The Truth About Ants On Peonies

If you’ve been growing gorgeous peony flowers long enough, you know that every spring you will find ants on peonies. Peonies and ants… they just seem to go together, like peanut butter and jelly (and just as tasty for said ant!).

ants crawling on a peony bud
These ants are enjoying a tasty nectar treat courtesy of a pink peony bud.

Popular myth states that peonies need the ants to help the bud open. But is this true? Why are ants really attracted to peonies? And what benefit, if any, do the peonies experience from their small insect friends?

We are answering all the common questions surrounding ants on peony plants today. Join us!

Why Do Peony Buds Attract Ants?

Peonies attract ants because of the sweet, sugary nectar they produce around the bud near bloom time. This rich nectar, which is composed of sugars (sucrose, glucose, and fructose), forms around the lower petals of the flower (the sepal) and quickly attracts the sugar hungry ants.

Once one ant finds a peony bud, they send scout ants in through special pheromone communication. (Aren’t insects complex and fascinating!).

ants on a peony bud

What Are Scout Ants?

Scout ants are ants that act to find food and send messages back to the nest of fellow ants. In the case of peonies, the scout ants are often tiny, black ants with red highlights. They send messages through pheromones (scent), to alert their fellow ants of the a food source. This is why when you find one ant, you find many.

You will find a steady stream of excited ants on your peony buds, from the time the bud starts secreting nectar until the flower blooms, and sometimes even after.

Do Ants Harm Peonies?

Rest assured, the ants you see on your peonies are NOT eating them, boring holes into them, or harming the beautiful buds in any way.

They’re just after that sweet nectar.

Ants do not harm peonies, and in fact they actually help protect the peony plant from other harmful insects. This is one example of an amazing system designed in nature called mutalism, or symbiosis.

ants eating nectar on a peony flower

Biologically speaking, mutalism is a natural situation in which two separate organisms benefit from one another. In the case of ants and peonies, the peony flower provides a food source for the ant (nectar), and the ants keep other destructive insects at bay.

Some insects that are destructive to peonies are thrips, beetles, and mealybugs.

Ants will not harm your peony blossoms, and your flowers will still produce healthy blooms with their bold and extravagant blossoms despite their tiny insect friends.

Find out how to extend your peony season here.

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two ants crawling on a peony bud

Do Peonies Need Ants To Bloom?

It is a common belief that ants help open up peony buds by slurping away the sugary nectar they are so attracted to. The truth is, a peony bud will open just fine without ant activity. The ants do help deter other harmful insects, however.

Should I Get Rid Of Ants On My Peonies?

There is no need to worry about getting rid of the ants on your peonies. Once they bloom and the nectar disappears, the ants begin to move along to find another food source.

When planting peonies, you may want to consider a location away from your house walls in order to deter ants from entering your home and going after your own “nectar” (cookie crumbs!).

Once your peony buds open up, and complete their flowering process, the nectar is no longer a readily available food source for your peonies. You will find that most of the ants have to seek food elsewhere (like the family picnic basket).

a beautiful peony blossom with no ants on it

How To Remove Ants From Peony Flowers (For Cutting)

When bringing your beautiful peony flower blossoms in the home, you will want to remove any ants. There are a few simple techniques for doing this without harming your peony buds.

First, you’ll want to make sure you harvest the peony blooms at the optimal time. Harvest your peony buds when they look and feel like a marshmallow. They will be soft and squishy on the outside, and a little firm on the inside. You can read more about cutting peonies for bouquets and vases here.

Next, you can easily remove ants from your peony bud using one of these methods:

  • Gently hold the bud upside down and tap it until all ants fall off
  • Dip the peony bud in a bowl of water for a few moments to wash away any ants
  • Take a soft cloth and gently brush away any insects

If your flower has bloomed past the marshmallow stage, you may not find many ants on it. You can remove any lingering insects by very carefully dipping the flower blossom in the bowl of water. And if there are only a few ants, just very gently flick them away with your finger!

poster explaining what to do when you find ants on peonies

Ants On Peonies: Good Or Bad?

So, the verdict is in… ants on peony plants don’t cause problems, and in fact may even benefit the plant. In summary:

  • Tiny ants are attracted to the delicious secretion of nectar from the base of the peony bud
  • Peonies do NOT need ants for the bud to open, (this is an old wive’s tale)
  • Ants do not harm peonies, and can help deter other pesky insects
  • To rid your cut peony flowers of ants, cut them when they are the texture of marshmallows, then dip in water to remove insects (or use another method listed above)
  • Plant peony bushes away from the side of the house to discourage ants from entering your home

Dear fellow flower lover, I hope this article gave you hope for your ant laden peony flowers. Thank you so much for visiting, and I hope you enjoy a blessed day filled with fragrant floralnotes of all kinds. -Jamie from the Green Garden Cottage

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