What’s eating my peonies?
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Following on from my guide on peony pests and diseases and why some of my peonies were wilting. I thought it would be a good idea to do an article on what’s been eating my peonies. This has always been a problem for me, yet my mum’s peonies in her garden go untouched. Not sure what it is about my peonies but this is why I now always cut mine back later in the season to provide some winter peony care which I talked about here.
If you notice holes in your peony leaves or flowers, then you’re right that something is eating your peonies. The culprits may be scale insects or thrips. And neither of these insects is easy to spot but they do leave tell tales signs.
If your leaves are turning yellow and falling off the plant but with minimal damage, then the peony may be infested with scale insects. These insects are so small they’re difficult to see, especially if you not got the best eyesight like me. I actually use a magnifying glass to examine the affected leaves for small white flecks and if you look closely they actually look like scales. These are scale insects.
It’s easier to find the insects by checking for what they leave behind. This is a sticky, shiny, sweet secretion called honeydew. Ants love this substance so if you have ants on your plant, you may also have scale insects. Sometimes you also get mildew on the honeydew too.
What to do
Prune out the worst infected shoots, stems and leaves. Manually rub the insects off the stems or use a good stream of water from your garden hose. Alternately, you could gently rub the leaves with a toothbrush. Try insecticidal soap to wash away the insects from the leaves.
To prevent scale insects, try introducing the wildlife that preys on them. Ladybirds/ladybugs or small wasps will be happy to eat these insects. If the infestation is bad I also like to spray with a bug killer labelled for scale insects but it usually takes a couple of applications as they have a waxy shell that seems to repel some of the spray and stop them from absorbing it.
Thrips are even harder to see than scale insects and sometimes referred to as thunder flies. These are brownish insects that love eating peonies. The leaves become discoloured and you will see mottled foliage and flowers. the leaves also turn yellow and the leaves sometimes start to look a silvery colour while the flowers can become mottled and buds not open. Thrips in mass can cause significant damage for such a small insect but it rarely kills the actual plant.
What to do
It’s easier to try and prevent them and get on top of them before they do much damage. Check plants in spring and then treat as needed.
Use a stream of cold water from your garden hose to knock the thrips off the plant. Concentrate on the underside of the affected leaves for best results. Insecticidal soap also works to get rid of this pest and is a good option.
Encourage thrips’ natural enemies to make their home in the peony plants. These include spiders and mites, which don’t cause too much harm. You can use pesticides but i try to avoid it and if I really have to use them I try and use an organic pesticide that is safe for wildlife which usually means choosing a pesticide labelled for fruit.
Other peony problems
For a detailed look at the problems that peonies can have, please read my Peony pests and diseases to watch out for. I have also written a guide on why your peonies might be wilting and dropping their buds.