Bee hotels boost native bee populations
They may not be The Ritz Carlton, The Plaza or even a Holiday Inn, but bee hotels house important guests.
Native bees are among the many different welcome and necessary pollinators in landscapes.
“Native bees are the most important group of about 200,000 species of pollinators,” said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist. “They provide an important link to the environment by carrying pollen from one plant to another to ensure the growth of seeds and fruits. Some pollen is carried by the wind, but other pollen can be heavy and requires pollinators to move it. Pollination is responsible for nearly $20 billion worth of products annually.”
When observing all of the fabulous plants in the landscape, remember the role pollination plays and think about what can be done to help native bees perform their job. Pollinators are also a key element in the agricultural industry, and the world’s food supply would be smaller, less colorful and less nutritious without bees.
To help protect and increase the dwindling population of these pollinators, homeowners can build bee hotels, which are the insect equivalent of a birdhouse.
Also known as bee condos, bee houses or nest blocks, these structures provide nesting spaces for solitary bees or wasps in places where natural habitats may be scarce. These species make their homes in holes in dead wood, hollow plant stems or other nooks and crannies in the landscape because they don’t excavate their own holes.
“Generally, a hotel provides shelter for its human guests for short stays, but bee hotels provide long-term accommodations,” Hillock said. “You can construct a bee hotel using reed or bamboo. Other good materials include hollow stems from plants such as sunflowers, teasel, fennel, brambles, raspberries and elder.”
“The bee hotel serves a dual purpose,” Shufran said. “First, it provides a place for native bees to lay eggs during the warm season and serves as their home during pollination. Second, it gives the bees a place to overwinter when the seasons change.”
For those who want to build a bee condo or hotel, affix it waist or chest high on a tree, fence or wall near the pollen source. Shufran said bees commute between their habitat and the pollen source multiple times a day, so the closer together they are, the more time bees spend pollinating.
When installing it, choose a sunny spot in the landscape and have the bee hotel face the east so it gets the morning sun but won’t get too hot later in the day.
Tilt the hotel slightly downward so moisture won’t collect inside the tubes. It’s a good idea to cover the front of the bee hotel with screening to keep out predators.
Shufran said bee hotels should be cleaned out during February or March, but timing is important.
“Cleaning them out too soon risks disturbing viable cocoons, while acting too late may disturb newly laid eggs,” she said.
In early spring, place the overwintered hotels or occupied nesting material inside a dark container known as an emergence box. Cut a 3/8-inch hole near the bottom for the bees to crawl out and place it near the original outdoor location. More information about emergence boxes, management and overall maintenance is available online.
Aside from bee hotels, there are other ways gardeners can help boost the bee population.
“Native bees are five times better pollinators than honey bees, along with wasps and flies, so it’s important to plant native flowers,” Shufran said. “Native flowers are shaped to accommodate the bee’s body, which makes it easy for them to reach the pollen. Although non-native plants are beautiful, they may not provide what bees need.”
Shufran encourages people to research native bees and how humans can help elevate bee populations.
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“What you learn, along with your children and grandchildren, can make a difference in the long run,” she said. “Insects have been around for 500 million years. What we do today has a big impact on the future. Limiting the use of insecticides, planting native flowers and providing habitat for native bees has a big impact on our lives.”
Detailed information on building a bee condo is available online.
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