How to Attract Solitary Bees: Simple Tips for a Buzzing Garden

Attracting solitary bees to your garden can offer numerous benefits. These hardworking pollinators play a crucial role in supporting plant life, contributing to a healthy and vibrant ecosystem. In this article, we’ll explore ways to attract these beneficial insects and create a garden that buzzes with life.

One of the most effective ways to attract solitary bees is by planting native species. Research indicates that native plants can be four times more attractive to native bees than introduced ornamentals source. Examples of plants that can help draw in these bees include Oregon sunshine and globe gilia source.

Additionally, providing nesting habitats for these bees is essential. Most solitary bees are ground-nesting or cavity-nesting, so options such as holes, tunnels, and tubes in the environment create ideal homes for them source. With these strategies in mind, you can foster a pollinator-friendly space that promotes ecological balance and invites these beneficial insects to thrive.

Understanding Solitary Bees

Characteristics of Solitary Bees

Solitary bees are unique and resourceful insects. They differ from their social cousins, such as honeybees and bumblebees, in a variety of ways:

  • Most solitary bees nest underground or in drying/dead plant stalks. This makes them highly adaptable to various environments1.
  • Unlike social bees that live in colonies, each female solitary bee tends to her own nest and offspring2.
  • Solitary bees are typically less aggressive than social bees, as they do not have a large hive to defend.
  • Some solitary bees are specialized in pollinating specific plants, making them highly efficient pollinators.

Native Bee Species

There are numerous native bee species around the world. In Colorado alone, there are 946 native bee species3. Some examples of solitary bees include:

  • Leaf-cutter bees (Megachile)
  • Small carpenter bees (Ceratina)
  • Resin bees (Heriades)
  • Masked bees (Hylaeus)

Importance for Pollination

Solitary bees play a crucial role in pollination. Their significance can be summarized in the following points:

  • They are highly efficient pollinators due to their physiology and behavior; for instance, the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) and the Japanese orchard bee (Osmia cornifrons) effectively pollinate tree fruits4.
  • Solitary bees contribute to biodiversity by pollinating a wide range of plants. This, in turn, supports other wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Native plants are four times more attractive to native solitary bees than introduced ornamentals3.
  • They provide natural pest control as some species, like the tangle-footed fly, predate on garden and agricultural pests.

Creating a Solitary Bee-Friendly Habitat

Choosing the Right Flowers and Plants

Solitary bees are attracted to gardens with diverse plants and flowers. Aim for a mix of native plants, wildflowers, nectar-rich flowers, and flowering trees and shrubs. Examples include:

  • Asters
  • Sunflowers
  • Goldenrods
  • Lavender

Choose plants with varying bloom times to provide nectar throughout the seasons. Remember to plan for sunny spaces in your garden, as bees love sunlit areas.

Providing Water Sources

Bees need water, just like other living creatures. Add a bee-friendly water source to your garden:

  • A shallow dish filled with water and pebbles for bees to land on
  • A bird bath with rocks or pebbles for bees to perch on while they drink

Remember to change the water regularly and keep the area clean to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Offering Shelter and Nesting Materials

Bees need shelter and nesting sites. Here’s how to help:

  • Create bee hotels by filling a container with bamboo canes, hollow stems, or nesting holes cut in wood
  • Build simple structures with dead wood, twigs, or grasses for ground-nesting bees

Keep parts of your garden or yard slightly untidy to provide natural, undisturbed nesting habitats. Also, limit lawn maintenance for areas with nesting habitats, as this can deter bees from the area.

In summary, create a welcoming habitat for solitary bees by choosing a variety of native plants and flowers, providing water sources, and offering shelter and nesting materials in your garden. By doing so, you support these essential pollinators and promote a healthy ecosystem.

Protecting Solitary Bees from Risks

Reducing Chemical Exposure

To protect solitary bees and help them thrive, it’s essential to minimize their exposure to harmful chemicals. One way to achieve this is by:

  • Limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides: Opt for organic gardening methods, and avoid using chemicals that can harm bees and other pollinators. Focus on hand-weeding and using natural predators for pest control.

  • Planting a bee-friendly meadow: Grow a variety of native flowering plants, such as wildflowers, to provide a rich source of pollen and nectar for bees. This can also reduce the need for chemical sprays to maintain a neatly trimmed lawn.

Avoiding Overcrowding

Ensuring a suitable habitat for solitary bees includes promoting proper nesting conditions, such as:

  • Providing bee houses: Install bee houses in your garden to offer a safe and well-ventilated space for cavity-nesting bees like leafcutter and mason bees.

  • Preserving natural burrows: Keep undisturbed areas of bare soil in your yard, as many solitary bees like ground-nesting species such as sweat bees, dig burrows in the ground to lay their eggs.

Monitoring Pest and Disease Issues

Though solitary bees have fewer pest and disease issues compared to honey bees, it’s still crucial to monitor their wellbeing. Some steps to consider:

  • Regularly check bee houses: Inspect the bee houses for signs of pests or other issues that may harm the bees; maintain a clean environment to reduce the likelihood of disease spread.

  • Promote biodiversity: Plant a variety of native plants that support various insect species, including natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings. This can help keep pests in check and reduce the chances of disease outbreaks.

By taking these measures to protect solitary bees, we can create a better environment for these essential pollinators to sustain our gardens and ecosystems while preventing unnecessary exposure to risks.

