Peonies 101: How to Grow Them, Store Them & Get Ants Off Them!

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Peonies are my favorite flower. They’re so fluffy and gorgeous, and the green foliage is beautiful too! As I’ve been picking, weeding, and displaying them this peony season, I decided it would be a good idea to document and share what I do to make sure my flowers are as beautiful as possible when I bring them into the house. After five years of growing them, I’ve learned a thing or two that you might find helpful! If these topics interest you, continue reading below for my favorite tricks for growing and picking peonies and for dealing with ants that I’m sharing with you today.

How to Grow Peonies

Peonies grow from zones 3 to 8. I successfully grow them in zone 3 here in Alberta, Canada as an amateur home gardener. My experience is with herbaceous peonies (the shrub, not the tree peony type) that love full sun. Mine are on the south side of my house in said full sun and they grow well there. You can find lots of peony plants at most gardening centers as well as Walmart and Home Depot. Plant them in late spring, and make sure you follow the directions that will be included with your purchase to ensure you plant them at the right depth and distance apart.

Just a little warning: It does take quite a while for peony shrubs to mature and produce giant, luscious blooms. Mine took about four years. I believe it’s worth the wait until they mature, because you can enjoy these lovely perennial plants for many years to come when they start to bloom! The varieties I have and love are Alexander Fleming (full and bright pink) and Sarah Bernhardt (full and blush pink). I like to put a ring with stakes around my more mature, larger plants in early spring. This way they don’t droop or fall over when they get heavy with beautiful blossoms.

PEONIES 101 | How to get ants off peonies, how to make them bloom later & more!

How to Store Peonies to Bloom Later

Peonies only bloom for a couple of weeks in late June here in zone 3, but it is possible to prolong their season with some little tricks! One way is by picking them at just the right time and storing them in the refrigerator. Wait until your peony bud has all its colour and is squishy to the touch, like a marshmallow. In this marshmallow stage, as it’s called, there will be no more green visible on the  flower bud and all you will see are the coloured petals just about ready to unfurl. Once your buds look like this, cut the stems with a sharp knife or garden shears, remove all of the leaves, and wrap the cut stems gently in some plastic cling wrap. Store them horizontally in your fridge for a few weeks, and then pull them out later, place them in a vase with water, and watch their petals unfurl.

PEONIES 101 | How to get ants off peonies, how to make them bloom later & more!

How to Deal with Ants on Peonies

Ants love peonies so much and can be such a nuisance! It is off-putting to check on how your beautiful blossoms are coming along and find them swarming with ants. It might help to remember that ants aren’t eating your peonies – they’re simply eating the nectar surrounding the bud. This is a great food source for ants. Even so, you don’t want them in your house and there ARE ways to cut down on the presence of these little creatures so you can enjoy your flowers inside in peace.

The best way to keep ants off the peonies you want to cut and use inside is to pick them at the marshmallow bud stage. This way the ants cannot get established in the petals. You can then let them open up in a vase with water inside. You don’t want to pick your buds too early though! The peonies need the ants to eat the nectar (from the extrafloral nectaries, if you want to be nerdy about the whole thing), so they can open. They won’t open properly if you bring them inside before the ants have had a chance to do their thing.

Another method involves removing ants after the petals have unfurled already and they are already well established inside the peony head. This can be used after your peonies have arrived at their fully opened stage. Simply hang them upside down and give them a good shake. Then flick any extra bugs off the petals before bringing them inside. To be sure, you can soak the flowers upside down in a bucket of water outside to remove bugs too. I like to soak mine for about two hours and then give them a good shake before bringing them inside. I promise this doesn’t harm them in the slightest, and it’s a great way to get rid of the ants.

Watch this video to see these peony growing & storing tips in action:

I hope these tips have helped you today! Do you grow peonies already or do you want to start growing them next year? If you don’t like peonies at all, that’s ok too! Do you have a different favorite flower? Let me know in the comments below or @thediymommy!

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Growing, picking and storing peonies.

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18 Comments

  1. Also, when you have a full mature plant, you can split the tubers and increase the number of plants you have. It will take a few years to become a full mature plant, but you don’t have to buy more. (Especially if you like your colors)

      1. I also love peonies. They remind me of my grandmother. Last summer was the first full bloom of my plants. I cut and out them inside on dining room table, not knowing all the ants were still inside. Disaster! Thanks for sharing the tips on when to cut and how to store.

    1. Thanks for you info – aren’t peonies gorgeous!
      By the way, ants don’t help the bud to open by eating the sugary sap; it’s the plant employing their services to keep pests away. So there’s no need to remove ants for any other reason than you don’t want ants in your house. Otherwise, ants are good for your peonies. ?

  2. Thanks for these tips. We are fortunate that we inherited lots of peonies on our farm. I first tried bringing some inside last year, but ended up with ants all over the counter. I appreciate the tip to pick them at the bud stage. I stuck tomato cages around some of our bushes this year early in the spring before they started to grow. They worked pretty well for most of our peonies, but our white ones grow so tall and the blooms are so huge that the stems still bent and ended up snapping.

  3. You inspired me! I went to a rural nursery in Spruce Grove today and found myself pulling out my phone to find your peony recommendations…I bought a “Sarah Bernhardt” and “The Fawn” ones. I’m excited to see how they do! I lost many plants this year to winter kill so I had a few spots to fill! I hope they do as well as yours…thanks for the advice!

  4. I was reading your tips on peonies and thought I wish there was a video so I can see what she’s talking about and scrolled down to finish reading and there it was! Thank you so much! I’m one of those people that can do almost anything if you show me, so this was perfect! Thank you so much for the video and the tips!

  5. I love peonies. My mother used to grow them. I love the smell. My mother always told me you needed the ants to help them open, but they say that is a myth. Actually from what I read, the ants are attracted to and eat the nectar and the ants help keep other harmful pests away so it is a symbiotic relationship. Thanks for the video. It was very helpful.

  6. Thanks for the info. I just bought a house and was thrilled that I have THREE beautiful dark pink peony’s. I love them. My new favorite flower!!! Wish I could post a picture here. Thanks again for the tips.
    By the way, I’m in West Virginia.

  7. Hi,
    I love my peonies and have never been able to enjoy them inside due to the ants.
    Thank you so much for your tips and also regarding cutting them.
    I often loss them to heavy storms and get so sad.
    So storms are coming and I’m heading out to cut some and get to ENJOY the beautiful flowers!
    Thank you!

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