Peonies forum: The biggest hole you ever dug for a herbaceous peony

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Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Oct 30, 2015 12:03 PM CST
I wonder how much digging is involved in planting peonies for you - permanent place of course? Preparing beds counts as well... Generally I would keep the size to slightly deeper ( 2-3 inches ) than shovel blade and around 2 ft wide, but make some extra effort occasionally - maybe a few inches inches deeper and around 2.5ft wide....
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[Last edited by AlexUnder - Oct 30, 2015 12:42 PM (+)]
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Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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LizinElizabeth
Oct 30, 2015 2:19 PM CST
I have NEVER dug ANYTHING that deep, Alex! Planting this year was super easy because everything went in to raised beds I built over the last 3-4 years. Overall I think I moved around 50 cubic yards of planter's mix into 3 large areas, probably raised the levels 8-10" average with the highest spots around 2' above the original elevation. This summer I ordered 20 cubic yards of mulch, still have around 4 or 5 yards to move. The mulch was mostly deteriorated in the main beds and I hadn't put any other than a layer of pine straw down on the newest. It's a big deal here in the spring because peonies will sprout earlier without it, causing more damage than necessary when we get the crazy cold and snow in April. The smaller the growth is when that happens the better chance it'll have to make it through....
Liz
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Oct 30, 2015 3:00 PM CST
OMG, did you dig that Alex? If I attempt something like that, I would probably pass out 1/8 of the way through. Hilarious! Even then, it would require me to rest 2 weeks to regain additional strength to dig any further. What are you planning to plant in this special hole? It looks like a well!
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
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Oberon46
Oct 30, 2015 3:36 PM CST
It looks like you are standing in water and that is a clay mud on you and the shovel. I would say you hit the water level on that hole
"What a person needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge in it" Charles Dudley Warner (spelling edited by Dinu lol)
Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Oct 30, 2015 4:28 PM CST
I should have clearly indicated that it is not me and the picture intended for fun only :)
Name: Diann
Iowa (Zone 5a)
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Ticker
Oct 30, 2015 5:53 PM CST

Moderator

Rolling on the floor laughing I have to say that sometimes when planting a bare root peony or transplanting one I sometime feel like I've dug a hole that deep. Rolling on the floor laughing
Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Oct 30, 2015 7:30 PM CST
Now, back to the square one... Wow, Liz, 50 cubic yards! 2ft high! I made raised bed at the back yard a couple of years ago - for tomatoes mostly - and it was about 1 feet high - it was rather tiring experience. I, me and myself for the whole project and no machinery involved...
Karen, what are your standard dimensions for the peony planting hole? I know that some people are blessed with wonderful soil, but not in my case - more than once I had to use Eastwing rock geological hammer as my shovel could not go further than 1 cm deep...
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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LizinElizabeth
Oct 31, 2015 8:28 AM CST
Yeah Alex, my gardening doubles as my spring/summer exercise program....plant, weed, repeat! And I know what you mean about the hard soil. Ours is a mixed bag with nice black soil in places and hard red clay in others. We put in a tree in the front of the house, the guys planting it had a bobcat with a scoop on the front to dig the hole. Luckily there were 3 guys because they ended up scraping down 8" or so then had to bring out pickaxes to break up the clay before the bobcat would even make a dent! And the 2 guys not operating it had to stand on the back along with my husband to stabilize it enough to dig even after breaking some of it up.

Since your soil is super hard how does it drain? Do you slightly raise your peonies when you plant? From your pictures of blooms it's obvious they aren't having a problem with the way they're planted, I just know that I'd create a mini-bog if I tried to dig a hole in the super hard stuff in my front yard and backfilled it with more workable soil, how did you avoid that? Or is your soil free draining even though it's hard?
Liz
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Oct 31, 2015 12:28 PM CST
Alex, the largest hole that I ever dug for peonies is probably 16" deep and 16" wide but with many others in between. Then I added 4"-6" to the top of the soil so that gives me about 20" deep hole into which I mixed in composted mushroom substrate, shredded leaves, peat moss, lime, and some bulb fertilizer with the soil that I dug out. Some parts of my yard have good soil, others not so much so i modify as I go. 80% of my peonies are on raised beds of 4-6" higher than above soil level. I don't think I have the best soil or prep for the peonies but I guess just good enough to give me some blooms every year. So vigorous plants do very well and weak plants not too well. In the case of an underperforming plant, i try to find a location that best suits them. Of all the peonies that I have, I think the most finicky one is Salmon Dream. It does not like root competition nor bad air circulation. It is currently not very happy. I had to remove daffodils and perennials around this peony in the hope that it will do better next year. Some of the easier peonies to grow are Coral Sunset, Red Charm, Nova, Mackinac Grand, a mislabel White Cap. These are not fazed at all by bulbs, perennials and even shade for Coral Sunset and Red Charm.
[Last edited by kousa - Oct 31, 2015 4:22 PM (+)]
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Name: Annette
Duluth, Ga (Zone 7a)
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Cem9165
Oct 31, 2015 3:59 PM CST
My reaction when I saw the hole above😱😱! Rolling on the floor laughing

In 2011, I made 2 raised beds for peonies 20 feet long by 5 feet wide. In 2014 I made a 50 foot long by 4 foot wide bed for more peonies. I can't remember how many bags of top soil and composted manure, soil conditioner, or the number of bales of pine straw that I used, but it was worth it.

The biggest hole was done by my DH, to accommodate my potted Itohs, and the holes were ~ 18 in deep and 18 in wide.

