Wiche: Move peonies in the fall if blooms are scarce

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Our landscapes our constantly changing: from season to season and year to year. I love our seasonal changes in Kentuckiana. They keep us guessing. When I am tired of one season, the next is about to begin.

But there are other types of changes that affect the way we enjoy our gardens: over time sunny spots become shady as trees mature and landscapes evolve.

Many of our favorite flowering plants, both woody and herbaceous, require at least 6 hours of full sun in order to bloom well. When someone has a plant that won’t bloom, the first question I ask is about the amount of sun it receives.

If you have this problem, now is the time to make a decision about moving the plant to a sunnier location.

October is a great time to move herbaceous perennials and woody ornamentals, because it is mild, but there is still plenty of time for the plants to reestablish their root systems before the ground freezes, if the ground freezes.

In fact, most woody plants can be transplanted easily in the winter as long as the ground is not frozen solid (and there are predictions of another mild winter this year). The advantage is that the roots are still actively growing but the top growth is dormant so being moved is less stressful for the plant.

Herbaceous perennials are not good candidates for a winter move, however anytime in the fall is perfect. Perennials need to get out some new roots before winter because their roots are so much closer to the surface.

If you have ever asked the question, “Why won’t my peonies bloom?” There may be more to the problem than just the amount of sun they receive.

In fact the most common reason for failure to bloom is not the light requirements but the depth requirements. Peonies prefer to be left alone but sometimes we must dig, divide or move and fall is the time to do it.

Some plants require adequate chilling during the winter months, and peonies are among them. If you know the plants are getting plenty of sunlight, then likely the problem can be blamed on the fact the peony is planted too deep.

If the “eyes” on the roots of the peony are planted deeper than 2 inches beneath the soil surface, adequate winter chilling does not occur. The red “eyes” should be planted about 1 inch to 1.5 inches beneath the soil. Once you dig your plant you will see exactly what I am talking about when I say red “eyes” on the roots…these eyes are the potential bloom for the following year.

In order to create the best culture for your peonies, choose a sunny, well-drained location with at least a three-foot diameter around the plant that is free of competition from other plants. Crowded plants never do as well because they compete for moisture and nutrients.

Dig a deep hole so you can amend the soil if necessary to improve drainage. Clayey soil is not suitable for peonies, if you want them to thrive in the long-term; amending planting holes for herbaceous plants is acceptable (although no longer recommended for trees and woody shrubs).

I advise filling the hole with water to check drainage and to make sure that the soil settles before you plant the peony. Remember, you don’t want the eyes of the plant to settle below that 1.5-inch depth.

Peonies are infamous for flopping over in the rain and wind. The weight of their blooms seems to be their own worst enemy.

Fortunately, they make excellent cut flowers, so you can alleviate some of the “weight” by bringing some indoors. Placing support grids over the plant in early spring before the plant starts growing helps maintain a neater plant, Just be sure to place the support before the plant starts growing.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.