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How to Split a Fern Peony

red peony image by Wendy Hampe from

The fern peony is an herbaceous perennial shrub-shaped plant that grows from a thick, tuberous root system. The plant produces dark red blooms with delicate fern-like leaves. Fern peony plants are propagated by dividing or splitting the root ball in the fall once the growing season is complete. The soil should be moist, but not wet, prior to digging the root ball. Wait for the soil to dry if heavy rains have recently occurred or are predicted.

Cut back the peony plant stems to 1 to 2 inches in height. Dig around the plant 6 to 8 inches from the stems and to a depth of 14 inches with a sharp spade. Remove the root ball by gently prying it from the ground.

Turn the plant over so the root ball is facing upward. Gently use a stick to knock the dirt loose between the roots and remove as much dirt as possible. Take caution while removing dirt, as the roots will be fragile and can break easily.

Place the plant in a cool, shaded location for 24 hours to allow the roots to become less fragile and more rubbery. This will prevent breakage while splitting the root ball.

Determine the number of divisions that can be made by estimating the number of eyes present on the roots and number of small crowns growing off the main crown. Each split section should have a portion of the crown and four to five eyes.

Gently wiggle loose root sections or small crown growths to remove them from the root ball.

Pry the root sections apart to verify the direction of root growth. This will prevent accidentally cutting through the wrong section. Sink two long knives into the center of the root mass and gently pull on both knives to pry the root ball in half.

Continue to pry the root ball sections apart until there are four to eight section splits. Make sure there is a section of the root crown and four to five eyes on the root structure for each section.

Dip the root divisions in a fungicide dip solution designed for rooting. Plant the divisions as soon as possible to prevent the roots from drying out.


Disinfect all cutting tools in a solution of 9 parts water and 1 part bleach prior to making cuts to the roots.

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