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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2018 How to Take Awesome Photos of Peonies (or Any Other Flower)

So you want to know the secrets of how to take awesome photos of peony flowers? Well, they're not really secrets, but here goes... Here are my top 7 tips for taking awesome peony pics. The stuff on this list isn't really covert, classified information only for professionals, it's more like how to train your eye to look for the right things. Take a look at the two photos that are side by side below. Those are the exact same bloom, taken just moments apart. Want to learn more? Read on...

How to Take Awesome Photos of Peonies

1. Sun - Lighting is the number one factor in getting a great outdoor shot. You can use a flash, but often times, the final product will come out looking artificial and not quite right. The light from your camera's flash tends towards the blue end of white (cool light), whereas the sun tends towards the yellow side of white (warm light). The sun's warm white lighting makes your flower photos seem more natural, more welcoming, and much less artificial! Come out mid morning, mid day, and/or mid afternoon to catch the best sunlight with much fewer shadows. Early morning or late afternoon sun will cast far more shadows on your subject, and/or you may have inadequate lighting altogether, requiring a flash.

Peony 'Lemon Dream'
Photo Taken in Partial Shade

Peony 'Lemon Dream'
Photo Taken in Sun

2. Focus - The second most important factor in obtaining a great flower photo is focus. Focus, Focus, Focus - It's often repeated because it really is that important. If you find the most perfect flower in the whole world, but your camera is focused on the grass or mulch or flower foliage in the background, you might as well have not even taken the photo. You can focus your camera either manually or automatically if you have a DSLR camera or automatically if you have a point and shoot camera, but the key is to focus. Auto focus can work - as long as the subject is what's in focus. If you are using the auto focus feature, most cameras (either point and shoot or DSLR) will have something on the screen that alerts you as to what the camera is focusing on, right before the shot is taken (like a box around the subject in focus or some points that light up on the screen showing what parts of the shot are in focus). Many times if you press the shutter button only halfway down, you have the opportunity to focus (and refocus if it's incorrect) before you depress the shutter button fully to take the shot. Sometimes if you press the shutter all the way down too quickly, the camera is either not focused at all (resulting in a very blurry image) or focused on the wrong thing (resulting in the wrong thing being in focus and a blurry or slightly blurry subject).

3. Flower - Primp it! This may not be a flower exhibition, but if you're going to the trouble to take a nice photo, you want your flower to look its best. If you notice anything on the surface of your flower that will detract from the photo, remove it. There could be debris, dirt, grass, or whatever sitting on your nice flower. Don't leave it on the blossom. Blow it off or pick it off. There could also be ants, bees, worms, or whatever other type of creature on your flower. Unless you are taking a picture with the insects intentionally, then you need to either wait until they're gone or flick them off (if it's safe to do so). There nothing like having a beauty of a flower with a giant fly on one of the petals. Shoo those bugs away!

4. Background - Background is often forgotten when taking photos. Ever see a beautiful flower shot with a cinder block or landscape fabric or irrigation hose or bucket or shovel or (fill in the blank) in the background? (And you just can't help but think how much more beautiful the photo would be without said item in it.) Well, that's what background is all about. It sounds easy - just make sure the background is nice, but we are all guilty (myself included) of taking a photo with a less than stellar background. If you are taking outdoor flower photos, here's a tip to remember: Green is nice, hands and fingers (and arms!) are not. If you must prop a flower up in order to take its picture, please, please, please prop it up with something other than your hand (or arm), preferably something natural and something that does not show in the photo. Sometimes when photographing peonies, I will prop up the flower I want to photograph on another one of the peony's own stems. Sometimes the flowers are really uncooperative. So another option is to use a bamboo stick (or just any other stick from outside) to prop up the flower. Sticks are great because they can be broken and made to any custom length needed. They can also be easily hidden in the foliage. I usually try to make the stick a length that is just tall enough to support the bloom. One end of the stick rests on the ground, the other end rests just underneath the heavy bloom.

