Do Peonies Need Ants to Bloom?

What's the deal with ants on peonies? Do they help or hurt the flowers? Our garden expert clarifies a common gardening myth.

Why Are Ants Crawling on Peonies and Roses?

Ants crawling on Peony budeyfoto/Getty Images
Gardeners often see ants crawling on peony buds in spring.

Question: “Ants swarmed the buds on my rosebush. Is this normal? Why are they doing this?” asks Ann Hillebrand of Kent, Washington.

Horticultural expert Melinda Myers says, “The ants are after the sweet nectar inside the rosebud. They aren’t causing damage to the plant, so there is no need to treat. Just be sure to check the blooms for ants before you bring them indoors. It’s common to find ants on the buds of fragrant peonies as well. Contrary to an old garden myth, ants are not needed to open the peony flowers. They are just interested in the nectar.”

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Bnbbyc19 Erin Schuerman 1Courtesy Erin Schuerman
Ants are attracted to nectar inside the peony flowers.

Melinda says, “Ants are also found on plants where aphids are feeding. The aphids suck plant juices and secrete the excess as a clear sticky substance called honeydew. Gardeners often see the ants first and then discover the aphids feeding on their plants. Insecticidal soap is an organic option for controlling the aphids and will help wash off the honeydew.”

Are Ants Beneficial to Peonies?

Ant in the Peonies Flower, Macrophotography,NaturalSebastian Condrea/Getty Images
Ants may protect your peonies from other damaging garden insects.

Ants on peonies aren’t helping them bloom. But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful to the flowers. While you’re certainly welcome to remove the ants if you’d like, they’re actually providing your peonies a service. How? It all has to do with odors. And namely, the odor that ants secrete to lead other ants to a food source.

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When the first ant finds nectar in the flower, it secretes pheromones. This creates a trail for the other ants to follow. As each one makes its way to the flower and discovers the food, it, too, emits an odor. This scent while the ants are feeding keeps other bugs away.

After you’re done reading about ants on peonies, discover 8 bugs you should never kill in your garden.

Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate editor for Birds & Blooms Digital. Throughout her years with the publication, she has written multiple articles for print as well as digital, all covering birding and gardening. In her role as associate editor, she is responsible for creating and editing articles on the subject of birding and gardening, as well as putting together Birds & Bloom's daily digital newsletter. After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a master's degree in magazine journalism and undergraduate degrees in journalism and English, she has more than eight years of experience in the magazine, newspaper, and book industries.