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Michael Wheeler: Friend of foe? What are the pros and cons of ground bees

POSTED: April 7, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Spring has sprung and bees are buzzing the air and ground.

Ground bees are solitary bees that dig and nest in the ground. The first sign of ground or digger bees in lawns may be strange little mounds of soil with a hole nearby. These bees live one per hole, but many holes in one area create ground bee communities.

Ground bees vary in color and range from one-half to three-quarter inch in length.

Female ground bees dig nests up to 6 inches deep to raise their young. The bees pile earth around the sides of the hole and are very active in March and April. The female ground bee stocks the nest with pollen and nectar to feed the young.

Ground bees typically cause little problems. The digging should not be enough to damage the lawn. You should work and mow grass around them with few problems, since the bees are not very aggressive and probably will not sting. People who are allergic to bee stings may want to be cautious when working around them though.

We do not recommend chemical controls for ground bees since they can be beneficial by pollinating plants.

If you must control them, use the following cultural controls:

  • Ground bees like dry soils. Water the soil when the bees first become active. Apply 1 inch of water once a week if it does not rain.
  • Ground bees nest where grass is thin. Find and correct the problems that make the turf thin. In areas that will not grow grass, mulch the area.
  • If you must use a pesticide, find where the holes are located. After dark, dust these areas with carbaryl, which is sold under the name Sevin and others.

This dust insecticide should cling to the bee’s body better than a spray. Keep people and pets out of the area while it is being treated.

These bees are not generally harmful, but pesticides are toxic. The cure may be worse than the problem.

Try to put up with the bees if you can. They may be difficult to control and may return annually. If you have ongoing problems, follow the recommendations carefully. For more information, visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/lawn/note100/note100.html.

One more caution: Do not confuse ground bees with other aggressive and harmful bees such as bumble bees and wasps such as yellow jackets.

Both of these can cover you with stings very quickly.

They also can have extremely large nests in Georgia. If you ever get into trouble, run until you escape them. Running inside may help. Do not stop to swat or roll on the ground.

Use the following from UGA entomologist Will Hudson as a guide for identification. Many holes with one bee per hole equals solitary or ground bees that sting only as a last resort.

One hole and many bees equals social bees such as yellow jackets and bumble bees. Keep away! These are non-reproductive workers that will sacrifice themselves in defense of the nest.

For insects other than ground bees, you may want to hire a pest control company or a wildlife removal company.

They should have the training and equipment to do the job properly.

 Willie Chance, a retired University of Georgia Extension Agent. contributed to this article.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, ugaextension.org/county-offices/hall.html. His column appears biweekly and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.



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