Tips for moving peonies

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Q: I have a 20-year-old bed of peonies. I’m going to be moving in February. Any suggestions? If I can’t plant immediately in my new location, will peonies survive and bloom in a large pot? Nancy Sohl, email

A: If your peonies will be put back in the ground soon after you move, you can keep them in just about anything. I’ve kept daylilies in a cardboard box lined with a garbage bag for several months. They will grow and bloom fine in large pots. I would not attempt it in anything smaller than 18-inch diameter pots though.

If you won’t have time to plant them quickly in their permanent spot, choose an out-of-the-way place, dig a trench 16 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and long enough to accommodate all of your peonies side by side. Cover the roots with good-quality planting soil, water them in, and give yourself time to prepare their new beds. They can stay in this trench for months, even until fall. Aside from watering, they will need little care. Before you dig your peonies at your present home, invest in a spading fork. With this tool there is much less likelihood of accidentally chopping roots.

Q: I am new to rural living but we have recently moved to a big forested lot. The house is surrounded with typical plants for which I have no great love. I want to compost all of the plant material I remove before I replant. What do I need to be cautious of composting? Are azaleas, acorns, oak leaves, walnut branches and magnolia leaves okay? Barbara Melott, Piney Woods TX

A: Keep up your compost quest! Your sandy Texas soil will need lots of it. There is nothing harmful in anything you mention, so the simple answer is to “collect everything, pile it up and let it rot”. Contrary to widespread gardening lore, even walnut leaves and branches can be shredded and composted. No proven research has shown harmful effects to vegetables or flowers from walnut sap.

Q: The University of Georgia recommends feeding pansies with a soluble 15-2-20 fertilizer in the winter but I can’t find this available for purchase. Is there something else to use? Patty Small, email

A: University fertilizer recommendations are based on detailed research, but sometimes research materials don’t jibe with what fertilizer products are actually available. Take a minute to scan the label of a fertilizer product you are thinking of buying. Cold-weather plants, like pansies, ornamental cabbage, etc. like to be fed with nitrate nitrogen, so look for that in the ingredients. Also, soils in Georgia don’t need much phosphorus, so the middle number of the product can be as low as you like. The slow-release 15-9-12 I see at local nurseries works fine.

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