It’s that time of year again – peony season. These delicate blooms are always popular among flower gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
Often grown as cut flowers, gardeners wait in anticipation for late spring when they can bring their peonies indoors.
While cutting your beautiful flowers, you may find an unwelcomed surprise – ants.
They may be a nuisance on your plants and in your home, but there is no cause for alarm. A simple trick will get those pesky ants off your flowers before they set foot indoors.
Why Are There Ants On My Peonies?
Ants like peonies for the same reason humans do – they’re sweet. As the flower buds form, you’ll notice sugary nectar droplets around the green outer part of the flower (called the sepal). As we all know, ants love sugar. So it’s understandable that they are attracted to this sticky nectar.
This common occurrence has led to the myth that peonies need ants in order to bloom.
The theory goes that the buds need the ants to remove the sticky substance to allow them to open. But this folklore is completely untrue. Peonies will open with or without the help of a few ants (it makes for a wholesome story though).
Are Ants Harmful To Peonies?
Gardeners are accustomed to removing any pests that may potentially get in the way of a good season.
Luckily, when it comes to ants and peonies, no removal is necessary.
The type of relationship between peonies and ants in the plant kingdom is described as mutualism, where both parties derive mutual benefit from the relationship.
The peonies provide a food source of sugars, amino acids, and other compounds the ants need.
In return, the ants protect the plant from other pests that may actually cause damage. Once the ants discover the nectar, they set a trail back to their nest for other ants in the colony to follow. All the ants in the colony protect this trail from potential invaders until all the nectar is gone, keeping other harmful bugs off the plant.
The presence of ants on peonies is only temporary. When they’ve removed all the nectar or when the plant stops blooming, they will trot off to find another source of food.
As they are not harmful and remain on the flowers for a short amount of time, insecticidal is not necessary. It will also hurt the mutual relationship between these two plants, one of the great wonders of nature.
How To Avoid Bringing Ants Indoors
Getting ants off your cut flowers before you bring them inside really couldn’t be simpler.
Once you’ve removed the stalk, simply shake them off gently. If they’re refusing to budge, you can also rinse the flower in a bucket of warm water, or under a tap, taking care not to damage the delicate petals.
If you would rather not deal with the ants at all, you can pick the buds early and leave them to bloom inside. Pick the buds when they begin showing color and are soft to the touch (called the marshmallow stage).
When you pick at the right time, the ants will not have the chance to discover the nectar. If you do spot one or two on a bud, they can be rinsed off with water without the risk of damaging the petals.
It’s really that easy. No need to bring out the insecticide, explosives, or pitchforks. Let the peonies give the plants a little something, so the ants can give a little something back.
Their mutual relationship outdoors doesn’t mean you have to bring the ants indoors either. Simply shake the ants off or rinse with water and you’ll have the same stunning bouquet you were looking forward to all season.