In general, ants serve only as annoying pests that are an inevitable presence in your home and garden during the spring and summer. However, some gardeners who grow peony flowers welcome the arrival of ants in spring, since an old wives’ tale dictates that the flowers will not bloom without help from the ants.
The classic story about ants on your peony plants comes from the fact that you will always find ants in place on the flowers at the time when they bloom and the flowers open. The tale tells how the flowers will not open without the tiny feet of the ants gradually and gently prying open the flower petals. Therefore, it is a blessing, not a curse, to discover ants in your garden in spring if you have peonies planted, to ensure the vibrantly colored flowers will fully bloom.
In early spring, the peonies secrete a sweet serum that attracts the ants to their petals. While it is true that the gentle massaging of little ant feet helps to loosen the flower petals on the peony, leading to a faster bloom time, the peonies are not dependent on the ants to bloom. The flowers will open on their own, it will just take longer. You don’t need to kill the ants on your peonies, unless they are causing nuisance to other plants or getting into your house as a result.
The ants won’t harm the flowers, and spraying the flowers or pests with insecticides may harm the plant and keep away pollinators that will ensure next year’s bloom. The biggest problems with ants on peonies is transferring them. If you cut your peonies to decorate your home or give some to a friend in a bouquet, the ants on the flowers will go with them. This can introduce ants into a home, and they will quickly spread to develop a colony and begin to infest your food stores and windowsills.
When you cut peonies but want to avoid giving the ants a new home indoors, prepare the flowers before putting them in a vase or giving them away. Turn the bloomed flowers upside down outdoors and shake them downward. This will shake off most of the ants, leaving you with a clean flower. You can also set the flowers (including the bloomed flower head) in a large bowl full of cold water overnight. This will drive any remaining ants away. Once the ants are gone, gently dry the flowers or shake off the extra liquid and proceed to give them away or put them in your vase.