by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden
Peonies are harbingers of spring. Their vast array of colors, shapes, and sizes are among the many reasons they are treasured by gardeners. Add the incredible fragrance of many varieties and you’ve won me over.
Fall is the ideal time to plant or transplant peonies. According to Nate Bremer, owner and grower at Solaris Farms in Reedsville, WI, peonies make almost all of their root growth in the fall of year, even after frosts and leaves have fallen off the trees.
“The plants themselves may look dead above the ground,” said Nate, “but the roots are busy growing and expanding their territory.” He says that planting in the fall allows the new plantings to grow roots for the coming year. If peonies are planted in the spring, they must depend upon roots that were grown the previous year to support them through the summer season, which often causes them to use up their stores of energy and ultimately weakens them.
Nate should know. His business specializes in peonies. I personally visited his garden center of field-raised stock in spring of last year and was wowed by an early blooming variety called ‘Roselette.’ Its crisp, coral-pink, bowl-shaped blooms were 7” across and caught my eye from 75 yards away. I had to have one. Imagine my disappointment when Nate told me I couldn’t pick it up for another six months! For an instant gratification gardener, it was almost more than I could bare. But I patiently waited until October when I could finally claim my purchase. And I was rewarded this spring with some of the most amazing blooms I’d ever seen, pictured here.
“Peonies may look like they are doing very little during the hot days of summer, but they are busy storing food for the next year,” said Nate. “In autumn many of them produce leaves of gold, orange and red, adding to their value as a three season plant.”
Be sure to cut down herbaceous peonies and remove the stems and foliage in fall. Peonies are susceptible to a fungal disease called botrytis. You may have seen this on your plants. It shows up as black areas on stems and leaves during damp or wet weather. Removing the plant material helps minimize this disease the following growing season.
Nate also shared how nurseries that sell containerized peonies usually plant them in their pots during the fall season or during late winter weather and the peonies do their rooting then. When the containerized peonies are purchased and planted during the spring season the plants have completed their rooting for the year and are susceptible to many problems like drought, soggy soils, disease and heat.
If you’ve considered transplanting peonies, fall is the ideal time for that as well. Rather than transplanting a large clump, Nate recommends dividing larger clumps into 3-5 eyes. Larger clumps generally do not transplant as well. In either event, do it now and don’t be temped to wait until spring. Chances are you will be disappointed.
Thanks to Nate Bremer for sharing his expertise. For information on his unique garden center, which also specializes in Lilium and Day Lilies, visit his website at www.solarisfarms.com. Many more growing tips on peonies can be found there as well.