Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia - The Peony Library

index 0602


The Manual of the American Peony Society


Copyright 1928 by American Peony Society

165_propagating by division of roots


By James Boyd

WHEN PEONIES become too old, and flowers begin to get small and stems rather crowded, it is advisable to divide the roots; or, if one wishes to sell or give a certain variety to friends, he may do so by carefully dividing the roots, either in the spring or the fall. The latter time is preferable because the bloom for that year is not lost, and the flowers the following spring are generally as numerous and as good from the fall-planted division as they are from the division planted six months earlier.

Amateurs should not divide a plant that is less than three years old, but commercial growers who desire to increase their stock as rapidly as possible can successfully divide two-year-old plants.

To divide a clump, the first important thing is to dig it up carefully. A three or four-year-old plant will generally have roots 12 to 15 inches long, and the spread will be between 20 and 30 inches. Dig around it and under it in order to pry and raise it without cutting or breaking the roots, which are rather brittle when they are first exposed to air. When the plant is free, lift it out of the ground and shake it to remove as much of the earth as possible, and then let it stand in the sun and air for two to three hours. When it begins to wilt, the roots will have become softer and more pliable and may be handled without much danger of breaking. Then, holding the plant by the leaves and stems, wash off" all the soil, either in a tub of water or by using a garden hose. When clean, remove the tops within i to 2 inches of the topmost bud. Next, examine the clump closely, holding it in both hands. Work or bend it back and forth slowly to determine where it seems inclined to part. If it bends readily in one or two places, these are the points at which it should be cut. A short, stifF-bladed hunting-knife is very useful, because one often has to pry the roots apart as well as cut them.

When the clump is divided into two or three main parts, examine each part carefully to see where it may be cut or divided again with as little injury as possible to the roots. If a root should accidentally be broken off without an eye on it, throw it





away because it never can make growth. Sometimes a very small eye may be concealed under dirt, and when the root is thrown away this eye will develop and in time send up a shoot, eventually making a plant. This will take time, and unless the variety is extremely rare and expensive, it is not worth while to endeavor to get a plant from a division with only one very small eye. It is very important to remove all pieces of root from the ground when plants are dug, otherwise roots with concealed eyes may form plants in years to come and cause much confusion by mixing varieties.

There have been many arguments in regard to the size of the division, but it is generally conceded that the greatest success comes from the strong standard division having three to five eyes. A division with one or two eyes, planted in a light, friable soil, will generally thrive and make a good plant in two to three years, but a standard division in the same soil should make a good plant a year sooner. A small division in heavy clay soil will not make a good-sized plant in less than three or four years, and the results at the end of the first or second years are generally so disappointing that one is inclined to dig it up and throw it away, unless it is a very valuable variety.

I have planted roots of all sizes and have found the standard division the best and most satisfactory in every way, but the novice often thinks he would like to buy a big plant, and hopes thereby to get an abundance of bloom almost immediately. This is a great mistake. Often a large plant will not develop all its eyes the first season, and at the end of two or three years a plant grown from a good division will be much finer than a larger clump that has been transplanted. It is a great mistake to purchase old, heavy clumps with the expectation of getting immediate effects; a standard division having three to five eyes will make an entirely new root system and give far better results in a very short time.