5. Angle - This one is a little more advanced, but worth it when you see the results you can create. Ever see a photographer step up on step stool to take a photograph? That step stool is all about the angle. Sometime adjusting your height or your position, relative to the subject, can make all the difference. The thing you are looking for in the angle may vary depending on your subject, but for flowers I am looking for the best symmetry (without sacrificing the Background - see #4). Find the best angle that creates the best symmetry. You many have to crouch down or stand overhead and aim your camera straight down. You may have to walk all around your subject until you find just the right spot to take the photo. Your flower may not be perfectly round, but if you change the angle enough, you may find a shot that makes it look pretty round. Or your flower may be shaped in more of an oval or oblong shape. Then the key is to try to balance the flower in the frame either horizontally or vertically.

6. Timing - This one is sometimes hard for me too (especially since I work 5 out of 7 days of the week), but when you can, try to Take your photos of the freshest flowers - first day blooms if possible. The first (or sometimes second) day flowers will be much more full of life than older flowers on the plant. Also some older blossoms tend to fade. You want to make sure that the flower you are photographing is full of water and not wilted. So this one kind of relates to #1 because you do need good sun for your flowers, but just be aware that some peonies will wilt faster as the day goes on (darker colors like reds, dark pinks, or dark purples). So make sure you try to photograph your darker colored blooms earlier in the day if possible. Also if your area has been especially dry and hot, then it might be a good idea to try to take all of your photographs in the morning to avoid wilted, tired looking peony blooms.

7. Multiples - Finally, take lots of photos! We're not on film anymore. So you can just about take as many photos as you'd like. Memory cards are pretty cheap nowadays. So upgrading to one that will hold more photos shouldn't be a problem. Take multiple shots of the same flower, and I don't mean like 3 or 4, I mean like 10. If you have a shot you really want to get right, take 10 of them. It's not like you have a person or animal for a subject, you have a flower. I don't think it's in a hurry to go anywhere. So you really do have the luxury (that you don't have with people or pets) to Take multiples of the exact same shot. Most of the time (over 50% of the time), when I review them later on my computer, my last shot is my best one. So take your time to get the perfect shot. The reason you're taking so many shots is not to publish all of them, it's to publish the best one. So make sure to take the time later to review and compare your multiple shots to find the best one.

I know this is a lot to remember, but the more you practice these things, the more like second nature they will become. You won't have to intentionally think about each of these things, they will kind of become programmed in. Even on a good day, it probably won't be possible to get every one of the things on this list right for every single shot (see #7 Multiples). Just remember, the most important thing is to have fun! And to share your love of peonies with the world!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018 How to Lift a Sunken Herbaceous Peony

Sunken Herbaceous Peony

So if you live in the South, and you grow peonies (or try to grow peonies), you probably know that a common problem is peonies not blooming. Why are they not blooming you ask? Most likely because they are planted too deep or do not get enough sun. If your problem is the former (planted too deep), we are going to fix that today! Sometimes even when you plant them at the correct level they sink or get buried over time. It could be that layers of mulch have gotten piled on over the years, creating a peony that is much too far below ground. It could be that there's something going on underground underneath where you peony is planted - animal holes, rotting plant material, or even fire ants! - that have caused the ground to sink underneath your peony. So how can you fix it, and get that peony blooming again?

Lift it up!

Rake Away Mulch from Sunken Peony

The first thing you want to do is to remove the mulch from around your sunken peony. If the problem is too much mulch, you may have quite a bit of mulch to remove. Pull the mulch out in a wide circle around the peony crown to give yourself enough room to dig around your peony without severing any roots (if possible). The bigger/more eyes your peony is, the further away you will need to dig/rake the mulch. After you have removed the majority of the mulch with your rake, use you hands to remove the smaller pieces near the crown, taking care not to damage any buds or small growth on your peony. You don't want to mix the mulch into your soil since the wood will remove nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. Mulch on top is fine (nature's way), but mulch mixed into the soil is not good.

Use Your Hands to Remove
Remaining Mulch from Sunken Peony

Cut Into the Ground in a Wide Circle Around Sunken Peony

After all of the mulch is removed, you'll want to start digging. Remeber, the bigger/more eyes your peony has, the further away you will need to dig. Don't worry if you sever a storage root or two here or there, your peony should still live, but the less roots you sever the better! Make cuts in the soil with your shovel all around the peony in a wide circle. Once you have made enough cuts, you should be able to lift your peony up with your shovel. There is no need to move it or even remove it from the soil totally. You just need to lift it a little, just enough to get a bit of soil under and around it.

