Do Peonies Attract Ants?

Wait before breaking out the insecticide.

Girl Holding Peonies in Field
Planting in partial shade could cause peonies to become leggy and require staking to support their blooms. Photo: Alison Miksch

Peonies are a popular pick for Southern gardeners. The bright, billowy blooms are showstoppers in cut arrangements, and these sought-after beauties can even be grown in backyards. While blossoming peonies are welcomed into garden beds in spring, the swarms of ants that flock to the flowers are not. Wait before breaking out the insecticide—it's not a bad thing. Ants don't harm peonies; the insects actually help protect them. The myth that peonies rely on ants to bloom is false, but the two do have a mutually beneficial relationship, according to the University of Missouri.

Peony buds secrete a sweet, sugary nectar that attracts ants. When one ant finds a nectar-rich bud, she releases a pheromone back to the rest of the colony, and an army of ants quickly traces the scent back to the food source. How does this help the peonies? In order to protect their valuable source of food, the ants drive off other insects looking to feed off the peonies. Once the nectar is gone, the ants will leave the bloom in search of more food, so there's no need to use insecticide to get rid of them.

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For cut arrangements, snip peonies that are just beginning to open (they will have a longer lifespan in a vase). Be sure ants aren't coming indoors with the flowers. Submerge the heads of the cut peonies in a bucket of water to wash off any ants. To grow peonies at home, plant in autumn for spring blooms. These flowers can be difficult to cultivate in Southern backyards, because they need colder winters and often take two or three years to produce their signature wow-worthy blooms. But you're in luck: Peonies are easy to find at local flower shops and grocery stores to use in bouquets and cut arrangements.

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  1. Warmund M. Ants on Peony Flowers: An Example of Biological Mutualism. University of Missouri Division of Plant Sciences Integrated Pest Management.

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