Because of our red clay, I tend to plant in the raised bed. This red clay when it's dry is like cement, and very difficult to dig into. We've had a lot of rain recently, and our weather is nice and cool, so getting the peonies planted will be much easier this fall.
"Aspire to inspire before you expire"

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Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
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LizinElizabeth
Oct 31, 2015 4:07 PM CST
Are those the beds you posted pics of over the last couple of spings/summers? If so they turned out AMAZING, Annette!
Liz
Name: Annette
Duluth, Ga (Zone 7a)
Charter ATP Member Birds Tropicals Hummingbirder Bulbs Region: Georgia
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Cem9165
Oct 31, 2015 4:10 PM CST
Yes Liz, they're the beds I have posted. The 2 older beds also have bearded irises and lilies added to them over the years, with daylilies at the edge. The newest bed has roses and lilies with the peonies. All 3 beds also have spring blooming bulbs.
"Aspire to inspire before you expire"

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Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Oct 31, 2015 8:31 PM CST
Liz, I guess that I am lucky - I do not have any boggy areas probably because of the terraces and sloped ground. Previously I planted peonies on slopes and one specially prepared slightly raised bed, but last year I planted a few peonies in my lower back yard which consist of terraced beds 15% and 2 level areas - lower 50% and higher 35%. All peonies survived and I gave them away before planting the ones I received this fall. Still keeping my fingers crossed as some of them are hybrids... I planted them in the middle of lower area and slightly away from slopes and terraces. I may have the ground slightly soggy after extttreme rain or melting snow, but the effect usually disappear in 1 or 2 days. I will probably have to do something if they are not going to perform in the spring.
Karen, I utilized the bulb fertilizer that you mentioned. May be I should have raised my peonies ( new roots of this year ) 2-4 inches above the ground and will regret being overconfident.
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
Hummingbirder Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Dog Lover Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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LizinElizabeth
Nov 1, 2015 7:48 AM CST
I don't know if I really have a problem or if I'm just selecting wimpy peonies! I had to have Sea Shell after seeing it at the Denver Botanical Garden around 10 years ago but it's failed in my garden twice now, Pink Hawaiian Coral the same thing I assume they're susceptible to frost kill with our late spring snows. If either even emerges this spring I think I'll just cover them with a huge clay pot if any adverse weather is predicted. I've done that in the past for those that I've purchased that actually had that warning in the description and it worked; Blonde Vision and Coral Scout have tolerated this climate with the extra care, don't see why the others wouldn't.
I was really concerned about my newest bed when I planted last fall--we had an extremely wet late summer/fall and the bed was sodden when I planted. I actually agonized about whether I should leave them there or shoehorn them in to an older bed before I noticed standing puddles in that one as well. I ended up leaving them where they were and they did fine--none showed enormous 1st year growth but had an acceptable level of blooms, especially when you consider the -10F weather we had for a couple of days after they'd really started growing and the Mother's Day blizzard on top of that.
Liz
Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Nov 1, 2015 9:38 AM CST
I had to move Cora Loise twice in spring and summer of 2014 because first of too much shade and later neighbors flooded the whole area between our houses - overflowing gutter. I was really keeping my fingers crossed because it looked pathetic and shriveled. This year no flowers but looks happier in new place on the slope with extra rocks near driveway. I may move it in a few years after division - let's see how it will perform next year.
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
Hummingbirder Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Dog Lover Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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LizinElizabeth
Nov 1, 2015 12:56 PM CST
Glad you got to move it, anyway! I absolutely hate digging one that underperformed and finding a rotted, dead root--that's the worst....Hope you get blooms next spring. Alex!
Liz
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Nov 1, 2015 1:27 PM CST
Liz, do you think established peonies have a better chance at surviving your climates than new ones? Or genes have more to do with their tolerance?
Name: Liz Best
Elizabeth Colorado (Zone 4b)
Peonies Winter Sowing Dahlias Region: Colorado Plant and/or Seed Trader Enjoys or suffers cold winters
Hummingbirder Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Dog Lover Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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LizinElizabeth
Nov 1, 2015 3:32 PM CST
I think any that emerge early have a harder time whether they're early bloomers or not. I've gradually started planting my peonies a bit shallower over the years, this year I have deliberately gone back to 2" below soil level and then mulch over. The longer they take to emerge or at least stay small without fully formed leaves the better they do, or that's what it seemed last spring. I had several that had been in place for 1 1/2 years that bloomed their first spring that had so much frost kill that they didn't bloom at all this year, while others that were planted the fall before did fine, main difference that I can tell is that they were smaller when we had the really bad weather. I have several that have been in my garden for several years that haven't bloomed at all--bad placement or too fragile for our climate?
I'm sure there are several types that just flat out won't take our bad weather, that I'll have to baby as long as we're here, but they're worth it so I'll gladly do it. I just wish all of the varieties that aren't as hardy would state that in the seller's description! My beds are starting to look pretty trashy with empty pots already in place and peony rings with hardware cloth over them, ready for our anticipated crappy spring...have to do it now so I'm not stymied by frozen ground later!
Liz
Name: Hummingbird Beck
EL PASO TX (Zone 8a)
Hummingbird
Dec 19, 2015 2:59 AM CST
I haven't even gotten close to that size of hole. I like the ants to do the digging
Name: Alex
Toronto, Ontario
Region: Canadian
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AlexUnder
Dec 19, 2015 10:29 PM CST
The more I read from different sources the more I think that preparation for permanent peony spots should be extremely extensive. Next time I plant peony I would aim for at least 24 inches deep and 30 inches wide soil amendment hole. Something smaller will only provide for 3-5 years of development needs. Looking at peonies sitting in the same space for over 10 years and with well developed green mass and you realize that only stems are occupying 20-24 inches of space. Adding 15 inches for roots from each side and it makes it 70-80 inches in diameter...

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