Use Shovel to Lift the Rootball of the Peony

Use Top Soil to Fill in Under and Around Lifted Peony

Once you have your peony rootball lifted a little, you'll want to add some soil under and around your peony. Now if you care enough about your peony to go to all the trouble of lifting it up to help it grow and bloom, put some decent soil under and around it. Don't just put some fill dirt from some other spot in your yard. At least go to the local hardware store and get a $1.50 bag of top soil. You can also get some organic compost as well if you want to spring for a little nicer soil, but plain, old top soil works fine too. Keeping the peony's rootball lifted as best you can pour a little top soil all around the crown of the peony. Use your hands to work a little of the soil underneath the peony and under the sides too. Fill it in all the way around. If your peony crown is mounded up slightly that's fine too, as it will likely settle lower again later. Plus peonies grown mounded up slightly will get better chill in the winter (needed for creating flowers).

Keep Peony Lifted with Shovel While You Add Top Soil Around and Underneath Lifted Peony

Tamp Down Top Soil Around Lifted Peony to Remove Air Pockets

Once you have your new soil pushed under and around the lifted peony's root ball as much as possible, tamp the soil down a bit with your hands or even your feet (lightly) to make sure there are no air pockets around your newly lifted peony. While you are working on your peony anyway, now would also be a good time to add a bit of organic fertilizer or slow release fertilizer around your peony rootball. Sprinkle the recommended amount of fertilizer (check your fertilizer bag for details) on top of the new soil and mix it in a little with your hands.

Sprinkle Some Organic/Slow Release Fertilizer Around Peony

After you've finished fertilizing your peony, replace the mulch lightly. If you had too much mulch on your peony in the first place, you will not want to put all of the mulch back on the peony, just put a portion of it back. Find a new home for that remaining mulch. When applying the mulch on your peony take care to not put too much mulch directly on the crown (growing eyes/buds) of the peony. Once your mulch has been replaced, give your peony a good drink of water to help it resettle into its new surroundings. Now just sit back relax and watch that peony grow. You've just treated it to a day a the spa!

Replace Mulch Around Lifted Peony

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 How to Divide an Intersectional Peony

The topic everyone has been dying to find out about... How to Divide an Intersectional Peony. Some have claimed that it's impossible, that the roots are so different than an herbaceous peony, that if you wait too long its too late. The rumors about dividing this plant have swirled, making dividing these beauties at once a mystery and almost no-no among home gardeners. However these plants are just as easy to divide as herbaceous peonies and perhaps adapt a bit easier to it. And who wouldn't want more of these long lived, easy to grow, and floriferous peonies in their garden?

Intersectional Peony to Be Divided

The first step in dividing your intersectional peony is to remove the ground covering or mulch from the soil surrounding the crown of the plant. You'll want to dig 8-12 inches away from the crown, depending on the size of your plant. I never measure this distance. I mostly eyeball it and use my gut feeling. You don't have to dig up all of the peony's roots. You just need to dig up most of them.

Intersectional Peony with Mulch Removed

After the mulch has been removed, start digging around the plant. I usually just start by making cuts into the soil with the shovel in a circle about 8-12 inches out from the plant. Don't worry if you hear a few roots being cut through. This is just part of the dividing process. However if it feels like you are cutting through lots of roots and the cuts are hard to make, you may be digging too close to the crown. Try making your cuts a little further out.

Begin to Dig Intersectional Peony

After I've made a few shovel cuts into the soil around the plant, I'll go around the plant again and do small test lifts of the rootball to see if the plant is starting to loosen out of the soil. By making these small cuts and doing test lifts, I can see how much more digging I need to do, or if the plant has become loose enough to begin to lift. You can also get an idea as to whether you should be digging closer or farther away from the peony crown.

