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Janet Macunovich

Right time for Peony transplant

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Transferring an exchange from 2011 email to here, because the 2012 update we just received makes it even more worth seeing. - Janet -


K.W. emailed during August:

I moved my intersectional peony this summer. I knew it wasn't the best time, but I was redoing the bed and didn't have much choice. It has been weeks now and it still appears in the same state - green but wilted. I dug it back up today to look for buds and there are none. My other one has buds. So here's my question - I realize it is in a bad state now so what are my options? Could I possibly bring it indoors and try to nurse it back to health over the winter?


We replied:

We've seen intersectional and tree peonies do that sulking bit. Remain green but wilty all summer. Those we've seen do it have survived but some dieback became apparent the next spring -- some branches or sections didn't leaf out. It's surprising that yours has not set ANY buds, however. (None low down on the stems, and also none below ground? Intersectional peonies -- herbaceous/tree hybrids -- should set both.)


Yet if the leaves are green and not dry, then it has a chance. Personally, we'd just wait it out. It might help it to have a longer growing season. So putting a cold frame over it this year might help give it a few extra weeks to photosynthesize, and a thick mulch would give the roots longer to profit by whatever the leaves have been producing.


It probably is not a good idea to bring it in, unless you have a place large enough to keep it under lights, or a place like a root cellar where it could be humid as well as cool. Just putting a thick mulch over it after the first hard freeze is probably enough to give it some extra protection.


K.W. replied about the bud situation:

No buds set whatsoever. I do have a very well lit basement and I could supplement with lights. Perhaps I could try the cold frame and check again for buds late in the season? If there are none, should I consider digging it up and giving the basement a try? I guess I'm saying this because I don't no what "no buds" actually means - does it mean the plant won't come back after winter?



We said:

Having no buds, no visible buds, does not necessarily mean the plant is going to die. It does mean the plant is definitely not going to bloom next year. It probably means the plant will probably be smaller than it is now because it will have to re-start from dormant buds (they're always there on a perennial plant, the buds that can become eyes if something happens to the primary re-growth buds.) It's possible it could die. But if it's a good sized plant, and/or as vigorous as some of the intersectional peonies are, it's unlikely that it will just die away completely.


Hmm. Steven's shaking his head as I type; He's on the other side of the table, working on a plant-buying list, and chiming in now and then as I read through email.) We really don't think the basement is a good idea. Even under lights it doesn't get as much energy as in the sun. It does need a rest -- a cold rest during which it can set/finish developing any flower buds. Even if flower buds are not considered, it also needs a dormancy; it's not a year-round plant.


It also might end up with white fly or mites or mealybug trouble if it's indoors under lights. Those pests can be there on it outdoors but never become even a visible presence because the plant's too vigorous to let them proliferate. Different story if they come indoors with the plant.


But a cold frame is another matter. Like a mini-glasshouse (can be plastic - but none of it touching the plant; and it must be vented) that holds the ground's warmth around a plant. It will not eliminate the cold, just stall it in fall and end the cold early at winter's end.


Now, the next spring, this update:

Not sure if you remember my fretting over an intersectional peony that I moved during the hottest part of last summer. I was afraid it might not live through the winter. You had advised me to provide it some extra protection -- which I did by way of a clear plastic bucket with air holes. I'm happy to report that it is alive and well. - K.W. -



Thank you so much for the update, K.W.. It's worth its weight in gold as a worry-ender -- so many people think the advice, "The best time to move a peony is in fall" means it can't be moved other times. You and we are now in the "Wrong time, survived" club.


We've moved peonies in just about every month of the year. Their roots seem most brittle in spring, and the foliage most difficult to keep looking good in summer, but they move. Fourth generation grower Roy Klehm at the outstanding peony and perennial nursery, Klehm's Song Sparrow Perennial Farm has told us about peonies uprooted as culls during bloom, left in heaps in the sun above ground all day, then taken home by workers, planted and doing just fine.


Tough thing about moving peonies? Herbaceous and tree species alike, they are big plants with big root systems. Dig wide, and plan to rinse off soil as you work to reduce the weight. The faint of heart should not tackle it.



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