Plants That Repel Carpenter Bees: Your Garden’s Best Defense

Carpenter bees are known for their ability to bore into wood, which can cause damage to homes and wooden structures.

While these bees play an important role as pollinators, it’s understandable that homeowners may want to keep them at bay.

Luckily, there are specific plants known to deter carpenter bees, keeping your home and garden safe without harming these crucial pollinators.

In this article, we will explore various plants that repel carpenter bees effectively.

Plants That Repel Carpenter Bees

Understanding Carpenter Bees

Life Cycle and Behavior

Carpenter bees are large, approximately 0.75-1 inch long, with a distinct yellow fuzz on their thorax and a shiny, black abdomen1.

These insects play a crucial role as pollinators, visiting flower blossoms and gathering pollen through a process called “buzz pollination”2.

The life cycle of carpenter bees consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult3.

  • Egg: Female carpenter bees lay their eggs inside wood tunnels that they have excavated.
  • Larva: After hatching, the larva feeds on a stored pollen and nectar mixture provided by the female.
  • Pupa: The larva then pupates within a protective cocoon.
  • Adult: Finally, the adult carpenter bee emerges and starts the process anew.

The key differences between male and female carpenter bees include:

Male Carpenter Bee Female Carpenter Bee
Yellow face Black face
Harmless Stinger (rarely used)

Carpenter Bee Damage

Though beneficial as pollinators, carpenter bees can cause damage to wooden structures such as eaves, decks, and porch rails4.

Female carpenter bees bore near-perfect circular holes, measuring about ½ inch in diameter, to create their nests5.

This can weaken structural integrity over time, especially if the bees continue to use the same nesting area.

Some measures to deter carpenter bees can include:

  • Painting or staining wood surfaces
  • Using hardwood materials instead of softwoods
  • Installing metal or vinyl siding
  • Employing carpenter bee traps or natural repellents

Natural Repellents for Carpenter Bees

Plants That Repel Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees, though important pollinators, can be destructive when they burrow into wood structures such as homes.

One natural way to deter these bees is by planting various types of vegetation around your property.

  • Mint: This aromatic plant has a strong smell that repels many insects, including carpenter bees.
  • Citronella: Known for repelling mosquitoes, citronella also deters carpenter bees with its lemony scent.
  • Eucalyptus: These trees’ oils have insect-repelling properties that help keep carpenter bees at bay.

Choosing plants with strong scents can contribute to discouraging carpenter bees from invading your living spaces while also enhancing the visual appeal of your garden.

Essential Oils

In addition to plants, essential oils can also be an effective natural repellent against carpenter bees. By mixing these oils with water and spraying them around your property, you can create a barrier to deter these pollinators.

  • Lemon: The citrus aroma from lemon essential oil can be offensive to carpenter bees, making it a useful deterrent.
  • Eucalyptus: With its minty scent, eucalyptus essential oil repels various insects, carpenter bees included.

Preventing Carpenter Bee Infestations

Home Maintenance Tips

  • Regularly inspect your home for any signs of carpenter bees, such as tunnels and holes in wooden surfaces.
  • Seal any small cracks, gaps, and entrances with wood putty or caulk to prevent carpenter bees from nesting.

Carpenter bees prefer to bore into untreated or unpainted wood. Protect wooden surfaces by:

  • Applying a coat of paint on wooden structures such as deck railings, siding, and outdoor furniture.
  • Regularly checking and maintaining paint on these surfaces.

Creating an Unfavorable Environment

Carpenter bees dislike:

Consider utilizing the following features:

  • Positioning wind chimes or other noise-making devices near wooden structures
  • Ensuring proper drainage to avoid water accumulation near your home

Comparison of preventive measures:

Technique Pros Cons
Painting Effective in deterring carpenter bees Requires maintenance and repainting
Sealing gaps and cracks Prevents nesting opportunities Time-consuming
Creating vibrations Can repel carpenter bees May be bothersome to some people
Water drainage Helps in overall maintenance of structures Not a direct carpenter bee deterrent

Conclusion

In conclusion, this article has explored the multifaceted nature of carpenter bees, shedding light on their life cycle, the potential damage they can inflict on wooden structures, and the various methods available for deterring them.

Emphasizing environmentally friendly solutions, we’ve delved into the use of repellent plants and essential oils, alongside preventive home maintenance tips and the application of carpenter bee traps and insecticides.

These strategies aim to safeguard our homes while respecting the essential pollinating role of carpenter bees in our ecosystem.

Footnotes

  1. University of Maryland Extension
  2. US Forest Service
  3. MU Extension
  4. NC State Extension Publications
  5. Penn State Extension

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Male Carpenter Bee from Barbados

Subject: Photographed in Barbados
Location: Barbados
February 12, 2017 5:47 pm
Hi. Just wondering what this is? Never seen anything like it before in Barbados. Thanks.
Signature: Melanie

Male Carpenter Bee

Dear Melanie,
This is a male Carpenter Bee.  Female Carpenter Bees often look like completely different species as they are even larger, and black with bluish-black wings.  Only identified to the genus level Xylocopa,  though erroneously called Bumble Bees on the Barbados Pocket Guide, this description is provided:  “These early morning foragers are commonly known as carpenter bees because of the way in which they build their nests. A process that involves burrowing holes in dead trees, branches, stumps and/or old timber. They use their broad, strong mandibles (jaws) to chew into their chosen future homes. Inside, they form pollen/nectar loaves upon which they lay their giant eggs. The female mixes her saliva with sawdust to form strong partitions between each egg cell.”  Images of both a female and male
Xylocopa mordax are pictured on the Bees of Greater Puerto Rico, and we speculate that might also be your species.

