The Crop Report | Ant Peony
- May 19, 2022
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This time of year, when the peony fields start waking up and the armloads of blooms collected from a single plant allow for the perfect selfies, the emails and DMs about ants come pouring in. The tiny marching insects show up as the beautiful peonies begin the show and typically sneak a ride into kitchens nationwide.
So many questions, theories, and old folklore on the relationship between peonies and ants: do they need the ants to “tickle” the bud in order to bloom? How do I keep them off my plants? I did a little digging and the relationship between ants and peonies is actually quite beautiful. The ants are desperate in the early season to find food and resources after dwindling their winter reserves. As the flower buds develop, they begin to produce nectar that feeds the peonies from the green base of the bloom. Once the first scout ant finds available nectar, it emits pheromones to the rest of the colony to come and collect food. The ants are protectors of the nectar they have found so they will fight, kill, and literally knock off other insects looking to steal a meal. These bugs typically include aphids and thrips, some of the most damaging pests to this special crop. The ants do little to no damage to the blooms and protect them from predators that do. This relationship is called biological mutualism. They are just neighbors helping neighbors.
As great as that might be for the plants the question still remains “How do I keep the ants out of my home when I enjoy those blooms?” The answer is pretty simple. The nectar the ants are looking for is found on open blooms, so harvesting peonies in the soft bud or marshmallow state will help to prevent any do-gooder hitchhikers. And you can join the circle of neighbors helping neighbors by leaving the most open blooms in the garden for you and the ants to enjoy! For those few pesky ones that make it through, I typically dunk my bloom heads in some cool fresh water and give them a shake. This usually prevents a single ant from entering my home.
There is just something magical about enjoying the dramatic beauty of peonies. I have literally dotted my entire house with these blooms and feel like Martha Stewart (sorta). If you want the same experience of enjoying our peony fields in your home, check out a bulk box. You can literally cover your home in peonies and I say why the heck not!?!