Naturally Bubbly

Green Living Tips & Advice

Peonies and Ants

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Got Ants on Your Peonies?

Peonies and Ants

Peony buds are swelling and some are in full bloom, depending on where you live. What’s better than Peony’s soft, luscious blossoms that smell so fragrant? Not much, except maybe the fragrance of lilacs, which are also intoxicating! I really love the month of May because there are so many trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials blooming at the same time.

But what is this thing with the ants and peonies? It is kind of nasty, especially when you are working in your garden and you brush past your peony plant and argh you have ants crawling on you! /: O

But please, leave the ants alone to do their work. Peonies and ants have a symbiotic relationship that is quite fascinating. Peony buds secrete nectar as they develop, and the ants come and take the nectar for their own use. I’ve heard that this nectar can actually harden into a waxy substance that can prevent peony buds from blooming.

So there is a little controversy about what role these ants play in the success of your peonies. Are they necessary for successful peony bloom, or are they just a neutral and interesting facet of nature. Whatever is the case; just leave the ants alone okay? There is no reason that you need to spray any kind of chemical or even non-toxic product on them.

Ants will disappear from the blossoms once they are open, so the chances that you will bring ants into your home when you cut them for an arrangement is quite small. But shake the stems a bit outside just to make sure. And check out what Heartland Peony Society has to say about ants and peonies:

http://www.peonies.org/faq.html

Peonies and Ants

Now for some sincere philosophizing about peonies and their ants read this post from Cristy Foster over at Soul Carrot

http://soulcarrot.com/2012/04/20/the-ant-the-peony/

Speaking of ants, I heard a rumor that ants will “carry off caterpillars,” so I had to check into that. According to a neat little site called Obsession with Caterpillars, ants are more into farming caterpillars like they do aphids in order to have a consistent source of nectar, which caterpillars and aphids secrete. Hmmm, kind of like peony buds! So maybe ants remove caterpillars from flowering plants and place them elsewhere?

That would be great! For example, every year that I plant petunias, invariably by August those little white butterflies are seen hovering over the petunia plants and laying eggs for larvae which turn into those little green caterpillars that devour every petunia bud before they open thus ruining the petunias. It’s war every summer that I plant petunias. They are so beautiful, but I hate the green wormy caterpillars. I have fun hunting them down and squishing them. How’s that for organic insect control?

Just came across this succinct paragraph about the benefits of ants from New World Encyclopedia,

“Although viewed as pests by many people, ants play a tremendously important role in the earth’s natural ecosystems. They recycle dead plants and animals, enrich the soil, pollinate flowers, spread seeds, and are a major food source for many animals, among other contributions. Beyond these ecological values, humans benefit in many ways, including in the role of ants in keeping potentially harmful insects, such as termites and agricultural pests, under control. In some cultures, ants are used as food and ingredients in traditional medicines, and army ants (with their powerful mandibles) are even used as emergency sutures for wounds. Ants’ numerous symbiotic relationships with plants and thousands of species of arthropods (insects, spiders, mites, etc.) reflects on the harmony of nature, and ants’ unique and often fascinating behaviors adds to the human wonder of nature.”

  • vickiv

    question please…my peonies have brown tips on their leaves. do you know why? Thank you

    • naturallybubbly

      Hi vickiv, right away I would guess it’s a watering issue. Is the soil very wet? And is there any type of mildew or mold that you can see on the brown leaves? Sometimes peonies show signs fungal disease after they are finished blooming. Need more info from you to help you with this. Upload a photo if you can (?) or email a photo to naturallybubbly.com at gmail.com

  • Sarah

    good to know. My peony buds were swarming with ants this afternoon and I shook them all off. I’ll leave them alone in the future!

    • naturallybubbly

      Thanks for your email. Even though you shook off the ants, I bet they were back on your peonies before long. I keep my distance from peonies when they are in bud. Peony blossoms are worth the ants, don’t you agree?

  • Daryl W

    My wife and I planted 3 Peony Bushes about 6 years ago and they have never bloomed. Not even so much as a bud. If I have to have ants, what color should they be and where do I get them. I need some advice on this. mrgoodbar9999@gmail.com

    • naturallybubbly

      ants will come when flowers are there. You should check to see how your peonies are planted. If they are too deep in the soil they will not bloom. If they are planted too deep, replant them so that the crown of the plant is an inch above the top of the soil. And hope for flowers next year. Peonies really appreciate a good amount of compost sidedressing each spring.

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