digging peonies (moving!)

kristenmarie(Z4-5/New Mexico)June 17, 2005

Hi folks,

So it looks like we might be moving. I got fed up this spring-- on Jun. 4 it hit 23 on my porch (which means, most likely, well below 20 in my field)... we 're way up in the mountains but after four years here I've figured out (finally) that we are also in a TERRIBLE cold sink, we're about 10 degrees colder sometimes than areas higher up in the mountains but just a mile away... I can't grow fruit, I can't grow asparagus, I can't grow rhubarb, because it starts growing in our hot days then gets slammed and slammed and slammed again by frost (we have days in spring that are 92 in the day at 27 at night-- NO JOKE). So anyway, the final straw was really the peonies which came up happily in May and made tons of buds -- I went through and just glancing counted nearly 80 buds-- and NOT ONE BLOOM in the end because of a couple nasty low-20s frosts which , two miles up the road, were 34 to 39 degree nights.

So we're moving UP the hill to where it's colder in winter and warmer spring nights... absolutely insane to do this but we found a good deal on 32 acres with water rights and we're hoping we can work it out.

SO, the question is, how do I move my perennials, most particuarly my peonies??? I've got close to 50 of them now. That's worth a lot of money. I can't leave them behind. Will they move OK?

And what about other perennials? I guess i can just dig my tulips but what about delphs, and centaurea, and echinacea? pyrethrum? penstamons? Just dig and go?


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katiepoo(z4 MT)

Hey KristenMarie,

I am contstantly moving perennials. Sometimes a plant that was supposed to be 18 inches turns out to be 36 inches and it shades out the things behind it so I move them. I have moved everything from Echinacea to Delphiniums with no problem. I try not to move things when they are flowering or in bud, but this year I moved two peonies (in bud) and the are just about to bloom. The tap root goes way down and I had to hack it off, but they are both very happy. When I dig things up, I usually soak them in a bucket in a weak solution of alaska b-1 fertilizer, which helps tremendously with transplant shock. Sometimes, I just move them and then water them in with the b-1, but I think it takes longer for them to recover. If I can't replant them right away, I pot them up with compost until I can find them a good home.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 10:53AM
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Just have to do the best you can. Spend as much time as you can preparing the new place (depends on your move timing). If you can dig with a large soil ball and replant immediately, that's a help. If not, then dig and pot up as K mentioned. That way you can care for the plants in one location. The least forgiving in your list is probably the delphinium.

I know they recommend fall for peonies, but that might be a moot point.

Years ago we had to move a large perennial & bulb garden in mid May. A number of items were blooming or about to do so. Some took a beating and there was frost on the 27th of May. Most everything including the peonies survived. As a matter of fact some of those peonies survive to this day-over 40 years later.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 8:38PM
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kristenmarie(Z4-5/New Mexico)

OK, good, I thought peonies really hated to move. I think it's not going to be a problem to wait until fall ... I can't imagine the place we are now will sell before then!


    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 9:04AM
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harleylady(PNW/USDA 8b/Sunset 6)

I've been mostly a lurker but decided to delurk since I'm moving for the 6th time in as many years (gardeners should never marry gypsies), and supposedly the last time. Each time I've moved my gardens, this time over 500 plants. Because I couldn't get access to the new property early to prepare holding beds, everything is potted in containers, from 4" to 50 gallon barrels. I've lost only one or two plants in all those moves and the moves have been in all seasons. At worst, some things will lose a year of bloom.

As Katiepoo mentioned, hydration is the most important factor. Soaking the plants well the day before you dig allows them to absorb as much water as possible and makes it easier to dig. I also cut things way back (those that can be) a week or so before I dig them so they can spend their energy making new roots instead of leaves and new flowers. I also use a spade to cut a circle around larger plants a week or two in advance, but I leave them in the ground to allow them to develop new, small feeder roots before they're potted up. After everything is dug, keep them lightly shaded and well-watered until they've recovered from the shock. Some will look quite wilty, some will even look dead but give them time, most will be ok. Also, plan your move for the evening if it's hot rather then closing them up in hot trailer or moving van.

Another thing is to be sure to label things as you think you'll remember that this is the pink such-and-such, and the plastic rubbermaid tub has the Delph bluebird but it's all too easy for stuff to get mixed up, especially when its dropped its leaves and flowers. Unless you're just going to row everything out, then it doesn't matter.

As far as delphiniums, one of my favorites, I've never had a problem moving them. Mine were in full bloom but I cut them all the way to the ground. They already have 8" of fresh new foliage. The trick is to be careful not to cover the crown when you pot them up as they'll rot if covered. Also, don't forget the sluggo if slugs and snails are a problem in your area.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 9:18AM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

First, congratulations on finding a good place!!!! Will you have a good well access, or still be on the acequia for water? Acequia water is a lot better than no water.

I'd start potting things up now. With a baby and a toddler, you might not have time to get them all moved and replanted at the new place - UNLESS you have already have access to the beds at the new place, those beds are in the condition you want them to be in, you can keep them watered during moving time, and you're pretty sure your financing will be approved. In that case, start moving bed-to-bed now. Moving all your possessions and the children is probably going to keep you too busy at actual moving time for you to have time for plants.

The last time we moved, from California to Idaho, I started digging and potting up favorites before we even put our house on the market. Since your move is closer, close enough not to even have to put plants in pots for the move, you have more leeway.

I moved about 30 peonies this spring, when they already had leaf stalks up, but no visible flower buds yet. To my amazement, some of them are blooming now! You can move them any time, really, the worst consequence being that they might lose a stalk or two and are likely to abort any current flower buds. I think the peonies-hate-to-move theory we've all heard is due to their usually aborting their flower buds the year they are moved. Big deal! You still keep your plants.

I've moved delphinium a few times also. Most of the time, they sulked for a while, maybe killed off a few stems, but then recovered quickly. For me, the biggest factor is getting the receiving soil limed and composted well before the plants go in. I never thought of cutting them to the ground, as HarleyLady did, but I bet that helps.

Actually, I think I've moved everything on your list except penstemons, and everything did fine. I'd have moved penstemons too, if I'd needed to. Of couse, keep as big a rootball as you can, on everything, but I doubt you need me to tell you that!


    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 2:04PM
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