Transplanting a peony plant isn't difficult if you do it at the right time and follow some simple steps. In this post you will 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!). Perfect conditions change over time however, and that's precisely the reason why it might become necessary to move a peony to a different location.
I have a big peony plant in my garden which someone must have planted eons ago. Most likely before our big maple tree became so enormous that said peony received virtually no sunlight at all. For years I watched it sulk in it's dark soggy spot, sending up one or two blooms in the spring and then being covered in powdery mildew as the season went on. Last fall I finally plucked up some courage and dug it up.
Now, before I show you the steps for transplanting a peony, let's get to know this plant a little better.
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 (for maximum bloom), except in zones 8 -9 (where partial 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 Resistant: YES (deer don't like the texture of the leaves nor the smell of the flowers)
- 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 anymore (ex. not enough light, poor drainage of the soil)
- 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 a Peony / Planting or Dividing a Peony
Hands down the ideal time for transplanting/ dividing or even simply planting a peony is in the fall.
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 to disturb your peony too much during times where 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 it's new location before going fully dormant. This will give it a little bit of a headstart when waking up in the 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 it's new location before the first frost.
There is a small window for transplanting a peony in the spring before the plant sends up new shoots. This would be your next best bet, but could result in no blooms that year and even the following.
How to Transplant a Peony
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 (something I didn't do, check out the dry soil in the photo below 🙁
- Find a perfect spot 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 into the soil when preparing the new planting hole.
- Cut the foliage of your peony down to a couple of inches
4. Carefully dig around the root ball 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 root ball loosen and lift easily
5. Now would be the time where you divide the root ball (if you wish) into smaller sections. I did this by carefully prying the tubers apart by hand. Make sure that on each new section there are at least 3 "eyes" - little red or white buds (those will be next year's bloom).
5. Fill the new planting hole with plenty of water until the soil is saturated (nice and muddy) before you put the plants in.
6. Place the peony plant(s) in the prepared and amended hole(s). Backfill the hole and cover loosely with soil/ compost mix. Make sure the "eyes" are covered no deeper than 2 Inches, if you burry them any deeper you won't have any blooms the following year.
7. Water thoroughly
Basic Peony Care
- Choose planting location wisely since peonies can live for a very long time
- Water if there's little to no rain fall
- Nutrients: Prepare planting hole with a 50/50 mix of soil and compost, then top dress with compost yearly after bloom
- Cut off dead flowers after blooming (aka deadheading)
- Cut foliage down to a couple of Inches in the fall
- Peonies don't like to be mulched (except for the first winter, but you should remove the mulch in the spring)
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 which 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 air flow).
What to do?
- Move 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 to 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 it (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. Ants are simply attracted by the delicious nectar.
Until next time. Happy growing!
just what i need to do this coming autumn - 2 of my peonies - dont know their names anymore - one looked like a full poofed up ballerina tutu soft pink nearly white and a massive bloom - dont remember what the other one was like - now they dont bloom as the tree the are near has grown to completely shade them
thanks for the reminder
Ohhh, sounds like they’re sooo pretty 🤩
Hello- great article! Question about my newly transplanted peonies that I had to transplant from a lady’s house in JULY and therefore put them in my yard at that time. Minnesota zone 3 is where I live and right away the peony leaves never looked that CHIRPY. They slowly have turned brown and dried but I’m hoping that the roots are still viable for next spring. I did not cut down the greenery at the time. It is now October and I don’t know how I should “winterize” them. Should I? Are the roots still alive for next spring? How do I know? Any peony info would be greatly appreciated!
Hi Senta, the only way you will know for sure is to wait until the spring. But rest assured that peonies are tough plants. They can be a little pouty when first moved, but I wouldn't worry about the foliage too much. If the tubers are nice and healthy, they'll be fine. It's usually recommended to plant peonies close to the surface of the soil (about 1 Inch), but for zone 3 you could top them off with another inch of soil to prepare for winter (not mulch since it retains too much moisture). I hope that helps! Let me know how it went.