Many gardeners consider peonies to be a classic addition to the home landscape. Long-lived, these stunning plants are sure to impress visitors with their immense bloom and stunning color. Despite flowering only once per season, peony flowers are treasured among ornamental growers and flower farmers alike.
It’s easy to understand why gardeners may be alarmed to find that their favorite plants are troubled by problem insects. More specifically, peonies are likely to be visited by ants throughout the formation and development of flower buds. But, why do ants like peonies?
Why Do Peonies Attract Ants?
For first-time growers, finding ants on peony buds may seem a bizarre sight. However, this common example of mutualism is not a cause for concern. Ants are attracted to peonies as the direct result of each flower’s production of nectar. Often accompanied by a sticky or shiny appearance, ants are lured to feed on the surface of the bud.
In peony plants, nectaries (the structures which produce nectar) are located outside of each bloom. These outer sepals protect the petals before opening. Ants find and begin to feed on the nectar, eventually taking up residence on and around unopened flowers. Soon, pheromone trails lead other ants to the food source, allowing for large numbers to find the peony bud.
Do Peonies Need Ants to Bloom?
There are several misconceptions and myths surrounding ants and peony buds. With most theories being handed down through the generations, some do have a basis in truth. A common belief is that ants are required in order for the flowers to develop fully. This theory has been discredited, as ants have no impact on the production of blooms.
Some even conjecture that the insect is able to help to pry open each bud, allowing the flower to unfurl. Though ants do not play a role in the peony plant’s ability to bloom, they are believed to be beneficial. Experts suggest that ants aid in the prevention of damage caused by other troublesome pests, in their efforts to protect their food source.
How to Get Ants Off Peonies
As they do not cause damage to buds, it is not necessary to remove ants from peony plants. Still, you may want to get ants off peonies just for aesthetic purposes. Experienced growers discourage the use of pesticides in the control of numbers of ants. A quick blast of water from the garden hose is usually more than sufficient for their removal.
Once each flower has opened fully, most ants will choose to feed elsewhere. Growers who intend to use their peony flowers in arrangements may find that few ants will remain after cutting. Fortunately, managing this problem post harvest is relatively simple. Quickly dipping each bloom into cool, clean water after harvest has shown to be most efficient.