How to Successfully Divide Peonies in Spring for Maximum Blooms

Peonies are one of the most beloved perennials in the garden. Their sumptuous, romantic blooms in late spring are highly anticipated. While peonies have a reputation for being finicky, properly caring for them is easy when you understand their needs. An important part of peony care is occasionally dividing the plants. Dividing peonies in spring ensures healthy, vibrant plants that produce abundant flowers.

When to Divide Peonies

The best time for dividing peonies is in early spring. Wait until the ground has thawed and new growth has just begun to emerge from the ground Look for 1 to 2 inch tall red sprouts appearing on the plant This is the perfect time to dig up and divide congested clumps. Spring division allows the new divisions time to establish before summer’s heat.

Dividing later in fall is another option. However spring division when the plant is just beginning to grow allows you to see where the new shoots are emerging. This helps ensure each division has some growth buds maximizing blooms for the following year.

Signs Your Peony Needs Division

  • The clump has gotten very large, over 2 feet wide.

  • Fewer flowers are produced each year.

  • The center of the clump is thin and lacks flowers.

  • Growth seems stunted.

Congested clumps with many years of buildup need dividing for optimal performance. Dividing every 3 to 5 years reinvigorates peonies.

How to Divide Peonies in Spring

When the sprouts are a couple inches tall, it’s go time! Here are the steps for dividing peonies in spring:

Gather Supplies

  • Sharp knife or garden spade
  • Pitchfork
  • Garden hose
  • Bucket of water

Dig Up the Peony Clump

Use a garden fork to carefully loosen the soil around and under the peony clump. Lift the entire clump out of the ground with the fork. Knock off excess soil.

Rinse Off the Roots

Gently spray the roots with a hose to remove soil. Do this over a bucket to catch any worms or beetles living in the soil so they can be returned to the garden later.

Divide the Clump

Lay the clump on a tarp. Using a sharp knife, divide the clump into sections. Each division should have three to five buds and a good root system.

Replant the Divisions

Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the entire root system of the peony division. Position the plant in the hole so the buds are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Fill in with soil and water thoroughly.

Space the divisions 3 to 4 feet apart to allow for future growth. Put a cage or stakes around newly planted peonies to support them while they establish.

Provide Post-Division Care

  • Water frequently the first year, at least 1 inch per week.

  • Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around plants to retain moisture.

  • Avoid fertilizing the season after dividing. Fertilize the following spring.

  • Cut off spent flowers once blooming finishes but leave the rest of the plant intact through fall.

  • Be patient with blooms. Few flowers will emerge the season after dividing. But flower production will improve over the next couple years.

Where to Plant Divided Peonies

Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil. Peonies need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun daily and moist, humus-rich soil. Space the divisions 3 to 4 feet apart if planting in a bed or border. Or plant peonies in a dedicated bed surrounded by paths and lawn.

Good companion plants for peonies include:

  • Catmint
  • Coral Bells
  • Lavender
  • Salvia
  • Threadleaf Coreopsis

These sun-loving perennials complement peonies with their height, flower colors, and growth habits.

Dividing Peonies Step-By-Step

Follow these simple steps for successfully dividing peonies in spring:

  1. Wait until the ground thaws and sprouts emerge from the soil.

  2. Use a fork to loosen the soil around and under the peony. Lift out the entire clump.

  3. Rinse the roots with a hose over a bucket to retain any worms or insects.

  4. Lay the clump on a tarp. Cut into sections with a sharp knife, ensuring a few growth buds per division.

  5. Replant divisions in holes large enough to accommodate the roots. Bury buds 1-2 inches below the surface.

  6. Water thoroughly after planting. Apply mulch. Avoid fertilizing that first year.

  7. Stake newly planted divisions if needed. Be patient with reduced blooms the first spring after dividing.

Troubleshooting Peonies

  • Few or no flowers – Ensure the plant gets at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. Apply fertilizer in early spring. Divide overly congested clumps.

  • Yellow leaves – This indicates overwatering. Allow soil to dry between waterings.

  • Wilted foliage – Drooping leaves usually result from underwatering. Thoroughly soak the soil when top few inches become dry.

  • Ants on peony buds – This is normal! Ants are attracted to the nectar-like secretions on the buds. Their presence does not harm the plant. Simply rinse off ants if desired.

  • Buds fail to open – Late spring frosts can damage flower buds. Site peonies in protected areas, delaying division until after the average last frost date.

Extend the Peony Season

While peonies are synonymous with late spring, certain varieties offer extended bloom seasons:

  • Lactiflora types – The most common. Large, fragrant blooms in late May to early June. Examples: ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ ‘Karl Rosenfield.’

  • Intersectional hybrids – Result of crossing tree peonies with herbaceous types. Extend the season with varieties like ‘Bartzella’ blooming late April to May.

  • Tree peonies – Woody shrubs with massive flowers in April, May, and June depending on variety. ‘Hana Kisoi’ has rose-pink double blooms in late April.

  • Herbaceous species – Smaller flowers on delicate plants. Bloom in March (Paeonia tenuifolia), April (P. anomala), May (P. officinalis), and June (P. mascula).

With strategic selection, enjoy peonies from March through June!

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you divide peonies?

Ideally divide peonies every 3 to 5 years. Signs a plant needs division include reduced flower production, thinning center, and overall stunted growth.

Should I cut back peonies after flowering?

No, allow the foliage to remain intact through the fall. Peonies produce energy for next year’s blooms via photosynthesis in the leaves. Cut down spent blooms but leave the foliage.

Can you divide peonies in the fall?

Yes, fall division is an option. However, spring division when eyes are swelling and sprouts emerging allows you to easily see where the new growth is located when dividing the sections. This maximizes potential blooms.

Do peonies need to be staked?

Staking is recommended the first year after division while plants establish. The soft, lush stems are prone to flopping over, especially when blooms are heavy after rainfall. Insert stakes around peonies in early spring before growth begins.

How long do peonies take to bloom after being divided?

Patience is required! Bloom reduction is common the first spring after division. Flowers will be sparse as the plant focuses energy on root growth. By the second or third year, blooms significantly improve. Each year gets better as the peonies settle in.

The Takeaway

Dividing congested peony clumps every few years rejuvenates the plants, encouraging lush growth and abundant blooms. Follow these tips for successfully dividing peonies in spring:

  • Time division for early spring when new red sprouts emerge.

  • Evaluate the clump for signs it needs division like reduced flowering.

  • Dig up the entire clump and rinse off the roots.

  • Cut the clump into sections with a sharp knife, retaining several growth buds per division.

  • Replant divisions with the buds just below soil level.

  • Provide ample water and avoid fertilizer the season after dividing.

  • Be patient with reduced blooms the first spring as plants establish. But flower production will improve with each year.

With this simple process, keep your peonies performing their best for years to come!

Peonies – Transplanting, Dividing, and Planting

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