One of the most glorious spring cut flowers is the garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora), with its massive blooms with lots of petals and a powdery sweet scent. Ants also are attracted to these magnificent flower heads, mainly to feed upon the sugary coating on the petals. The goal is to cut the peonies before the ants infiltrate the flowers and then are transported inside to the table centerpiece. Cutting the stems while the flower is in a swollen bud stage and forcing the blooms to open inside is the best way to avoid brushing ants off the flowers.
Sever the peony stem when its flower bud is soft and plump, about the size of a silver dollar coin, with a pruners or floral scissors. Cut-flower experts at Growing for Market call this the "marshmallow stage" when the bud is plump and soft when pinched. Make the stem cutting long, as it can be trimmed down later when making the floral arrangement.
Brush off any ants that are on the closed "marshmallow" peony bud or submerge the flower buds in a bucket of water to float away any insects.
Bring the cut flower stems indoors to place in a vase with fresh water. They may be refrigerated up to two to three weeks to keep them fresh and in holding. When you want the flower buds to swell and open fully, take them out of the refrigerator, make fresh cuts on the stems and place in a vase and wait for the buds to open.