The Q&A Archives: Antique Peonies

Question: I transplanted my grandmother's peonies that are over 40 yrs. old (and bloom wonderfully). When I dug up the peonies the tubers were a mass, like a 20 lb. bag of sweet potatoes, over 25-30 tubers growing down about 3 ft. I want to know if there is a way I can divide the dozens of tubers from the mass even though they don't have eyes and re-transplant them just below surface level? In several years will they develop eyes and grow into flowers?

I originally dug 3 ft. deep holes and planted the entire mass because I did not know if I could divide the deep tubers and still get viable plants. What is your best advice. I am willing to wait 5-10 years if that is how long it takes the plant to develop eyes and produce plants.

Answer: Sounds as though you have a real job on your hands! Peonies can be leftundisturbed for many years. But when they become overcrowded, they need to be dug at the end of the season and divided. Division of large peony clumps requires a few additional steps. After digging up the peony, shake gently to remove loose soil from the root system. Divide the clump into sections, making sure each division has at least 3 to 5 eyes (buds) and a good portion of the root system. It is important that each division have buds - without them the plants will not produce stems or flowers.

Transplanted peonies will not bloom well the first spring, but they should be back to full flower production by the third or fourth year.

Peonies grow best in full sunlight and well-drained soils. Dig a hole large enough for the entire root system. Place the peony plant in the hole so the eyes are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. (Peonies planted deeper than 2 inches often fail tobloom satisfactorily.) Fill the hole with soil, firming the soilas you backfill, then water thoroughly. Space plants about 3 to 4 feet apart. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch in late fall. Straw is an excellent mulch. Mulching will prevent repeatedfreezing and thawing of the soil that could damage the plants. Remove the mulch in early spring before growth begins.

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