View from the Garden: Fall Planting…and Replanting on the East End

Prep your peonies for next year!
Prep your peonies for next year! Photo: iStock/Thinkstock

In one of the gardens where I work, several peony plants are now living in semi-shade and several more have been overgrown by their neighbors. These peonies need new homes as they like full sun and good air circulation. This is the time of year to relocate them.

With good growing circumstances, peonies can remain in place for many years—I have read as many as 100 years! But if yours do need to be moved, begin by choosing a sunny place with well-drained, fertile soil where they might be able to remain for years.

Digging the clump is more difficult than one would think by just looking at the plant. Begin digging well outside the drip line of the foliage. I like to use a potato fork. Dig around the entire plant slowly and carefully. The roots are wide spreading and deeper than you think. Keep digging until you have “excavated” the whole plant.

Depending on the size of your plant, the new hole you dig might need to be very large and deep. The roots can be very long, and ungainly. Some of the largest roots can be cut back but I like to plant as many of them as possible. Cutting the foliage to about 6” will help with the most critical part of peony planting—locating the buds in the hole. When the planting is finished, the highest bud must be no more than 1”–2” below the surface. If they are too deeply planted, they will not bloom. A wide and deep hole makes accurate planting easier. Water it in and keep moist. 2–3 inches of light mulch is good for the first winter. (When mulching peonies regularly, remember the eyes must not be below the surface more than 1–2 inches)

If you want to divide a peony clump, dig it as described above and then remove enough soil to see the clump clearly. The plant grows from a crown and the crown has buds. Using a sharp knife cut sections from the crown with one to three eyes. This will not involve all of the roots. (Yes, that one root that has only one eye can be planted, it will just take much longer to bloom)

Locate a place for your new peonies as above and leave enough space for them to become the large ladies they want to be—3 feet apart is good. Cut large roots to about 8”–10” from the eyes and plant with the eyes only 1”–2” below the ground.

If planted correctly with the right soil, light and water conditions, peonies will be a rewarding plant, requiring little care, for many years. And deer don’t like them—at least not yet!

At this time of year, I am always glad I have planted dahlias. They seem to be at their showiest now and for the next month. My sister calls them “old lady flowers” but I think they are abundant and exuberant. I have planted them in a cutting garden for several years and each week the client harvests dozens of flowers in several shapes, sizes and colors. Unless you plant the dwarf types (I don’t like them), they do need to be staked but what a small task to produce such glory! Our local garden centers always have good selections of blooming plants at the correct time to add them to the garden, but if you really want to have fun, order some tubers from any of several places on line (I like Swan Island Dahlias) and plant them directly into the garden. The tubers are very affordable so you can buy a lot.Planting instructions are included.

Plants are going on sale at the garden centers; trees, shrubs, perennials and many that are great houseplants. There are even large tropicals for those who have large sunny rooms and these will probably be discarded at the end of the season if not sold. I usually buy some magnificent somethings for my fall planting to see if I can keep them happy through the winter. Sometimes I can. This is a good and not expensive way to experiment and learn.

You might want to stop deadheading and let some plants self-sow for next year. Happy Fall!

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067, or visit

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