Transplanting peonies isn't difficult if you do it at the right time and follow some simple steps. Here you'll find many helpful tips on how to grow and care for beautiful peonies.
Peonies are perennial plants that are grown and loved for their breathtaking blooms. Once planted in the right spot and with a little care they can grow for many, many years (more than 70!). Over time, however, growing conditions may change and it might become necessary to move a peony to a different location.
In my case, our maple tree had become so enormous that it completely shaded out the peony plant that's been there for decades. You could tell that the plant wasn't happy in its dark soggy spot, sending up one or two blooms in the spring and then being covered in powdery mildew as the season went on. It's been almost three years ago that I moved it and now that we're in peony season again it's doing better than ever.
Peony Plant Profile
- Genus: Peonia
- Common Species: p. officinalis (European or "common" peony), p. lactiflora (Chinese, commonly planted in North America), p. californica (native to North America), p. suffruticosa ("tree peony", woody shrub)
- Growing Zones: 2- 9
- Light: full sun (at least 6 hours for maximum bloom), except in zones 8 -9 (where afternoon shade will protect the plants from the strong sun)
- Water: 1" of water weekly, ideally soil should be continuously wet
- Soil: Acidic (Ph 6 -7), well-drained, nutrient-rich
- Deer and Rabbit Resistant: YES
- Pollinator Friendly: ants, flies and bees feed on the nectar and pollen, some cultivars however are sterile (for example "bomb double")
Reasons for Transplanting a Peony / Dividing a Peony
- The site it was planted in doesn't provide ideal conditions (ex. not enough light, poor drainage of the soil, too crowded with not enough airflow)
- Blooming has decreased
- The plant is plagued by disease (Peonies are susceptible to Botrytis blight and powdery mildew when air circulation is poor and humidity high)
- You want to get more of the same plant by dividing the root ball
- An upcoming move
When is the Best Time for Transplanting Peonies
Hands down the ideal time for transplanting/ dividing or even simply planting a peony is in the fall or late summer depending on the length of your growing season.
The plant is slowly shutting down and getting ready to go dormant at that time. The stress from summer's heat and drought is over and so is the effort the plant puts into developing new growth. What you want to avoid is disturbing your peony during times when the plant performs critical tasks like growing and blooming.
Transplanting a peony in early fall will give it some time to set root and acclimate in its new location before going fully dormant. This will give it a little bit of a headstart when waking up the following spring. Hopefully resulting in some nice blooms.
A good rule of thumb is 6 weeks before your first frost date, which will - depending on your location - most likely be sometime in September. At the very latest, your peony should be nestled in its new location before the first frost.
There is a small window for transplanting a peony in early spring before the plant sends up new shoots. This would be your next best bet but could result in no blooms the first year and sometimes even the following.
How to Give Your Peony the Best Location and Care
1. Choose a planting location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight
2. If you have heavy clay soil make sure to amend the soil with plenty of organic matter or biochar before planting since peonies prefer soil that drains well. Standing water could cause the tubers to rot.
3. Plant your peony fairly close to the soil surface. Tubers should be planted about 6 inches deep.
4. Space peony plants about 3 feet from each other to ensure good air circulation
3. Water weekly if there's little or no rainfall
4. Nutrients: Prepare the planting hole with a 50/50 mix of soil and compost, then top dress with compost yearly after bloom
5. Cut off dead flowers after blooming, if you can get around to it
6. Cut foliage down to a couple of inches in the fall. This is an important step that will prevent disease
7. Mulch in the fall especially if you have cold winters, but be sure to remove the mulch in the spring
How to Transplant Peonies
These steps apply to herbaceous peonies only, tree peonies (p. suffruticosa) should never be pruned back to the ground and can't be divided.
- The day before you plan on transplanting your peony, water it thoroughly
- Find a good spot for its new home and dig the new hole (or holes if dividing) BEFORE digging up your peony. The hole should be about twice the size of the root ball. Mix compost and organic matter into the soil when preparing the new planting hole.
- Cut the foliage of your peony down to a couple of inches
- Carefully dig around peony roots leaving a generous distance between the crown of the plant and where you dig. Peony plants are comprised of delicate tubers that can easily snap. So, dig and pry your way gently around the plant until you feel the large root ball loosen and you're able to lift it.
- Now would be the time when you divide the root ball (if you wish) into smaller sections. Use a sharp knife and carefully cut through the peony tubers. Make sure that on each new division, there are at least 3 "eyes" - little red or white buds that will be next year's bloom.
- Fill the new planting hole with plenty of water until the soil is saturated before you put the plant in.
- Hold the peony tubers in the prepared and amended hole close to the surface of the soil. Backfill the hole with soil/ compost mix. Make sure the "eyes" are covered no deeper than 2 Inches, if you bury them any deeper you won't have any blooms the following year.
- Water thoroughly
- Water twice weekly if no rainfall until frost
Pest and Diseases
Luckily peonies are not on the main menu of most critters. But when it comes to diseases there are two common ones that we'll discuss here: Powdery mildew and Botrytis blight.
Powdery Mildew on Peonies
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that is unsightly, but relatively harmless. The disease can be easily spotted by white powdery spots on the leaves and stems of the plant. Powdery mildew is often caused by high humidity and often affects peonies that are planted in partial shade or too close together (poor airflow).
What You Can Do
- Transplant the plant to a sunnier or less crowded location in the fall
- Remove infected leaves at the first sign of infection
- Common natural remedies include: spraying the leaves with neem oil, milk or using Potassium bicarbonate
Botrytis Blight on Peonies
The browning of the peony buds is likely due to botrytis blight. Botrytis blight is a common fungal disease of peonies. The fungus Botrytis paeoniae attacks stems, leaves, and flower buds. It is most common in cool, rainy weather.
Young shoots attacked by botrytis blight discolor at the base, wilt, and fall over. Affected flower buds turn brown and fail to open. The withered buds are later covered with a mass of gray, fuzzy fungal spores. Infected leaves develop large, irregularly shaped dark brown spots. (Source: Iowa State University)
What You Can Do
- In spring, remove withered flower buds and spent flowers. In fall, cut off the peony stalks at ground level. Remove the plant debris from the garden and destroy them (Botrytis fungi survive in debris left in the garden over winter!)
- Move plants that grow in partial shade to a sunnier location
Do Peonies Need Ants to Bloom?
Nope. When peonies get ready to bloom the buds secret a sweet nectar that ants are attracted to. It's unlikely that planting peonies will attract more ants to your garden. Most often they already live in your garden and are simply in for the extra snack. Ants neither help nor hurt the peony bloom.
How to Keep Peonies from Flopping Over?
The fact that peony blossoms are so big and puffy makes them also susceptible to flopping comes a bit of rain. The easiest and most effective solution is to put one of those peony hoops in place before that plant gets too tall.
Leave a comment and let me know if you've tried transplanting your peonies and how they're doing.
Until next time. Happy growing!