Transplanting peonies into clay soil--should I re-dig?

fampoula(5)September 30, 2013


We are new homeowners and I transplanted some peonies from our backyard into our front flower bed. The peonies are a deep crimson when in bloom. One of the plants seemed to be an older plant with 7 stems and a relatively large root ball (maybe about 1 foot across). It probably could have been divided into 2 plants, but I would prefer one larger plant, so kept it as is. The other plants seemed to be more recent divisions, each with 2-3 stems each.

The soil in the back is pretty good as the former owner did most of his gardening back there. The front has about 12 inches of good amended soil on top, but is a thick, heavy gray clay underneath. Because I enlarged the bed, I amended the whole thing with cotton burr compost and a compost mix bought at a reputable nursery and made up of leaf mulch, bark mulch and probably some other things.

When I transplanted, I dug the holes twice as wide as the plants' current root systems, but only dug them as deep as necessary to keep the eyes of the plants about 3/4" below grade. (The nursery recommended planting no deeper than 3/4", but I forgot to ask how deep to dig the hole). The reason I kept the hole shallow was b/c I planted a hydrangea up front last spring and dug deeper than the root ball and amended the clay soil underneath and the hydrangea ended up sinking so much that I had to re-plant it.

I am now worried that I should have planted the peonies deeper. I think I still have time to remove the plants and re-dig the holes. What do you think? The holes are currently about 1 foot deep and, in addition to the amended soil that I back filled with, I also added about 1-2 cups of cotton burr compost and 1-2 cups of regular compost into the bottom of the hole before planting. None of the plants' roots are resting on top of the clay, but the clay layer probably begins only about 2-3 inches below the root balls.

Also, should I have divided the one larger plant before replanting? Any advice is appreciated!

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When did you transplant your peonies the first time? Is the amended soil in a raised bed? The only issue I could think of is a possibility of poor drainage with a clay base so close, otherwise you should be fine. Have the peonies been in place long enough to tell if the area is going to get boggy? I can tell you from experience they don't like wet roots, they'll rot!

Most people do divide the larger roots, they take quite an effort to dig out once they get bigger, don't they? Better to do it once and done with moving and dividing them! That said, as long as there were enough feeder roots kept intact to support the number of eyes on your larger peony it'll probably be okay. A lot depends on how the rootball looked when you dug it up. If the middle was really woody with little or no eyes with all of the healthy looking parts on the outside of the root, I'd dig it back up and divide it to encourage new eye/root formation. Some of them get that way and will just start dying out from the middle. If the whole thing was a mass of fleshy, tuberous roots with healthy eyes then you're fine.

I would think 3/4" of soil over the eyes is just about perfect for your zone.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 7:58PM
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Sorry. I meant to include in my first post that I just transplanted them this Saturday (so only 3 days ago). I don't think the area will get boggy. We have had some heavy rains and the water sometimes puddles on top, but then it recedes as soon as it stops raining, or once the rain lightens. Does that constitute boggy? I do worry about the water not being able to penetrate the heavy clay base and then puddling there, but I am not experienced enough of a gardener to understand exactly how soil drainage works. The peonies are planted in front of our front stoop and so are near the top of a very slow and slight incline, so I am hoping that might help?

The larger rootball was in good shape when I dug it up with, I think 3 eyes on one half of what could be divided, and 3 on the other. Maybe I will dig up and divide, but I kind of wanted the "instant gratification" of a larger peony bush for impact. Short-sighted, I know, but as a relative newbie gardener, I am a little impatient. :-)

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 10:39PM
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Sorry, by boggy I meant does the area stay muddy a day or so after a rain, doesn't sound like that'll be a problem in your case. Top of the slow incline is a good thing!

If there wasn't a big, dead looking woody area between the 2 sets of 3 eyes you're fine as long as you didn't break a lot of the feeder roots. If you were careful and got the rootball out without much damage you'll probably not see any negative change in your plant at all and will have some beautiful flowers in a good spot to enjoy them next spring!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 10:56PM
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