Thank you! Normally the bees commonly seen there are black bumble bees or the honey bee. No one had actually seen this one before. I appreciate your prompt response.
Melanie
M. Bannister

Hello again Melanie,
We suspect that what you are calling a black bumble bee is actually the female Carpenter Bee.  The golden colored males are not a long lived, which is probably why they are not seen as often.  Here is an image of a pair of mating Carpenter Bees from our archives.

Thanks! I meant to put bumble bee in quotation marks…as that is what it is usually called there. 🙂
The female bee is the one usually seen on the island.
Thanks again! So great to have it properly identified.
Melanie
M. Bannister
*Being true to yourself is better than being a liar just to impress everyone*

Letter 2 – Male Carpenter Bee from Florida

Subject: Super large bee
Location: Tampa Florida
February 21, 2013 6:47 pm
We found this bee in our yard in Tampa on Feb 21, 2013. It measures 2 inches long.
Signature: Lsolie

Male Carpenter Bee
Male Carpenter Bee

Dear Lsolie,
This is a male Carpenter Bee, and we don’t believe it is a species native to Florida.  Members of the subgenus
Neoxylocopa which includes the Valley Carpenter Bee, exhibit sexual dimorphism and the males are golden while the females are black.  BugGuide lists the range as:  “essentially a neotropical group, with a couple of spp. restricted to Pacific islands; in our area, one sp. widely western (to sw. BC), another only along the Mexican border (TX-AZ).”  To the best of our knowledge, no Carpenter Bees from eastern North America have golden males, though there are native Carpenter Bees. 

Letter 3 – Male Carpenter Bee from Hawaii

Subject: is it a bee?
Location: Oahu (Hawaii)
April 14, 2015 11:58 am
I live in Hawaii. I often see black carpenter bees around my lavender plants. Lately, I’ve seen a bright honey colored bee? that is on flowers on the fence. It is huge, and very aggressive. It flys very fast. Is he dangerous?
Signature: jean

Male Carpenter Bee
Male Carpenter Bee

Dear Jean,
Often female Carpenter Bees like you describe are very long lived, as they have to excavate tunnels in wood to serve as a nest for the young, and the nests need to be provisioned with pollen.  Many Carpenter Bees exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism, with males looking like entirely different species, as is the case with the Valley Carpenter Bee.  Male Valley Carpenter Bees are bright golden yellow, and they are very territorial, hence the aggressive behavior you observed, but since they lack stingers, they are perfectly harmless.  The much less aggressive females are capable of stinging, but we have never heard of a person being stung by a Carpenter Bee.  Male Carpenter Bees do not live as long as females, so you have probably never noticed them before.  The Sonoran Carpenter Bee,
Xylocopa sonorina, has been introduced to Hawaii, and males are golden in color

Letter 4 – Male Carpenter Bee from Cuba

Subject: orange bee in Cuba
Location: Sierra del Rosario near Las Terrazas in Cuba
April 28, 2017 4:48 am
Dear WTB team.
Could you please help me with the identification of this loud orange bee? Here are the details:
Location: Sierra del Rosario near Las Terrazas in Cuba
Time and date: 26th February 2017 – 13:30h
Size: about 1,5 cm, maybe 2 cm (0.59 inch, maybe 0.79 inch)
I did some search in the Internet, until now I have only come up with this orange bee: valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). But that’s probably not the one, since you can find him only in the western parts of America.
Thanks in advance dear WTB team,
best regards,
Signature: Becky from Munich-Germany

Male Carpenter Bee

Dear Becky,
This is definitely a male Carpenter Bee in the genus
Xylocopa, and it does resemble a male Valley Carpenter Bee found in the Southwestern United States, but as you found out, it is not reported from the Caribbean.  Many species in the genus Xylocopa exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism, and males are frequently golden in color.  We did find a FlickR image of a black female Cuban Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa cubaecola, and we suspect your images are of a male from the same species.

Male Carpenter Bee
Dear Daniel.
Thanks a lot for the identification! And what an interesting bee, look at the male and female… totally different!!
B.t.w., really love your site, I can learn a lot from it and it helps me a lot to identify my insekt pics.
🙂
Bye-bye, Becky

3 thoughts on “Plants That Repel Carpenter Bees: Your Garden’s Best Defense”

  1. Ive seen a bee that looks identical to the female of this type of carpenter bee in florida within the last year. I am in ft myers area.

    Reply
  2. I just saw a male exactly like the photo visiting shamrocks blossoms in my yard in Tampa, Florida. I’ve seen the metalic black females for years here. They far outnumber the regular bumble bees in my yard.

    Reply
  3. Looks like we’re may have a “nest” in St Pete. They bore holes in a dead branch, and we see the young ones, crawling around, struggling to fly once they get out.

    Reply

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