How to Manage a Bee House for Your Garden

Gardening is most satisfying when you take the time to look and observe. The gnat on that yarrow plant might actually be a type of wild native bee pollinating the bloom.

Small, harmless bees can be quite entertaining as they flit about and feed on nectar and pollen.

In the case of wild bees, what’s pleasing to the eye is pleasing to the earth, as well. Research has shown that the presence of wild bees increases yields across many types of crops.

In fact, experts say wild bees are more efficient at pollinating native crops than honey bees.  

Small, harmless bees can be quite entertaining as they flit about and feed on nectar and pollen.
Small, harmless bees can be quite entertaining as they flit about and feed on nectar and pollen.

Welcoming Wild Bees into Your Garden

Of course, other gardeners do more than just observe. They establish nesting tubes for wild bees. You should, too, if you keep a garden. The artificial shelters can be an effective way to draw certain bee species to your plants.

Wild bees are solitary. They don’t live in hives. Instead, they will gather in bundled tubes, one to a tunnel, to shelter and raise their young.

That’s why bee houses consist of wooden, birdhouse-like structures containing hollow reeds or cardboard tubes. When properly supervised, these little bee shelters are the perfect habitat for lone, hole-nesting native bees.

Below are a few tips on managing a bee house for your garden.

1. Provide proper nesting holes.

Whether you make your own bee house or buy one that’s a ready-made, make sure the tubes are removable for good bee house sanitation. Otherwise, fungal diseases can accumulate within the crevice and sicken the bees.

The nesting holes should be between four to 10 millimeters in diameter and about six inches in length.

You should avoid bamboo and plastic straws. These do not wick enough moisture, which may cause problems for developing bees.

Natural, locally available nesting materials are best. Many gardeners use wood. Cardboard tubes and lake reeds in the right size are also available online.

Natural, locally available nesting materials are best for a bee house.
Natural, locally available nesting materials are best for a bee house.

2. Protect the nesting materials from bad weather and birds.

Wild bees need a place to live that’s dry and safe. The ideal bee house will have a solid outer structure with a two-to-three-inch overhang. This will protect nesting materials from bad weather.

If birds make a habit of raiding the nesting holes, find a wire mesh and wrap it around the bee house.

Do not install the protective cover flush against the apertures. Bees will need some space for landing and taking off.

If birds make a habit of raiding the nesting holes, find a wire mesh and wrap it around the bee house.
If birds make a habit of raiding the nesting holes, find a wire mesh and wrap it around the bee house.

3. Make sure your bee house is not too large.

Insect hotels incorporate bee tubes, too, but they offer materials and habitats for a wider range of invertebrates. Their breadth of function and size might make managing the bee tubes a little more problematic.

The tubes will require regular upkeep. You will need to change them each year so consider the time you are willing to devote to care and preservation.

Some experts actually advise against large bee houses because the concentration of bees will likely invite disease, parasites, and predators.

Some experts actually advise against large bee houses.
Some experts actually advise against large bee houses.
(Photo: Paulo O/Flickr)

4. Ensure proper location and orientation.

Your bee house should face the morning sun. Wild, hole-nesting bees need the sun’s warmth for energy.

Most native bees prefer some afternoon shade, but too much shade could attract hole-nesting wasps, as well.

Solitary wasps are generally considered beneficial predators. They prey on pests like caterpillars, grubs, and aphids. However, they may also eat bee pupae.

Wild, hole-nesting bees need the sun’s warmth for energy.
Wild, hole-nesting bees need the sun’s warmth for energy.
(Photo: Gailhampshire/Flickr)

5. Protect bee larvae during winter.

Make sure you have easy access to your bee house. You will need to remove filled nesting materials to store them in a warm, dry place during winter.

You can store the tubes in a shed, an unheated garage, or any other sheltered location with similar temperatures as the outdoors.

Keep an eye out for predators. If possible, keep the nesting holes in a fine mesh bag to protect the larvae from parasitic wasps.

You will need to remove filled nesting materials to store them in a warm, dry place during winter.
You will need to remove filled nesting materials to store them in a warm, dry place during winter.

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

The Old Farmers’ Almanac suggests that you open and harvest the nesting tubes in the early spring. If you can, organize and separate the cocoons based on appearance.

With proper care, these cocoons will develop into a new generation of pollinators for your garden.

Gardeners benefit from welcoming wild bees into their gardens. The busy little insects are excellent pollinators and so we get fruit, vegetables, seeds, and berries in return for our hospitality.

Then, of course, there is the sheer pleasure of observing these creatures at work.

After all, watching bees opens up our world, broadening our understanding of nature – and there is simply no downside to that.


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