Do Ants Hurt Peony Flowers?
Ants on a Peony Bush
Ants on peonies are normal, but many gardeners have reached for the insecticide when they see their prize peonies swarming with insects. Garden insects can be beneficial, neutral or harmful. In the case of ants on a peony bush, the insects are actually neutral. They neither harm nor help peonies, despite many wives' tales to the contrary. Ants show up on your peony buds and flowers for their own benefit, not to benefit the peonies. Yet they do no harm when they arrive on peonies, and they leave quietly without damaging flowers or leaves. If you see ants swarming on your peony flowers, don't worry about it. For those who wish to grow peonies, learning why ants arrive on your prize peony bushes and why it's best to leave them alone will not only help the peonies and the ants but your entire garden.
Ants on Peonies
Like most flowers, peonies produce nectar - a sweet liquid that many insects crave. Butterflies sip nectar from flowers, and by doing so, may help pollinate them. Ants love sweet things too, and once one ant finds a source of sugar-rich food, it produces a scent trail to lead other ants from its home colony to the food source.
Ants on your peony bush simply mean that your peony buds and flowers are producing a natural, sweet nectar, and the ants have found them. Once one ant climbs the stalk to the bud or flower, others follow the trail. The result looks like an incredible swarm of ants.
Ants do not eat the flowers. They do not harm the leaves. According to the Heartland Peony Society, the ants probably aren't doing anything for the peony - just taking what they need in order to live. In other words, the ants are feeding from the nectar produced by the flowers, but they're not harming the peony bush, nor is the peony helped by the presence of the ants.
Some gardeners reach for the insecticide in the mistaken belief that any insect on a peony plant is bad. It's better to just let nature take care of itself rather than use a harsh insecticide on peonies. Using an insecticide is a personal choice. However, any insecticide you use will not only affect the plants sprayed and the insects on the plant, but may eventually end up in the soil and water. It's also important to note that many insecticides are harmful to pollinating insects - the good bugs, the ones that pollinate the flowers in the garden and help your vegetables produce fruit (peppers, tomatoes and others) and your flowers set seed. Since the ants aren't harming the peony bushes, why not leave them alone? Eventually, when the blossoms open fully, most ants will depart as quickly as they arrived, leaving your beautiful flowers for you to enjoy.
If you want to cut some peony flowers for an arrangement, you can spray the flowers with the garden hose to dislodge the ants. Cut the flowers and use the hose on the lowest setting so as not to damage the buds and flowers. Gently spray water on the peony until the ants are swept off and back onto the ground. When you're sure all the ants are off the flowers, bring it into the house.
Peonies are wonderful herbaceous perennials that can live for decades. When given full sunshine and grown in the appropriate soil conditions and gardening zone, they can flourish into large, graceful bushes. Tree peonies offer an alternative to herbaceous peonies and provide even more beautiful forms and colors for the flower garden. Peonies are beautiful old-fashioned garden favorites. Don't let a few ants on peony bushes scare you away from growing them. If you want to cut some flowers to bring inside, a good spritz of water from a simple garden hose can dislodge those pesky ants without adding harmful chemicals to your garden.