Test Lift the Intersectional Peony

Once the peony is loose enough to begin lifting, I'll begin gently lifting it out of the soil by hand. If there is one side that lifts higher than the others, I will try to lift that side out first. If you find that the peony is still too buried to begin lifting, you may have to go back dig around it a little more, making few more cuts with your shovel.

Lift Out One Side of the Intersectional Peony

Once you have one side of the peony out of the dirt, you should be able to continue lifting it on that side and gently wiggle the rest of the roots out on the other sides. One or two (or several) of the roots may snap off, and that's okay, as long as you are able to get the majority of them intact. You have most certainly already cut through several of the roots when you were digging the peony anyway. Snapping and cutting off some roots is just part of the process when dividing a peony. So don't worry about those roots, your peony will live - as long as you didn't snap them all off! (Even then it may still survive, it would just take much much longer to reestablish itself and bloom again.)

Gently Shake the Intersectional Peony Until You Can Pull It Out

The next step is to select a place to divide the intersectional peony root. Often there will be a gap or space between some of the small clusters of pink buds. A space like this somewhere near the center would be a good place to start. I like to find a place like this and stick my dividing knife there. Also don't fuss too much about finding the "perfect spot" to divide the peony. Even if you make a mistake and cut a small piece off, that small piece will likely grow anyway, providing there's a small piece of the crown (hopefully containing a pink bud) with a small piece of root attached. Then you'll just have an extra "baby" division. This small division may take longer to grow to full blooming size, but it will be one more intersectional peony plant than you had before!

Find a Good Spot to Divide the Intersectional Peony

Often the intersectional peony roots are too hard to split by hand. I think this attribute is what may have caused the rumors that these peonies are hard to divide. However intersectional peonies are no more hard to divide than herbaceous peonies. They may require an extra tool (like a rubber mallet), but that tool may actually make the job a little bit easier. Use your rubber mallet to tap the dividing knife into the peony root in the place where you've decided to make your first cut.

Use a Rubber Mallet to Divide the Intersectional Peony

I usually do not try to put my dividing knife all the way through the peony's crown. Usually the peony's storage roots are intertwined and growing all around and underneath the peony's crown. Once the dividing knife is halfway or 3/4 of the way through, I will try to wiggle and pull the pieces apart to prevent further damage to the storage roots. If you find that you are unable to pull apart the pieces, then you may need to cut a little further or in a slightly different spot in order to separate the two divisions.

Intersectional Peony First Division Made

After you've made your first division, then you can examine the remaining pieces to see if you can find any other gap or spaces between buds that seem like a suitable place to divide the root even further. Repeat the steps above to cut and carefully pull apart any additional divisions you choose to make.

Find Another Spot to Divide the Intersectional Peony

You can divide your peony into as many pieces as you like. Most professional growers recommend leaving at least 3-4 eyes (the eyes are the pink buds) on each division. Also some growers will sell extra large divisions with at least 7-8 eyes on them. These larger divisions will establish themselves more quickly and are more likely to produce a bloom in their first growing season.
Intersectional Peony Second Division Made

Once you have separated your peony root into as many pieces as you'd like, you're done! Congratulations, you have now successfully divided your intersectional peony! The next thing to do is to figure out How to Plant an Intersectional Peony. May your garden grow and multiply. Good luck! :-)

Intersectional Peony Three Division

Friday, November 6, 2015

2015 How to Cut Back an Intersectional Peony

There are two ways you can cut back an intersectional peony. You can cut the entire plant back to ground level or you can cut the plant back, leaving short stems with growth buds on them. In colder climates, it is preferred to cut the plant back to ground level. However here in the South, with our milder winters, these growth buds on the stems can often survive the winter just like the growth buds on tree peony stems.

Intersectional Peony in Autumn
View From Above

The first step is optional, but it helps me see what I'm doing. I just remove some of the lower foliage of the plant so that I can see what I'm working on. This is very easy to do. If you find where the leaf stem meets the main stem and just put a little bit of downward pressure on the leaf stem, the leaf segment will come off pretty easily. You'll want to have a trash bag handy for all of the foliage and stems you cut away. Peonies often carry botrytis blight. So it is best to trash the old foliage and not compost it to reduce future infections.

