Q. I have an old stand of peonies which have not been divided for years. At what time of the year should I divide these huge plantings? How do I go about replanting them? How far should they be placed from each other?
— A.R. of Belleville
A. Peonies (Paeonia species) should be divided and replanted in September and October. Prune off the old leaves and stems. The buds or “eyes” should not be placed deeper than 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. If the eyes are planted deeper, the buds will not bloom. Each plant should contain three reddish-pink buds. An eye should not be counted if there are disease spots or it has been damaged. These buds should be removed to prevent a disease from entering the plant.
Dig a hole with generous amount of space. Enrich the soil with a granular fertilizer such as 5-10-5. Firm up topsoil around the roots. Water the new small plants amply immediately after planting. The plants sould be at least 3 feet apart.
The location should a spot that receives full sunlight.
In the spring, make two applications of the 5-10-5 fertilizer. Apply the first when the plants have reached 12 inches tall. Apply the second when the plants have finished blooming. Work up the soil just to the outside of the stems growing upward with a hand cultivator. Sprinkel 1/4 of a cup of fertilizer around the base in the worked-up soil. Be careful not to let the fertilizer come into contact with any part of the stems and leaves because it can burn the peonies.
Peonies should remain in the same location for many years and not be disturbed. In England, there are peony plantings that have been growing in the same location for more than 100 years.
Some peonies have weak stems, especially at first, and they should be staked to support the plants.
If you want to harvest some of the flowers, make sure three or four leaves are left on the plant to manufacture energy for the next year’s flowers.
Remove spent blooms to keep vigor in the plant and prevent the formation of seeds.
In the fall, after a frost has killed the leaves, prune off all the stems and leaves and remove them from the area to prevent diseases from being overwintered in the soil.
If you notice ants on the floral buds just before bloom, do not use any insecticide on them as they are just trying to find nectar and do not harm the plants at all.
A little of Belleville’s history: There are also tree peonies, and one of the earliest U.S. producers was Harold Wolfe, of Belleville, who patented a yellow tree peony (Souv. De Maxim Cornu) in 1947 and shipped 5,000 of these grafted plants to Japan in 1956. Up until this time, all the tree peonies were produced just in Japan. Wolfe also was president of the American Peony Society. There are photos of him demonstrating the grafting technique of tree peonies in the Peony Journal.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now
WEEDS: This is a good time of the year to eradicate weeds as they are producing seeds to invade the garden next year. Chickweed will begin germinating now and can even flower under the snow to produce weeds next year.