Common Peony Pests To Be Aware Of & Tips To Fight Them Off

With large buds that blossom into frilly petals and a rainbow of colors available, peonies are some of the most vibrant flowers to have in a garden. They're backyard decor provided by nature and even after harvesting, their blooms can be enjoyed for long after in bouquets. Part of successfully growing peonies, aside from their typical care requirements, is monitoring them for detrimental pests. Fortunately for peonies, they're usually not that attractive to larger critters like deer and rabbits, save for a few occasional nibbles at worst. Slugs and snails will almost always steer clear, too. However, there are other bugs interested in eating and nesting on these flowers.

When inspecting the shrubs and blooms, the most common invaders include scale insects, thrips, and ants. Interestingly, some of the bugs we would consider to be peony pests are actually part of a mutually beneficial relationship (looking at you, ants) but can pose some annoyance if you're looking to use your peonies after cutting them. If you're interested in protecting your peonies from pests and identifying beneficial insects, you've come to the right place. Here's what pests commonly go after peonies and how to manage their takeover. 

The most common peony pests to watch out for

There are a handful of not-so-friendly bugs that crop up on peonies. Scale insects, like peony scale, are one such pest. Their appearance makes it look as if there are gray or white cottony splotches on the stems and branches — similar to what limescale buildup looks like in an appliance. This is actually the pest. Its infestation can result in yellowing leaves, the spread of viruses, and bug-attracting goop all over the plant— all of which can lead to the downfall of your peony shrub.

Thrips pose another threat to peonies, particularly those that feed and lay eggs on the plant. These minuscule winged insects are more than happy to make their larvae's home on the flower and chew up petals and sip up sap for a meal. Another common "pest" found within the folds of peonies are ants. Although they might seem annoying to us, the reality is they're working closely with the flower in a symbiotic relationship. Ants love the nectar peonies produce, and in exchange for a tasty helping, they help protect the flower from other predatory pests. Don't bother with the insecticides if you spot this particular bug. Even Martha Stewart deals with ants on her peonies by just leaving them be!

How to handle pests on peonies

Tackling pests as soon as you see them is the best thing to do, as they can work quickly to demolish and eat up your peonies. There are several ways to get rid of scale insects on plants. If you have only a few peony plants and a soft-shell scale problem on your hands, one option is to use gloves and a toothbrush, going through the affected areas and scrubbing the scale off. Once the bugs have latched on, they become tougher to remove. The best method for this is applying a horticultural oil spray to your plants, which removes these hard-wearing pests through suffocation.

As for thrips, you can use a stream of cold water from your hose to get them off and carefully ensure you're not killing other insects that are there to eat thrips (like mites and spiders). You can also take preventative measures. By pruning your peonies properly and disposing of the deadheads and keeping weeds under control, you provide fewer homes and food sources for thrips to thrive on. Although ants aren't a true pest for peonies, if they become a nuisance when it comes time to cutting, just gently brush them away or shake the peonies off before you bring them inside. Carefully inspecting your peony plants for pests will ensure you keep them healthy and happy throughout the year.