Intersectional Peony in Autumn
View From Underneath

To leave some short stems on the plant with growth nodules, you'll want to prune the stems back to the first or second growth nodule above the soil. Usually you will see a pink growth bud at the stem/leaf juncture. You'll want to prune the stem just above this point. If you don't see any pink growth buds on a stem, you can prune that stem all the way back to the ground, taking care to cut above the pink growth bud at the base of the stem, if present.

Cut Main Peony Stem Just Above Pink Growth Bud

After pruning the upper stem away, you'll be left with a short main stem and a foliage stem. Remove any remaining foliage on the pruned stem by applying a bit of downward pressure to the leaf stem. This will easily separate the foliage from the main stem. Make sure to remove and throw away all remaining foliage on each pruned stem.

Apply Downward Pressure to Peony Leaf Stem to Remove It

Intersectional Peony Being Pruned

Repeat this process on each of the stems until you have pruned all of them. After all of the stems have been cut back and all of the foliage has been removed, you'll be left with just a few short sticks sticking out of the ground where your intersectional peony once stood.

Intersectional Peony Stem Defoliated and Pruned

One advantage of this pruning method, leaving short stems, is that you'll know exactly where your instersectional peony is planted over fall, winter, and early spring. That way you won't accidentally step on it, dig into it, etc. However if you live in a colder climate where these growth buds likely won't survive anyway, or you prefer a cleaner look after pruning, intersectional peonies can be cut back all the way to the ground.

Intersectional Peony Defoliated and Pruned

If you want or need to prune your intersectional peony back to the ground, that's perfectly acceptable. Intersectional peonies are quite hardy once established, and they will definitely come back when pruned to the ground. You'll just want to make your cuts carefully to ensure the basal growth buds are not damaged.

Intersectional Peony Base

If you closely examine the base of your intersectional peony, you'll find where the stems meet the crown. If you have your peony planted even with the soil surface (hopefully you do - if you a Southern peony gardener!), you will likely see some pink growth buds near the base of most stems and on the crown.

Cut Peony Stem Back to Soil Level Just Above Pink Growth Bud

When you cut your intersectional peony stem back to ground level, you'll want to make sure to preserve these pink growth buds. So if there is a pink growth bud at the base of the stem, make your cut just above this growth bud. Also take care not to smash or cut any other growth buds on the base of your plant. Continue pruning each of the stems on the plant until you are left with just the crown and pink growth buds.

Intersectional Peony Pruned to Ground Level

Now you're all done cutting back your intersectional peony. Don't worry if you see the exposed pink growth buds. For Southern peony gardeners, this is a good thing! Don't bury them or cover them with soil or mulch! Those growth buds need to be exposed to as much cold as they can be over the winter to bloom properly in the spring. So leave them uncovered. You may want to put a plant marker near your peony if you don't already have one. That way you'll know exactly where it is, so you won't step on it or damage it over the winter.

Monday, August 3, 2015

2015 How to Fertilize a Peony

There are two main times of the year to fertilize peonies, before your peonies bloom in early spring and after they have bloomed in the later summer / early fall. This is a good time to add a slow release organic fertilizer or composted cow manure around the drip line of your peony plants. Slow release, organic nutrients will be available throughout the season for your peonies. This includes the early spring when they are expending lots of energy to push up new shoots of foliage, and even into the fall when they are storing energy and nutrients to produce next year's foliage and blooms.

Peony Plant to be Fertilized

The first step in fertilizing your peony is to remove the layer of mulch covering your peonies. This layer of mulch is just another barrier between your peony and the nutrients you are trying to give it. If it is not possible or perhaps too time consuming, you can put the fertilizer on top of the mulch. However the peony will have easier access to fertilizer that is directly applied to its soil. Also less of the fertilizer is likely to get washed or blown away.

Peony Plant with Mulch Removed

Since peony plants only produce one set of foliage per year, you will want to make sure to keep it green and healthy. I don't recommend any quick release water soluble chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers will actually 'burn' the leaves of your peony plant and make them turn yellow. Avoid those types of fertilizers and look for something slow release, natural, or organic instead. Since peonies are not continuously producing new above ground growth throughout the season, they do not need a high nitrogen, quick release fertilizer.

