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Wood and Ground Bees
Question. Mike: Large bees are boringholes in our deck and scaring children and adults!  Help!
            ---Susan inVineland, New Jersey

Mike: We have carpenter bees attacking the house and my husband wantsto call an exterminator. What can we do?
            ---Mary Kay inWashington, D.C.
                                 
Mike: My husband says he heard a guest on your program say that theonly way to get rid of carpenter bees is to let them bore into acertain kind of wood, then plug up the holes and throw the wood outalong with bees. If this is true, what type of wood?  
            ---Elaine inYardley, Pennsylvania

Answer. Although they are big andfearsome looking, carpenter bees don't sting people (as with mostNative bees, the males can't and the females don't want to; womenalways seem to be more sensible). AND they rarely—if ever—cause anyreal damage to wood. Honest. Reference books note that homeownersalmost always overreact to the non-threat they pose.

But they are fabulous pollinators that will greatly improve your gardenif you allow yourself to coexist with them. Here's how: Drill some'starter holes'—the same size as the bees are making in your siding ordeck—into big unfinished blocks of cedar, pine or other soft wood andhang these 'nesting blocks' in a protected area facing South or Eastnear the area they're currently using. And no, we aren't going to trapthe bees inside and throw them away; we're going to get them to livethere—instead of with you.

Make your nesting blocks and get them up as early as possible in theSpring—so you can get the bees to move before the females actually layany eggs in the nests you want them to abandon.

After the blocks are hung, wait till the middle of the first warm,sunny day—when the bees will be out looking for flowers topollinate—and quickly plug up the holes they've made in your home withsteel wool or metal screening stapled overtop. And/or soak the surfacewith almond oil; Cornell researchers found that it repels carpenterbees. Just don't spray the bees! (Massage therapists use lots of almondoil; you'll be able to find it wherever they buy their supplies.)

The only way to keep carpenter bees from trying to sublet your sidingis to paint, varnish or replace the unfinished cedar or redwood on theoutside of your home. Yes, I know you used those naturallyrot-resistant woods because you thought you wouldn't have to do thosethings, but these soft woods are very attractive to wood-boring bees.

Question. Dear Mike McGrath: Do youhave any information about ground bees? We have an infestation in thelawn where the kids play on the swing set; there are tens of thousandsof them! They land on the kids when they go in the yard and you can seethem swarming all over when you drive by the house; the neighbors evencomment on it. This happens every Spring, and we can't use the yard formonths. We tried an exterminator but it did no good.
            ---Hope andRussell in Chestnut Hill

Answer. Well, it may seem like "tensof thousands", but it is more likely "hundreds". Several types ofground nesting Native bees are very active in the Spring, nest buildingand pollinating early-flowering plants, but not in those kinds ofnumbers.

As you know, the bees are very gentle. The males can't sting (they mayact menacing, but the best they could do is head-butt you), and thefemales can sting, but being women, know better. (That's probably whythe guys DIDN'T get stingers.) You'd have to grab one to get stung. Andeven then you'd have to grab a female. Yes, the odd bee may land on oneof your kids, but I'll bet none have been stung or you would havementioned it.

These are great bees—far better pollinators of food plantsand flowersthan the imported European honeybee. Native bees fly earlier in theseason, fly in the rain, work longer hours and aren't afflicted by thenumerous pests and diseases that attack honeybee colonies. And they'resimply better pollinators in general, greatly increasing the number offlowers on your ornamentals and the quality of your food crops.

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You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2006Mike McGrath