature plants or thin out your crowded Peony bed, late August through
September (at least four weeks ahead of the first killing frost) is the
preferred time. This gives a division the chance to recover from
transplant stress and begin establishing a new root system before the
ground freezes. Remember,
Peonies are slow to establish, and a division may take two or three
years after replanting to bloom well again.
do I divide peonies? Peonies can be challenging to divide
because of the thick, fleshy roots characteristic of mature plants.
When dividing old clumps in
Here are some steps to help you through the process:
Prepare the soil in advance for the garden area that will house your new
division(s) by digging the soil and working in plenty of organic matter
and high phosphorous fertilizer like bone meal. Dig and prepare wide
deep holes to lessen the time the roots are out of the ground.
I like to take root “slices” from the perimeter while leaving the
mother plant in the ground unless I need to move or remove the whole
plant. If you are taking the whole clump, take as much soil as possible
and replant. If you are just taking a slice from a plant, you will want
to see what you are doing. I
usually cut back the foliage to one or two leaves close to the ground
and carefully remove surface soil to expose the top of the crown.
Look for a cluster of three to five newly forming, pink eyes on a
section of root that could be cut away in one piece. Unlike a Daylily
division where each plantlet has its own roots that can be teased apart
from the roots of other plantlets, several Peony eyes may form on a
single thick piece of root. Remember
that a larger Peony division will form a new clump more quickly than a
smaller slice of root with one or two eyes, and will more likely survive
Using a shovel or spade, loosen the clump from the soil around the edge
of the slice you’ll be taking, digging about 6-8 inches away from the
plant. You may have to dig
deep to get under the roots to include some root material with your
division and avoid root injury. Do not expect a Peony root in heavy soil
to let go easily, Lots of gentle wiggling or cutting may be needed to
free the roots. Position a sharp, flat-edged spade or sturdy knife
vertically on the crown between your eye cluster and the mother plant.
Use good force to slice quickly downward through the root mass to get a
clean cut. Then gently leverage the division out of the ground.
Replant your clump if you took the whole plant, or plant your division
as soon as possible in a sunny but not torridly hot, well drained
location for the best chance of a successful replant.
Most important: The eyes
should be no more than two inches below the soil surface when planted.
Peonies are touchy about planting depth. Plant eyes too deep, and
they may not flower or the fleshy roots will rot. Plant too shallow and
the crowns may dry out and die.
While holding the root section at the correct depth for the eyes,
backfill the soil and lightly firm it around the root to set the plant.
Water well, and add a layer of loose mulch (not heavy on the crown,
however) to help retain soil moisture around the newly planted division
and to prevent it from heaving out of the ground when winter
Finally, think long term when positioning Peonies in your garden.
Be sure to space your divisions at least three to four feet from
other plants, including other divisions. Your newly planted Peonies will
benefit for many years to come with ample room to grow, thrive and
Before you know it, all eyes will be admiring the large bouquets
of Peony blossoms you collect around Memorial Day from the Peony bushes
formed from this fall’s divisions.