Fall is the Best Time to Add Peonies to the Garden
Peonies have a special place in the heart of many gardeners. To many, peonies symbolize continuity of family. Families used to cut fresh peonies by the armloads for the trek to the cemetery on Memorial Day to remember loved ones. Peonies are also passed through the generations by starts from original plants. Fall is an excellent time to divide, transplant or add new peonies to the garden.
Bloom times and dividing peonies
Peonies have often been called the “queen of the garden” as they can be a centerpiece for almost any setting. Flowering time from mid-April through May make them shine with beauty. After flowering, the plant has a nice rounded green habit to show off other summer and fall blooming perennials. Dividing and planting is best done in late September through October.
How to divide peonies
The first step in division is to remove the foliage. Peonies are essentially dormant by September 1 even though the foliage is still green. Then dig out the entire plant.
- Shake and wash off as much soil as possible so that the pink buds or "eyes" are visible. Peony roots are tough, and a sharp knife is needed to cut the roots into separate pieces. Make sure each division has three to four buds.
- Make sure the location chosen for planting receives at least a half-day of full sun. However, the more sun, the better. Space the plants so that there is at least 2 feet between dwarf types and 4 feet between the standard types.
- Make sure the pink buds are about 1 inch below the soil surface. If they are set more than 2 inches deep, flowering may be delayed or completely prevented.
- As you set the plants, firm soil often as it is added around the plant. If the soil is not firmed, it can settle and pull the plant down with it.
- Water in well after planting and water as necessary through the fall and winter to keep the soil moist.
Keep in mind, however, that peonies often take about three years to return to full bloom and size after division.
Planting new peonies
Peony tubers are widely available in the fall from local garden centers. These starts come ready for planting. Follow the same guidelines for planting as you would for division with regards to location and plant depth.
In recent years, many newer varieties of peonies have been developed. The colors for the most part are still whites, pinks and reds, but now coral or yellow shades are available. Peonies also have a number of flower types from a single row of petals to what is called a bomb, loaded with flower petals.
Peonies will take a couple of years to fully establish in the garden but are worth the wait, as they will reward you for many years to come.