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Lawn & Garden

Ask Dayle

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Any peony that is planted or transplanted sometimes rests for a couple of years before producing new blooms.
Photo courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
Q: Last summer, I planted three small peonies bushes after they bloomed. When will they start to come up out of the ground? It doesn’t look like any growth has started with them. I’m wondering if they were killed by this cold winter. Also, if they do start coming up, what are some tips to taking care of them?

A: Peonies are long-lived plants that aren’t too fussy about cold conditions because they must be thoroughly chilled by winter temperatures to achieve dormancy. However, in very cold climates that average a minimum temperature below -20 F, winter mulching is essential unless there is abundant snow cover. Our area did not average temperatures below -20 throughout the winter, but we certainly qualified for lots of snow cover.

It’s a little early to be looking for spring growth, but sprouting should begin fairly soon.

I assume your peonies were potted plants when in bloom. In that case, it was fairly straightforward to simply plant them in the soil at the same depth they were in the pot.

Any peony that is planted or transplanted sometimes rests for a couple of years before producing new blooms, even if it bloomed reliably in the past. However, it is critical the eyes are placed at the proper level so that bloom will occur in future years, as explained below:

When transplanting, first lift the clump and wash away the soil to expose the root ball.

Divide the clump into sections that include three to five of the small, pink or red-colored nubs (eyes) and some healthy roots. Replant them immediately in a hole that has been prepared ahead of time. Plan on an area about 3 feet in diameter for each plant. Dig a good-size hole, mixing well-rotted manure and other organic matter into the soil. When situating the plant, gently spread the roots and place the peony so that eyes are no more than 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. Backfill and water well.

For transplanting and dividing, this work is best done in early fall, although it can be done in spring also as soon as soils are workable. Peonies may be left undisturbed for many years.


Q: Is it best to cut down the long dried strands of ornamental grass in the fall or the spring?

A: It depends on whether winter interest in the landscape is important to you and how gingerly you are capable of tiptoeing in your garden in early spring to accomplish this task and avoid damaging the structure of the surrounding soil. That’s because once the grass is up and growing, cutting back the old grass becomes difficult. The graceful dried grass do act as a snow catch in winter and adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise overall dormant empty landscape. The dried foliage portion of the plant can be cut down to the ground and removed each fall or spring. I’ve done it both ways and find I prefer the stark winter landscape look as opposed to cutting back the dead grass in spring. I do apply an all-purpose fertilizer once each year according to package directions to compensate for nutrient loss.


Q: I have a small chipper/shredder that I was hoping to use this year. I’d like to chip up all of the branches that came down this past winter. I know I shouldn’t use them immediately, but wondered how long do I have to wait before the new mulch is safe to spread in my gardens?

A: Traditionally, chipped wood should be stored in a heap tall enough to reach temperatures of 110 to 160 degrees F so that any pathogens and pests are killed by heat treatment before use. But the question to use or not use freshly ground up wood mulch in the garden is a controversial one. Some experts claim that using unaged wood chips in the garden will rob the surrounding plants of nitrogen and thus impact plant health, while other experts contend that those folks are simply perpetuating an old wives’ tale, i.e., there is no harm done using fresh wood mulch around plants, especially if the wood chips are placed at surface level only. When the chips consist of more wood than bark, they decompose rapidly and should be supplemented with fertilizer at the rate of one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of mulched area.

For more information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request FactSheet HYG-1241-94 “Growing Peonies”; HYG-1238-92, “Ornamental Grasses”; and HYG-1083-96, “Mulching Landscape Plants.” Also, “Using Mulches in Managed Landscapes,” a pdf bulletin format is available at ohioline.osu.edu/b894/pdf/b894.pdf.

Please note fact sheets are sent out free; there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohioline.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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