Propagating peonies: tips on division, cuttings & sowing

Sarah
Sarah
Sarah
Sarah

For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

You cannot have enough of peonies. Learn about the possibilities of propagating peonies here.

peony buds emerging from soil
A new peony arrives, breaching the soil with its small shoots [Photo: Abizova Elvira/ Shutterstock.com]

Peonies (Paeonia) are found in many gardens and enchant with their blooms. When it comes to propagating peonies, there are several options. One possible variation is vegetative propagation, such as division of the rootstocks. Another variant is to propagate peonies by seed, which is called generative propagation. In this article, we will introduce you to the different methods and provide guidance for successful implementation.

Propagating peonies: dividing in three steps

The steps for dividing peonies include digging, dividing and planting. Depending on whether it is a perennial or a shrub peony, there are few but significant differences.

Dividing perennial peonies

  1. Digging
    It is strongly recommended to remove the entire plant horst from the ground as a whole and not to divide it while in the ground. This would most likely affect and weaken the mother plant. When digging the root system, you should be careful not to injure or even sever the roots – especially the long ones. Once the root ball is dug out, it can be cleared of soil with a garden hose so that a clear estimate can be made of where divisible sections are.
  2. Division
    The above-ground parts of the plant are now cut off and the root is divided vertically with a sharp garden knife (scythe). Each root section should have between three and five roots and as many buds. This operation can also be wonderfully used to remove diseased and dead parts of the roots (black, brown or rotten).
  3. Planting the divided plants
    Planting the divided plants is done under the same conditions as described in our special article on transplanting peonies.

Dividing shrub peonies

Note: Division of shrub peonies can only succeed if they have already detached from their grafting rootstock (lower grafting partner) and established their own root system, or if the plant has already been created by division. The peculiarity of grafting peonies is the method of nurse grafting. This means that the grafting rootstock is only a temporary source of supply and initially provides the still young graft.

  1. Digging
    The process of digging is similar to that of perennial peony, except that the dimensions of the root ball can be much larger. Since it is still inadvisable to damage root parts, the procedure here is somewhat cautious. Strong pulling on the above-ground branches can also be punished very easily, because they – unlike the roots – are more fragile. Once the root ball is out of the ground, it is likewise cleaned with the garden hose and diseased roots are removed.
  2. Division
    The division here can be done by hand, with a saw, a sharp spade or a sharp knife. The root ball can be divided into two or three parts. Before replanting the parts, be sure to create an even ratio between root volume and aboveground volume. That is, the above-ground shoots are shortened to a little less than half.
  3. Planting the divided plants

Grafting shrub peonies

Another method of propagation is grafting. This involves grafting a young, vigorous shoot of the plant to be propagated onto the root of another, hardier peony and planting it. This process is very difficult and therefore not recommended for beginners without patience. This requires special pruning and fastening methods that can rarely forgive mistakes.
Since these undertakings require experience and sensitivity, and thus can go wrong even in the first attempts, there is still the possibility, for example, to propagate the shrub peony via cuttings.

big pink double peony flower
You can also propagate peonies by grafting [Photo: Serhii Brovko/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating shrub peonies by cuttings

This procedure is applicable only to shrub peonies. Here, young, woody shoots are cut off at the base. The length of these shoots should be between 10 and 15 cm. This cutting wood is now put in a pot with moist growing soil about 3 cm deep. Use a suitable substrate such as our peat-free Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost to create optimal conditions for the young cuttings. If withered flower parts are still attached to the cutting wood, they are removed next to the lower leaves, leaving only four to five leaves. The first roots will form if the growing medium is then kept moist for a few weeks.

Tip: Do not plant these young cuttings outside immediately; let them grow on the windowsill or similar places for a while instead until a small root ball has formed.

Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost
Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly: for aromatic herbs, as well as sowing seeds, planting cuttings & transplanting seedlings

Propagating peonies from seed

Anyone can succeed at sowing peonies by observing the following tips. If the seeds are from your own peonies, they can be harvested as soon as the fruits have fully opened, so from August to September, depending on the variety.
Freshly harvested seeds are sown in rows on a well-prepared substrate and covered with 1 to 2 cm of soil. If possible, a seed tray should be preferred here as it facilitates care and protects from animals. The seeds are then worked into the growing medium three times as deep as they are tall.

The soil must be kept moist throughout the following 12 to 18 months until the seeds germinate to protect the swelling seed from drying out. The reason for the long germination period is that peonies are cold germinators which require a cold period (i.e. winter) to overcome inhibition of germination. After the young specimens have germinated, they are left in place for another two years as their roots are still very tender. In the case of a seed tray, the young plants are planted by pricking into a larger pot. After this time, the young peonies can be planted out in a similar substrate and with wider spacing in autumn. The first flowering of the new plants can appear after as little as six years with good care.

red and black peony seeds
Harvest the seeds when they have turned black [Photo: Martin Fowler/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating peonies: division or sowing?

Which method of propagation of peonies is better?
Division of the plant (vegetative propagation) is easier with earlier results. Also, success is almost guaranteed provided that you have observed the different depths of planting. The disadvantage, however, is that the large mother plant with its beautiful growth habit and size must be sacrificed. Therefore, if you are very attached to this one plant, its division should be well thought-out.
The properties of the mother plant are not necessarily passed on when sowing. It also takes a long time for the first flowers to appear. However, the results can be a great surprise at the end of this waiting period.

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