How to Plant a Fern Peony


The fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) is among the first harbingers of spring in the perennial garden. Native to the cold interior lands of eastern Europe and western Asia, this perennial needs full sun exposure and a cold winter followed by a hot, dry summer. The plant quickly goes dormant in the heat of summer, but the swollen, fleshy underground stems remain active until autumn, when the plants can be dug and transplanted. Planting shallowly in a crumbly, mildly alkaline soil and never letting the soil get too moist ensures the plant's return in spring.

Step 1

Dig up the underground tubers of fernleaf peony in autumn. Carefully lift the soil around the tubers with a shovel, trying not to slice or break the tuber and roots.

Step 2

Select tubers with small roots, revealing healthy and robust plants that are dormant. Look for "eyes," or swollen nobs or buds on the tubers. Allow any soil to cling to the tubers as they are harvested.

Step 3

Relocate the tubers to the new planting site. Dig a hole with the shovel, breaking up the soil into small particles to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Make the planting area broad enough so that tubers may be replanted 6 to 12 inches apart.

Step 4

Scrape or furrow a shallow basin for the tubers with your hand or shovel to depth of 3 to 5 inches. Position the tuber into the furrow, laying it horizontally and orienting eyes upward.

Step 5

Fill the furrow 3/4 to 2 inches below the future level of the soil once the hole is filled. Do not plant the tubers more deeply than 2 inches from the soil surface.

Step 6

Replace soil atop the tuber and tamp it down gently. Lightly water the area so the soil compacts slightly, but do not over water.

Step 7

Allow the plants to lay dormant through the winter and sprout in early spring. Plants may not flower the first spring after transplant. Water the area throughout the spring so that the soil is moist but never waterlogged. In summer, the foliage will die back when temperatures get hot; permit the soil to remain on the slightly dry side in summer.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not plant peonies too deeply. This is the most common reason gardeners find their peonies failing to produce flowers.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel


  • Preliminary Study on Paeonia tenuifolia, its Variants and Hybrids
  • Paeonia tenuifolia
Keywords: transplanting peonies, fernleaf peony, Paeonia tenuifolia

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.