Footnotes

  1. Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape – 5.615 – Extension

  2. Bee Pollination – US Forest Service

  3. Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape – 5.615 – Extension 2

  4. Orchard Pollination: Solitary (Mason) Bees – Penn State Extension

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Native Bee Nest we guess

 

Larvae on a Log
Location: Audubon, PA
May 26, 2011 9:16 am
Dear WTB, While I was reorganizing my woodpile, I came across this larvae nest and found it very interesting. I never saw anything like it before. After I took the picture and scraped the nest off of my log, the yellow substance was a really fine powder, kind of like pollen. Do you have any idea what these little worms will turn into?
Signature: Cheryl


Possibly Bee Nest provisioned with Pollen

Dear Cheryl,
Please forgive us.  We absolutely cannot research this tonight.  It was a long day (14 hours of teaching, monitoring, attending awards and scholarship presentations, and conducting SLO assessments.  The students actually accused us of being grouchy today.  The end of the semester is rough.  Enough of that.  We believe this is a Solitary Bee Nest and we believe the yellow substance is Pollen.  Time will tell.

Letter 2 – Orchard Bees Mating

 

mating orchard bees
Dear Bugman,
Great bug site! My son took this picture of two lovin’ orchard bees on our deck in April of 2005. These bees regularly nest under the siding on the south side of our home. They are docile, early spring risers and are very welcome visitors to our apple trees.
Sandy Nunn
Kakabeka Falls
Ontario

Hi Sandy,
Thank you so much for sending us this wonderful image from your son’s photo archive.

Letter 3 – Solitary Bee

 

Subject: Diadasia enavata perhaps?
Location: Northern CO mountains/foothills, ~8100 feet
August 1, 2012 10:57 am
That’s my best guess. Can’t find much on size or range, but this guy seems a bit big (about honeybee size) for that species. Also, don’t know if he’s supposed to be here.
Signature: Thanks! Matt B

What’s That Bee?

Hi Matt,
Based on images posted to BugGuide, this could well be
Diadasia enavata, but we cannot be certain.  We will post your letter and photos and perhaps someone with more knowledge of Solitary Bees will be able to assist in a species identification or confirmation.  Your photos are quite nice.

Which Bee is it???

Letter 4 – Solitary Bee

 

Subject:  Megachilidae bee?
Geographic location of the bug:  Andover, NJ
Date: 06/03/2019
Time: 03:49 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi Daniel,
I was out in my pollinator garden snooping around this morning and discovered a large number of these small bees.  Size is about 1/3 inch.  They were in an area of my garden that has a bee house, but were not showing any signs of using it.  I am wondering, however, if these are mason bees?  Any help gratefully appreciated!
And I’m looking forward to a buggy summer.
How you want your letter signed:  Deborah E Bifulco

Solitary Bee

Dear Deborah,
While we agree this is a solitary Bee, we are uncertain of its exact identity.  It might be a Squash Bee, one of the Longhorned Bees in the genus
Peponapis.  According to BugGuide:  “these solitary ground nesting bees pollinate Cucurbitaceae more effectively than honeybees and line their brood cells with a waxlike material they secrete”.  Do you have squash in your garden?  We would not rule out that they might be Mason Bees in the family Megachilidae, which is well represented on BugGuide.  We believe that with many solitary Bees, males emerge earlier and they will patrol areas where there is both abundant food as well as favorable nesting areas in anticipation of the appearance of females with which to mate.  Male Bees will not be interested in your bee house.  We look forward to future submissions from your “pollinator garden”.  Perhaps one of our readers who has more experience keying out Solitary Bees will provide a more conclusive identification.

Solitary Bee

Letter 5 – Solitary Bee and Gray Hairstreak

 

Subject:  Solitary Bee and Gray Hairstreak
Geographic location of the bug: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Date: 06/26/2021
Time: 11:01 AM PDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Readers,
There are numerous native Bees visiting blossoms in Daniel’s garden right now, and he does have difficulty with some species identifications.  This pollen-laden Solitary Bee was being very elusive, flying away when Daniel aimed his magicphone and attempted to move in for a closeup.  Most of the images are blurry.  When a Gray Hairstreak appeared and Daniel turned his attention to the Gossamer Wing, the Solitary Bee decided to ZOOM bomb the photo.  The Bee may be
Anthophorula albicans which is pictured on BugGuide and the Natural History of Orange County.

Solitary Bee and Gray Hairstreak

 

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

5 thoughts on “How to Attract Solitary Bees: Simple Tips for a Buzzing Garden”

  1. Cannot say I am an expert but the ID seems to be correct and such a cool bee! These are also called ground or digger bees because they nest in the ground but they are also considered a “Sunflower Bee” or even “Sunflower Chimney Bee” because they only visit plants in that family. This is probably a female because of the black eyes and black “bald” spot on her back.

    Reply
  2. Did you ever discover what this is? I have found an identical one in the wooden sill of the window. And after trailing the internet for anything that look remotly similar I came across this image which is identical to what I discovered.

    Reply
  3. My cousin in Indiana also found the same nest under a tarp on his property in southwest Indiana. I’m curious to know what it is.

    Reply
  4. It is a mud wasp nest. The yellow is very likely from the pollen that settled into the mud it used to build the nest.

    Reply

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