Planting Peonies

Planting Peonies

Part of Ep. 705 Fall Color in the Garden

Transplant peonies in their dormant state in the fall.  Dane County Extension Horticulturist Jim Schroder discusses the best way to handle the fast growing perennial.

Premiere date: Oct 30, 1999

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Peonies love cold. In fact, the colder the winter, the better they'll grow. And fall is the best time of year to plant them. We're with Dane County Extension horticulturist Jim Schroeder. Jim, why fall? Why is that the best time?

Jim:
Well, you've kind of alluded to one of the reasons. One is the cold temperatures. They do need cold temperatures to break dormancy, so they grow a flower for you in the spring. So, if you get them transplanted in the fall, in the soil and you take advantage of nature's cold temperatures. It works really well. The other thing is, the peonies are such fast growers in the spring. As soon as the frost is out of the soil, your peonies, next time you look, are to four to six inches tall, and then you've missed it for another year.

Shelley:
The window of opportunity is very small.

Jim:
You bet. So, the fall works out better for a couple of reasons.

Shelley:
Now, you've a massive clump dug up here already. How old is this clump?

Jim:
Well, it has been in the soil for several years, Shelley. They can stay for several years without transplanting, compared to a lot of perennials, which, every couple of years, it seems like you're transplanting. But peonies, six, eight, even ten years sometimes, you can leave them before they need to be dug and divided, so that's a real advantage of peonies.

Shelley:
Perfect for my backyard. Now I'm looking at foliage and I know that when they're dormant it's easier to handle them. These look like signs that it's going into dormancy. Is that right?

Jim:
Going into dormancy, yes. And whether it's a year that you're transplanting them or not, it's a good idea to remove all the foliage once they do go dormant. When all the foliage goes yellow, get it all off there. Cut it off as close to the ground as possible. You want to get rid of it, because if you take another look at these plants, there's any number of different kind of spots and discolorations on the foliage. These are fungus diseases--

Shelley:
Not dormancy.

Jim:
That's not dormancy. Some of the yellow is dormancy. But this is diseases. And if you can get rid of the foliage, you'll at least-- well, if not eliminate your problems, next year, you'll have a lot less of it by removing the foliage.

Shelley:
Minimize the problem.

Jim:
Yes.

Shelley:
Now am I composting this foliage?

Jim:
I suggest not to. Discard it. I worry about-- most backyard compost piles probably don't get hot enough as they work to really destroy the organisms that we're talking about here on the foliage.

Shelley:
Okay. Now, you've got a piece that you've already cut off this parent plant. Let's look at that.

Jim:
Yes, this is the piece that we're going to set back and a couple of things here. First of all, we have cut the foliage off, there's probably about one-inch stubs there left of the stems. But what i really want you to see are these pink buds, they're referred to. They are the terminal bud that is going to grow for you come spring. A good division, they say, should have three or more. And I think there's actually several on here, so this is going to be a nice division that should come back quite nicely after transplanting.

Shelley:
Now, how soon will this re-bloom after we've transplanted it?

Jim:
Usually you don't have any flowers the first spring. So, like next spring, there probably won't be flowers, but a nice division like this should give you flowers the next year.

Shelley:
Okay. The next step is planting.

Jim:
Okay, planting time. The really important thing with planting is the depth that you put it at. As you put this in here, again, looking at these terminal buds, they need to be, once you have it covered with soil, about an inch-- or no more than an inch and a half-- below the soil surface. If they're planted too deep, that's where you run into problems where you don't have flowers. And goodness knows, that's why we grow these things!

Shelley:
Yes, the foliage is nice, but I prefer the blooms. So, really measure if you're unsure to make sure it's an inch to inch and a half deep.

Jim:
Yes, right. You can measure it with a ruler. Here you've got the little stub from the stems that I cut off at about an inch. So, that gives you a pretty good indication that you're about an inch deep.

Shelley:
Is there any other reason it might not bloom?

Jim:
Well, location is very important. Full sun. If you have full sun you're going to have full blossoms. As soon as you start having some shade, you're going to have less flowers. And if you're in full shade you probably won't have any flowers.

Shelley:
Then we're back to foliage again!

Jim:
Yes.

Shelley:
Okay. You have some mulch here, do we mulch right now?

Jim:
Not yet. Wait until the soil freezes, which is usually about late November or early December. Then come on with a nice layer of a loose hay or straw, maybe four or six inches of loose materials.

Shelley:
Okay. And that's a good idea for any newly transplanted perennial, really.

Jim:
Yes, when you're fall transplanting, it's just a safety factor. I would do it with anything that you're fall transplanting.

Shelley:
Any other maintenance tips?

Jim:
Well, just a little hint that I like to pass along. This little wire cage is actually a tomato cage. And come next spring, I set these over the peonies. When they're about four to six inches tall and they're just coming up, put this over it. As they grow, they may need some guidance to keep them inside, but it keeps them standing up.

Shelley:
And it's a lot easier to do it when they're young.

Jim:
Yes and you'd be surprised. The flowers on peonies are large and heavy. And if you don't have some kind of support for them, right away your flowers are on the ground. This just displays them so very, very nice.

Shelley:
Good idea. Thanks, Jim. And September and October are the ideal times to be planting. You can plant right up until the ground freezes.

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