Creating Habitat for Wild Bees

Much of what we read about bees refers to honey bees. However there are thousands of species of wild bees as well. These are mostly solitary bees, where every female lays eggs, rather than just the one queen, as is the case in honey bee colonies.

I recently attended a class on creating habitat for wild bees, specifically cavity nesting bees.  About 70% of wild bees nest in the ground and very little is known about these bees scientifically, according to the speaker. However, scientists know more about cavity nesting bees and this was the focus. These are bees that nest in hollow shapes, such as reeds, hollowed stems or holes in wood. There are several kinds of cavity nesting bees,  including mason bees that pack their nests with mud and leaf cutters that use pieces of leaves to wrap their cocoons. Loss of available habitat is one of the challenges these bees face and it is an area where humans can actually help. There are a few ways we can help  by restoring natural habitat or providing new habitat, that we create.

How to help create habitat for cavity nesting bees

As part of the class I went to, I was provided with two bee nesting boxes (pollinator
‘mailboxes’) made from milk cartons and paper tubes. In exchange, I will participate in a citizen science initiative to help track the kinds of cavity nesting bees we’re seeing in our region, around Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. The nesting boxes have a variety of sizes of tubes in order to attract a variety of bees. It wouldn’t be difficult to make these yourself out of painted milk cartons, paper tubes and a way to stand it off the ground. However, if you’re not up for a project, it’s so easy to get a kit. Here’s where I talk about my first mason bee house. There are some great kits that are ready to go and you can either see who may show up or actually get some bees as well.

There are two ways to provide habitat to help welcome wild bees in your yard or garden:

  • Provide nesting space. This can be wood nesting blocks with holes drilled the correct size. If you plan to do this yourself, do a little research first. Bees are very particular about the exact size hole they need. Also paper tear away tubes or wood nesting blocks that can open up are available. I would take a look at Crown Bees first if you are in the US or Canada. Another option is using stems and tubes. Some natural stems that work include reeds, sumac, raspberry, bamboo and elder. I used the paper tear away tubes in my first mason bee house. Here’s how I rigged my first house for mason bees with an old plastic container mounted on the outside of the house.
  • Planting for nesting. Plants with hollow stems provide natural habitat for cavity nesting bees. If you are a gardener (or willing to give it a try) and would like to restore some natural habitat for bees, try following trees and shrubs:  sumac, box elder, roses, hydrangea and elderberry. These suggestions were for the Pacific Northwest. For other parts of the world with different climates, just check in with your local gardening organization.

Provide nest boxes in early spring, as early as February and March for the bees who may come early. Locate these near flowering plants and trees in a somewhat sheltered area. It’s great if they can face South-East for morning sun. Don’t forget to check in late spring and summer to see who might be in your yard. Happy Beeing!



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