My Peonies don’t/won’t bloom is a lament uttered by many gardeners. There are three possible reasons why a peony won’t bloom…
Reason Three …The peony plant is young, with a small root. It might take a year or two, to grow bigger and get established before blooming.
Reason Two …The peony was planted in an area of not full sun. Full sun is 6 plus hours of direct sunshine a day.
Reason Number One …The number one reason a peony does not bloom, is it’s planted too deep. Peonies like to be planted shallowly. They only want about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches of soil covering their eyes, when you are planting them. (see illustration).
A quick remedy, for the time being, until mid to late August, when you will dig it up and replant it, is to carefully scrape some soil, and any excess mulch away from the plant. Scraping the soil away will not encourage it to bloom this year, but you will be giving it growth conditions that it prefers. Blooming or not, feed the peony in Spring with an all-purpose granular fertilizer like Pennington 6-10-6, Jonathan Green 5-10-5, or Epsoma Plant-Tone 5-3-3.
Replanting/Moving a Peony There in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York State, which is zone 5-4, anytime after August 15 is right for digging up the peony and replanting it. The root system of a Peony kind of resembles a bunch of carrots or parsnips. The roots grow out horizontally and point downward to the numbers 4 or 8 on a clock. In mid August, they will already have formed nice growth tips (buds/eyes) for the following season, which look reddish.
Lifting the Peony …Without cutting off, or damaging the foliage slowly start digging about a foot and a half, out all around the peony plant. It is better to start digging further out, than going too close, too quickly, and slicing off part of the root.
Amending the Soil …Dig and lift the peony plant and put it to the side for a moment. In the spot where the peony was previously planted amend (improve) the soil with a couple of shovels each of dehydrated cow manure and sphagnum peat moss. I mix soil and amendments together in a wheel barrel. You can also mix the combinations on a piece of card board, or tarp put on the ground.
Planting the Peony …Dig a new hole for the peony, fill it with water, and wait for it to drain away. Reposition the peony and plant it shallowly! With your hands press down the soil around the plant to eliminate any air pockets. Take a watering can, or hose and slowly water the spot thoroughly. If you see the soil has settled, wait a few minutes, pull the plant up out of the ground a bit, and add more dirt. Make sure those eyes (buds/tips) are not covered by more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches of soil. After replanting, don’t bother to fertilize until the following Spring. The dehydrated manure and sphagnum peat moss is all that is needed.
After replanting, water it twice a week to help the plant reestablish itself. Don’t just sprinkle water on the ground, made a puddle. You have to get moisture down all the way to the bottom of the hole you dug.
At the end of September, or beginning of October, when the leaves turn a bronze color, and start looking kind of mildew ridden, cut the plant back to the ground.
Peonies are long-lived plants. I have plants that are ancient. They have been in the ground, here at Whimsey Hill, and never moved or divided for 21 years. All of my peonies came from my Grandmother’s garden, they could be 50 to 75 years old. Every Spring when they bloom I think of her. She had all kinds, so I never had to buy any myself.
Hopefully after following these easy steps, next Spring, your peonies will bloom for you. After the peony blooms, cut back the stem that produced the flower head to just above where some leaves form. You want to make that stem uniform with the height of the rest of the plant.
Companion post ..My Hydrangeas Don’t / Won’t Bloom 6-21-2012, How to Plant (design) a garden, Mass versus Specimen planting. 2-17-2011, When designing a perennial garden, it’s all about shapes of leaves. 1-15-2011