Greenspace: Don't bug out over peony ants
The peonies must be blooming. I’d know this even if they were not all over our neighborhood.
Every season, I get e-mails about the ant infestation of peony plants. “They’re everywhere. What can I do?”
You can sit back with a cool one and relax. This is one of the few times black ants do us a favor.
The peony bud is saturated with a sticky, glue-like nectar. It’s important to protect the last stages of the bud. Enter the ant army. They crave the sap and tell their friends. They eat it off clean, and in a few days the bud explodes into a huge, marvelous flower.
The ants meanwhile go back to being pests trying to enter our houses. (This is why you should avoid planting peonies against a house).
Many gardeners will tell you if the ants don’t eat the sap, the bud will not bloom. That’s propaganda spread by ants. Any number of horticulturists has researched this and found the ants make no difference.
Not that you should slaughter them in a fog of ant killer. They’re not doing any harm and will bug out when the nectar runs out.
Peonies are astoundingly beautiful, one of the favorite perennials hereabouts. They survive everything our seasons throw at them. A clump will last a century or longer. They’re easy to divide, and they make nice cut flowers for inside (shake off the ants first).
Their planting season is in early fall. When you see them in the garden centers, you’ll know it’s time. Cool weather gives them a chance to send out feeder roots. The young roots are too delicate to survive the heat of summer.
It takes about two years for a peony to mature and produce its maximum flowering. They’re easy to grow with a few cautions. Peonies hate wet feet and need well-drained soil. Mulch helps cool the soil and encourage feeder roots. Mature plants will survive droughts.
You should never cut more than about 20 percent of the flowers on one plant. Cut the stems as short as possible to preserve leaves. (Peonies do well floating in dishes of water.)
The problem is the flowering is always over too soon. As of yet, there are no ever-blooming hybrids, at least that I could find.
You can maximize the flowering by snipping spent flowers back to the first leaf. This will inspire additional and longer-lasting blooms. Planting them in areas lightly shaded in the morning or afternoon also preserves blooming.
In the fall, you may divide mature clumps with a shovel. Plant them in a shallow hole, just covering the roots. Too deep and they will not flower.
Make sure the soil is rich with organic materials. Mulch the plants with 2 or 3 inches of shredded leaves.
I look around our neighborhood and see a number of incredible peony
displays. The amazing thing is once they’re established, they grow with no help.
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