Tips for encouraging good behavior around bees
Spring is buzzing all around, and by that I mean bees, flies and wasps are already out and about.
It’s the perfect time to decide how you’re going to help the good guys and thwart the bad ones, before they make the decision to stay anyway.
See, here’s the deal. Bees are good. Honeybees are amazing creatures that not only pollinate the plants providing our food, they also transform that pollen into a delicious elixir no other creature on Earth can replicate. Other bees are amazing too, like sweat bees and mason bees. But some wasps are another matter entirely.
With that in mind, here are some tips for encouraging good behavior in your yard and making it less fun for the annoying wasps to take up residence.
PROVIDE SHELTER FOR BEES
You don’t have to be a beekeeper to provide a home for bees. But knowing a little bit about where some bees like to live can help you be a better host for them in your yard if you want them to be around.
Believe it or not, all bees don’t live in colonies. The world of bees is divided by those who are considered social (like honeybees) and those who are called solitary bees (like leafcutter bees).
The same goes for wasps. There are those that form colonies and those who go about their lives solo.
While social bees will form their own homes, solitary bees sometimes use available materials for their abodes. Mason bees, a family of bees including leaf-cutter bees and orchard bees, prefer rotten wood to make tiny nests for their young.
Carpenter bees are responsible for some of the holes that rose gardeners will find in the tops of their canes, as they nest in the pith of plants. They’re pretty harmless and like dead material, so if I see signs they’ve been at work, I leave those dead canes or stems for them to have shelter.
If you want to encourage bees to set up shop in your yard, consider providing a bee house for mason bees. There are plenty of plans out there to consider and many are available for purchase as well.
PROVIDE FOOD SOURCES FOR BEES
To encourage bees to visit your landscape and provide food for them, consider planting a variety of flowering plants and shrubs that bloom at different times, so something is always available for them.
Consider blanketflowers (gaillardia), hummingbird mint, spirea and other flowers that have lots of pollen for them to acquire. Borage and zinnias are a good choices, too. Bees prefer simple flowers, more like daisies and less like frilly double-petaled flowers with less pollen to access. While hybrid roses look showy, they’re not a great food source for bees.
Keep in mind, the most boring yard to a bee is one that is just plain green, devoid of any color or flowers. Aim to provide a wide spectrum of plants and lots of variety and you’re sure to attract the good guys.
Leave dandelions for the bees until other flowers are available, as they are often the only food source available to them until other plants flower in the spring.
Obviously, if you’re allergic to bee stings, I wouldn’t go about encouraging them to hang out by your front door or anything. But by and large, I’ve found that when bees are attracted to plants in my landscape, they don’t really pay much attention to me. Bees would much rather rub themselves silly on a lavender flower than bother with me.
Bees also need water and shallow sources are their best bet for not drowning in the process of gathering it. You can make a bee waterer by piling marbles in a shallow container and filling it with water. the marbles provide support for the bees to climb out.
DISCOURAGE WASPS – TRAP THEM NOW!
I don’t think all wasps are bad — there are good wasps, too, the kind that prey on other insects. Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside a host and the larvae eats them from the inside out as it develops (creepy, huh?) and hunting wasps actively kill nuisance bugs such as grasshoppers. But some wasps seem to exist solely to sting, bother and terrorize. One particular wasp comes to mind.
The western yellowjacket is responsible for most backyard annoyances here in western Colorado, according to Colorado State University Extension. They almost always nest below ground, and are fairly aggressive (so if you see a big hornet nest hanging from a tree, it’s not these guys). They are attracted by the smell of meat and are the ones likely dive-bombing your backyard barbecues.
Western yellowjackets are attracted to wasp traps (available at most hardware stores) and the best time to put them out is now, before the queens have a chance to establish their colonies.
Don’t worry, wasp traps don’t attract honey bees. Unfortunately, they also don’t attract European paper wasps, so don’t think the traps aren’t working if you see them still flying around.
In early springtime, you have a good chance of catching the female wasps that overwintered before they become queens and set up their colonies, so the payoff is big.
European paper wasps, which nest in crevasses such as swing sets or clothesline poles, as well as in structures under eaves of houses, are not as aggressive as western yellowjackets, but their propensity for locating themselves near humans makes interactions more probable and that’s not fun.
Though most of the time, paper wasps establish new nests, it’s a good idea to get rid of the old ones if you see them hanging around, just in case. You don’t want them getting any ideas.