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The Bay Gardener
by Dr. Frank Gouin

Solving the Peony Puzzle

These nostalgic blossoms don’t need ants to flower

Spouse tales (formerly called wives’ tales) rumor that unless you see ants crawling over the flower buds of peonies, the flowers will not open. Many gardeners insist that unless ants are feeding on the flower bud scales, the buds will remain closed and rot on the stems.

Don’t believe these tales: All of the peonies in my garden are coming into full bloom, and there is not an ant in sight.

Ants often crawl over peony flower buds because the insects are attracted by sugars released from the water of guttation. Water of guttation seeps from pores, or stomates, in leaves, bud scales and stems of plants, especially when the soil is saturated. These sweet droplets generally appear in evening or during the night, beading on the surface of leaves, buds and succulent stems or suspended along the leaves.

As the water evaporates in the morning due to rising temperatures and lower humidity, sugary traces left behind crystalize on the surface of plant tissues. Ants attracted to these sugars have, over time, become associated with helping peonies open their flowers.

If you see ants crawling over other plants, take time to examine them carefully because you will observe them coming and going in almost single file up and down the stems. This is a clear indication that they are on a gathering mission following a trail, marked by scouts that are already seeking new sources of food for their colony.

Fruits, Nuts and Berries for Organic Success

Q My family and I have started a farm. Our goal is to become self-sufficient and grow completely organically and environmentally consciously. Among our thoughts are to order pear and nut trees along with berry bushes from an organic nursery. We look forward to any recommendations you may have for a successful healthy family farm.

–Monique Bommelje-Larsen,

Larsen Family Farm, Davidsonville

A I recommend Asian pear and Oriental persimmons as fruit trees that never need to be sprayed. For berries, high-bush blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. For nuts, not almonds but pecans and filberts.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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