When it comes to keeping our gardens beautiful and productive, pollinators are everything! Most of us think of butterflies when we consider the pollinators we want to attract, but what about bees? Honeybees are great, don’t get me wrong, but there are way more species of beneficial pollinators in the bee world, aside from their honey-making spokesmen.
Mason bees for instance, are the milder, more soft-spoken cousins to the honeybee. They are non-aggressive and non-stinging! No reason to run and hide from these guys! Mason bees are native to the US and common just about everywhere. Unlike honeybees, mason bees are non-social and do not live in colonies. They are the ‘lone rangers’ of the bee world. No massive beehives and swarming colonies to worry about with these guys!
They also arrive just in time for your fruit trees to start blooming! Mason bees hatch from eggs in the spring. They are super efficient, but short-lived pollinating powerhouses! They only live for 8-10 weeks, but during that time, each mason bee can pollinate up to 20 times more flowers per day than a honeybee. Amazingly, it only takes 2-3 mason bees to pollinate an entire mature apple tree!
Since we’ve had some cold this winter, I think we’re all hopeful for an abundant fruit harvest this spring and summer. One simple thing you can do to encourage the pollination process is to provide attractive habitat for newly hatched mason bees and places for them to lay their eggs for the next generation.
One way to do this is to find a south-facing wall or protected area near your garden and mount a mason bee house. (Enchanted has some cute ones!)
No bee house? No problem! A cluster of open-ended bamboo garden stakes (Enchanted has them too) cut to about 8” long and tied (or hot-glued) together works fine too, and is a great project for the kids! Want to get Dad involved? Have him drill a bunch of 5/16” holes that are 4-6” deep in a piece of untreated wood, and make that your bee house. Mason bees aren’t too picky. No matter what you use, the goal is to get the mason bees to lay their eggs in the holes so your yard will be first stop next year when they hatch. In the meantime, you may see them collecting a little mud around your garden to bring back to their new house- that’s a good sign.
Once spring is over, hopefully your bee house will be full of eggs that will lay dormant until next spring. Feel free to even take your bee house down this summer and store in the garage until next February. It won’t disturb the bee eggs one bit. Just remember to set a reminder to put the house back out before they hatch in your garage next year!
Good luck with your bee house crafting projects and best wishes for lots of happy pollinators in your yard this spring!