Nothing like waiting until the eleventh hour. But in the case of my Scarlet O’Hara peony, that’s exactly what I did. I received a bare root peony tuber as a door prize at a garden event about ten years ago. The planting spot I chose was visible from the house and rather close to a redbud tree that, at the time, didn’t cast much shade. With plenty of morning and early afternoon sun, the peony thrived.
Fast forward to a much bigger redbud and a peony that surprisingly still flowers despite receiving less than two hours of direct sun. Four to six hours is recommended. It’s hard to imagine that a three-foot stick of a tree will, if all goes well, eventually create a beautiful green umbrella over the plants below. But that’s exactly what the redbud’s done and I’m tasked with finding a new home for this late spring blooming beauty. That’s the way of gardens. They evolve and change, becoming shadier or sunnier as things grow or die. It’s up to the gardener to notice and adjust. Mother Nature is in control.
Despite only dappled morning sun, the pinky red blooms of Scarlet O’Hara continue to remain upright on strong stems.
Only to become sickly and covered in powdery mildew moments before the last red petal drops. It looks like it’s been dusted with flour. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that won’t kill the plant but does weaken it. Once infected, there is no spray to cure it. The fix is full sun and good air circulation. Neither of which the plant received these last few years. Good sanitation is especially important and, as a precaution, I remove the mildew-covered foliage in August and never toss any diseased material into the compost pile. Preventative fungicides are available but require far too much work for my liking. Better to move the plant to a more hospitable location and get on with it. The peony will understand.
Transplanting a Peony
There are only two ways to kill a peony. They’re that tough. Too little direct sun and planting too deeply. Peonies have been known to outlive their gardeners, thriving in the same spot for 50 years or more. That is, if you give them what they want. Best to remember one of my favorite quotes from renowned British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.
“It is not the fault of the plants that they were misused or employed in dull or even stupid ways.”
Here in the Midwest, the best time to transplant peonies is between August 15 and November 1 when plants have entered their dormant period. I chose a sunny site on the east side of my home. Unfortunately it won’t be visible from any of my windows.
The area is underplanted with mounds of perennial Geranium sanguineum (Bloody Cranesbill). It grows well in my garden and I have plenty of it. I love the diminutive foliage and prolific purple flowers and think it will make a nice contrast to the peony’s robust growth habit. An established row of emerald green arborvitae, planted a few years ago, will provide backdrop. The area receives about six hours of direct sun but is shielded from the hot afternoon heat.
How To Dig Out a Peony
Peony roots are thick and fleshy, capable of holding a lot of water. I’ve never had to water it even in the most extreme dry spells. To give it the best chance of survival, I dug around the plant a good distance away from the center to give it as many roots as possible. A few of the eyes are visible. Each white eye accounts for next year’s flowering stems.
Too get a better look at the number eyes on the plant, I rinsed away a good amount of soil. The eyes should never be planted more than two inches below the soil surface. Better to plant too high than too low. Before planting, I added a bit of compost from my bin to the hole and mixed it around. I believe in $5 plants in $50 holes.
Once I determined the proper planting height, I adjusted the depth of the hole, placed the plant in the center and backfilled. Since the initial watering in after planting, I haven’t had to provided supplemental water. It’s rained off and on here since the transplanting. I love when nature helps me out a bit. I’m prone to planting and forgetting. Which is probably why I love this plant so much. She’s easy, doesn’t ask too much of me and looks lovely. And yes, I’m talking about a plant!
For more planting inspiration, check out my ideas for kickstarting your spring garden.