Organic Slow Release Fertilizers are Best for Peonies

Some fertilizers that I like to use are Espoma Organic Plant-tone or EcoScraps Natural and Organic Rose & Flower Plant Food. Both of these fertilizers are slow release and organic. They can both be found at local super stores and hardware stores, or you can purchase them online. I also like to use Black Kow composted manure as a fertilizer for my peonies. If you have your own compost pile, then homemade compost is also a great fertilizer. When using compost, you will want to make sure that you use a very thin layer and don't bury your peony with the compost. Most of the time, I will use the bagged organic fertilizers for herbaceous peonies, and the compost for tree peonies since herbaceous peonies's are sensitive to planting depth.

You can use a garden scoop or measuring cup, whatever you're comfortable with to apply the fertilizer. I like to use a measuring up so I know exactly how much I am putting on each plant. Sprinkle the fertilizer lightly over the soil. Make sure to apply the fertilizer around the drip line of the peony's outer most leaves in a round circle like shape. Be careful not to dump the fertilizer directly on the peony's crown. It likely won't do as much good in this location since most of the storage roots are under the crown, and the feeder roots are generally around the outer edge of the foliage drip line. Optionally you can work the fertilizer into the soil a bit with your fingers or a small garden cultivator, taking care not to disturb the peony's roots. If you are short on time or you are worried about disturbing your peony, you can skip working the fertilizer into the soil.

Replace the Mulch Around Peony

After you have applied your fertilizer, the last thing to do is to replace the mulch around your peony. This will keep the fertilizer from washing away, and give nature a chance to incorporate the fertilizer into the soil during your next few rainstorms. If it has been particularly dry lately, you can also water in the fertilizer yourself with a garden hose or watering can. Now you're all done. This should give your peony a great start to the next growing season!

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 How to Deadhead an Intersectional Peony

Deadheading your intersectional peonies is really a personal preference. I actually prefer to leave the seedpods on my intersectional peonies. The seedpods actually provide some additional interest and height on the bush. Since intersectional peonies do not actually form seeds 99% of the time, the plant is not wasting any energy creating seeds if you leave them on. On the flip side since there not any seeds being created, you don't have to leave them on for seed production. Also some gardeners may find the bush more aesthetically pleasing without them. So this guide is intended to help all of the intersectional peony pruners out there. The method to Deadhead an intersectional peony is not too different from the method of How to Deadhead an Herbaceous Peony.

Intersectional Peony 'Pastel Splendor' with Seedpods

Deadheading is the process of removing the spent bloom heads from your peony plant. To start this process you'll want to have your favorite pair of pruners and a trash bag handy for deadheading. Since it is not a good idea to compost your peony clippings due to fungal blight concerns, you will want to throw away the seedpods after pruning them from the peony bush. When you prune the seedpods from the plant, you'll actually cut off a portion of the stem. This portion of the stem can definitely carry fungal spores in the stem tissue. So put the seedpods in your trash bag after you've removed them.

Intersectional Peony Seedpods Remain After Flowering

Intersectional Peony Seedpod

Take a look at the seedpod you'd like to remove first. If you follow the stem down to the first leaf junction, you'll find the point where you'll want to prune your plant. You'll want to make your cut just above the leaf junction to trim the stem down to this point, while preserving as much of the foliage as possible. After you make the cut, collect your deadheaded seed pod and put it in your trash bag. Simply repeat this process for each seedpod on your peony plant until you have removed all of them.

Pruning Intersectional Peony Seedpod

After pruning your intersectional peony, the plant will appear a little cleaner, and a little greener. Now is a good time to add a slow release organic fertilizer or composted cow manure around the drip line of your peony plants. Slow release, organic nutrients will be available throughout the season for your peonies, even into the fall when they are storing energy and nutrients to produce next year's blooms.

