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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.
Do nothing now. As you discovered, spraying poisons is more of a threatto you than to the bees. They will soon settle down (in weeks, notmonths; you exaggerator, you!) and virtually disappear.
Teach your children not to be afraid; that the males can't sting andthe females won't because…well, because they're females. Explain thatthese are friendly bees that will bring them loads of flowers andpretty things in the garden—kind of like tiny buzzing Easter Bunnies.Have the kids wear sandals or flip-flops when they're outdoors in casethey should accidentally step on one.
Then deter them from hogging the swing set next year by creating anatural barrier to their nesting. They only build their nests in bareground or turf that's in terrible shape, so 'bee prepared' to improvethe soil and sow the seed of a nice cool-seasongrass (like Kentucky bluegrass if the area is nice and sunny) inthe ground they're using between August 15th and September 1st thisfall. Sowing at that perfect time of year for your region should insurea nice thick, bee-proof lawn by Spring. (DON'T try sowing the seed overthe summer; young cool-season grass cannot survive heat.) Then cut yournew lawn at three inches high to keep it healthy and attractive to youbut unattractive to the bees.
And if you now fear that your garden will suffer in their absence,leave some bare patches in an out of the way place. And if thoseneighbors and/or passers-by point at your bees in horror this Spring,just turn to them and say, "oh yes—our native bees; aren't they great?They're fabulous pollinators—and the kids just love playing with them."
For lots more info on native bees, inlcuding nifty nest-making designs,
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2006Mike McGrath