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Dividing peonies

When you've spent so much time in your garden, it's nice to be able to share your favorites. You don't have to divide peonies to keep them healthy, but they're nice to give away.

Radio interview source: Laverne Dunsmore, Co-Owner, Countryside Gardens

 
Peonies are beautiful and oftentimes can outlast their owners. It's great to share old peonies with friends and family alike.
 
Laverne Dunsmore is a specialty peony grower in Minnesota with over 400 varieties. He says the most important thing to remember when dividing peonies is to not dig up the entire plant.
 
"Instead of digging the whole plant up, you've lost all those years of amature plant," he says. "What I encourage people to do is just to take out a chunk of it and leave the mother plant alone. You never miss a bloom season that way."
 
Peonies can live up to 100 years. Dunsmore says the roots you want to use are the young roots, which are on the outside.
 
"And so if the plant is, let's say, 18-inches wide at the base, that outer six-inches is where you want to cut a chunk out," says Dunsmore. "The inner part doesn't have the root system, and the eyes aren't quite as developed, and they just don't take off that much, or that fast."
 
For each peony transplant, you need a dormant eye, which produces next year's stems. Those eyes are at the base of this year's growth about an inch-and-a-half below the ground. And you need a root. Dunsmore likes to see at least five eyes on a good-sized root.
 
The roots on an established peony can be up to two-inches in diameter and extend two-feet or more from the plant. To remove a chunk, use a sharp spade, like you're cutting a piece of pie. Transplant newly divided roots in the fall only, and plant at the same depth as they were originally.
 
The first spring the peony might have two or three stems come up. It's forming roots. It may bloom, it may not. The second year, the plant is a little taller and twice as thick. By the third
year, it's almost a mature size.
 

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