Intersectional Peony After Pruning

Also if you have any extended periods of drought over the summer, you will want to give your peonies some additional water to keep the foliage from wilting. Peonies are tough plants, and they can definitely withstand some drought. Mine have several years, but the plants will be healthier with some added water. That's it. Sit back, enjoy the green, and start dreaming about how many big beautiful blooms you'll have next year!

Intersectional Peony 'Pastel Splendor' after Deadheading

Friday, November 14, 2014

2014 How to Divide an Herbaceous Peony

Since it's that time of year, and I needed to divide a few peonies of my own I wanted to create this illustrated how to divide an herbaceous peony guide. Let talk about reasons why to divide a peony and what would qualify as a peony that needs division or would be okay to divide. The reasons to divide a peony are to create more of the same peony to plant in your garden, to give a peony to someone you know, or maybe even to sell a piece of your peony. As far as what peony would qualify as a peony to divide, I've heard a rule of thumb is a peony with at least seven stems. However as you can see, the peony in this guide has many more than seven stems. This particular peony has more than 25 stems!

Cut Back the Peony Stems

First you should cut back all of the stems on your peony. When cutting back peony stems for the winter, I usually cut them back to the ground. However when dividing a peony it will probably help you see where and how to divide the peony if you keep the stems a little longer (about 2-3 inches). A longer stem left on the peony division will also help its new owner figure out the correct way to plant it!

Dig the Peony Out of the Soil

Next, after your peony has been cut back, carefully dig in a circle around the peony. I usually try to dig a circle that is about 1 foot away from the peony stems to try to preserve as many of the roots as possible. After you have dug a circle around the peony, next try digging a little underneath the peony all the way around it, until you are able to lift it above the soil.

Wash Off Your Peony Roots

After you have removed your peony from the soil, you should take it to a place where you can give it a thorough rinse. As you can see I had a little helper to help me with this part! A garden hose with a stream nozzle that has a little bit of power behind it will help get the soil out of all of the nooks and crannies in your peony root.

Let the Peony Rest for at Least One Day

As you can tell from the picture, my peony root is now dry. That's because it's been sitting in the same spot for a couple days. It took me a little while to get back to it. Your peony root should be given time to sit and rest before you divide it. Otherwise you will accidentally snap of lots of your peony's storage roots. When you first dig a peony from the soil, the roots are very firm and easy to break. After the peony sits for a day, the roots will be softer and a little more limber. You should still be careful with the roots because they can still break, but they will be much easier to work with than if you had tried to divide your peony right after digging it.

Find a Nice Spot to Divide Your Peony

After your peony has had a chance to rest and soften up, find a nice spot to divide the peony. Look for a spot that your garden knife will go into nicely and it seems it would be easy to cut. You don't have to divide off one piece at a time. In fact I just divide mine in half and then half again and so on until I get the size divisions I want.

Separate the Peony into Two Pieces

Next after you have separated your peony into two separate pieces, look at each piece to see how many stems and or eyes are on each division. If the roots are large enough you may be able to divide them again, just as I could with this peony. The rule of thumb is that peonies should have at least 3 to 4 eyes on them to grow nicely. If you want a larger plant that will bloom even sooner, you may want to leave 6 to 8 eyes on your divisions.

Examine the Divisions to See if They Can Be Divided Further

If one of your peony roots is large enough that you can divide it into smaller pieces, find a spot on the peony root that the garden knife will fit nicely and allow you to separate it into two pieces with at least 3 to 4 eyes on each piece. Try to make the smallest cut possible so that you don't snap off any storage roots.

Cut the Divisions into Smaller Pieces (If Needed)

After you've divided your division, separate it into separate pieces. Remember not to make the divisions too small. If you have less than 3 to 4 eyes, it could take extra YEARS to get your peony to a good blooming size. So when it comes to dividing peonies, bigger divisions are much better than more divisions.

Separate the Divided Division

Then examine the other half of your original peony to see if it can be divided further as well. If so, repeat the steps above to divide that half into smaller divisions as well.

Divide the Other Half of Your Peony (If Needed)

Find a Spot Where the Garden Knife Fits Easily

Separate the Divisions

Cut the Divisions into Smaller Pieces (If Needed)

Results of the Peony Divisions - 5 Pieces