Peony roots and eyes
Peony planting depth
By Alyssa Abaloz
We’re getting the peony garden in Nichols Arboretum ready for its 100th anniversary in 2022.
In your own garden, autumn is the perfect time to plant bare-root peonies and divide or transplant peonies, according to Sarah Gizzi, Matthaei-Nichols peony fellow. Sarah cautions that “transplanting peonies in the summer causes a lot of stress due to the heat.”
When transplanting your peonies, make sure to dig a hole deep enough to cover all the roots and keep the eyes, or buds, no more than an inch or two beneath the surface of the soil, Gizzi advises.
There are two methods to divide a peony: “pie-slice” and “whole-plant.” The pie-slice method allows you to divide your peony’s roots without uprooting the entire plant. Using a spade, loosen a triangular section of your peony just like a slice of pie. You want to have good roots going down, so dig down at least 8″, preferably deeper than that. Gently continue to loosen and lift the pie-division out of the ground. Shake the roots, then spray with water to remove any excess soil.

Watch a video on dividing and transplanting peonies by Carol Adelman of Adelman Peony Gardens

Tree peony Guardian of the Monastery

Tree peony ‘Guardian of the Monastery.’ Photo by Michele Yanga.

Itoh peony Bartzella

Intersectional, or Itoh, peony ‘Bartzella.’ Itoh peonies are crosses between herbaceous and tree peonies.

Peony Boule de Neige

Herbaceous peony ‘Boule de Neige.’

Remove any foliage and cut the stems to about 2-3 inches, then divide the root into 3-5 sections  with eyes, or buds. Remove stringy or broken roots leaving only large, healthy roots about 6-8 inches long.
The whole-plant method involves removing the entire plant from the ground and dividing it from there. You can also plant the entire peony in a different location if that’s your goal. Don’t be discouraged by less-than-spectacular bloom the next spring. Transplanted and divided peonies may take a year or two to get established.
For a step-by-step guide to dividing peonies, click on the button below to watch a video with Carol Adelman. Carol and David Michener, our curator, co-authored Peony: The Best Varieties for Your Garden.
Check out the photos on this post. You’ll see planting depth guidelines, what the peony “eyes” or buds look like, and photos of an herbaceous peony called ‘Boule de Neige;’ tree peony ‘Guardian of the Monastery’; and an Itoh or intersectional peony called ‘Bartzella.’ All amazing in their own right. Guardian of the Monastery photo by Michele Yanga.