Are Ants Harming The Peonies In Your Garden?

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Are Ants Harming The Peonies In Your Garden?

Are Ants Harming The Peonies In Your Garden?

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When you first see a colony of ants marching through your garden, it can be quite intimidating. And, this sight in the presence of peonies can even tempt you to break out chemical repellents. Despite this initial reaction, hold off. According to Old Farmer’s Almanac, ants do not harm peonies but engage in “biological mutualism” with them, meaning that both parties benefit from the relationship. Peonies receive protection from harmful insects like aphids and thrips. In return, ants benefit by feeding off of the nectar that peonies offer.

Ants in a garden are actually a sign that it is healthy, and the tiny insects play a huge factor in this. These eusocial insects instinctively dig tunnel systems throughout soil beds that aerate and allow oxygen, water, and other essential nutrients to reach plant roots. Ants also assist in decomposing organic materials like dead insects and leaves, helping the fertilization process.

The key to supporting peonies

Ant on pink peony

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Ants undoubtedly have mutualistic relationships with most common gardening plants, providing an abundance of services while receiving nutrients in return. However, they offer even more benefits to flowers like the beautiful blooming peony.

Ants are extremely fast-moving insects, and, if they have a set purpose, can travel between three to four miles in a day without growing tired. During their travels, whether they’re searching for food or relocating, ants collect pollen on their legs. The more they march, the more it spreads, making ants unintentional yet highly conducive pollinators.

The biological mutualism between peonies and ants is a superior one because of the mighty ants’ abilities to protect these beautiful flowers from natural predators. Both aphids and thrips seek nutrients by sucking liquids out of plants, damaging vital tissue. However, when ants are present and actively seeking nectar from peonies, they protect the food source from these harmful insects.

Too much of a good thing

Ants and aphids on stem

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In any situation, too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing, and ants in a garden full of peonies are no exception to this rule. Because ants farm the sweet liquid extracted from aphids, they oftentimes gather in areas where these insects are plentiful. That being said, a large amount of ants themselves isn’t a problem, but it could be a sign of an abundance of destructive aphids feeding off of your peonies.

Because ants serve no detriment to peonies, they should be left alone while your flowers are blooming outside. However, you’ll of course want to remove them before bringing your flowers inside. To do this, harvest your peonies in the early morning when dew is present and there are minimal ants. Hold each flower upside down and attempt to carefully shake the insects off. You can also dip your peonies in a large bowl of cool water outside. The ants will evacuate the blooms and can be dumped into the grass along with the water.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.