Herbaceous garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are perennials that thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, producing large, showy blooms in late spring. Their buds secrete a sweet, sticky sap, which attracts ants. Ants consume only the sap and do no harm to peony buds. Neither are ants necessary for the buds to open.
Ants Are Beneficial
Most ants help the gardener by consuming pest insects and weed seeds. On peony buds, ants defend their food source -- the sticky sap -- from other insects, thereby protecting the peony blooms. Ants also improve soil with their underground nests.
Removing Ants From Flowers
To prevent ants from coming indoors with peonies you’ve cut to display, turn the heads upside-down and let them sit in a pail of cold water for about 30 minutes to wash off the ants. Shake the flowers gently to remove water before arranging.
Removing Ants From Buds
Peonies in the “marshmallow” stage -- when the buds are soft to the touch and showing color -- can be cut and washed with a strong stream of water from the hose to dislodge ants. Or simply wipe the ants off the buds. Then, bring the peonies indoors to open.
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