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Ground or digger bees: Are they good or bad?
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As trees and flowers start to bloom, the buzzing sound from bees will begin to be heard. But did you know not all bees live in hive?

Ground bees are solitary bees that dig and nest in the ground. These bees live one per hole, but many holes may be in an area to create ground bee communities.

Ground bees vary in color and range from one-half to three-quarters inch in length. Some types of solitary wasps live like this as well.

The first sign of ground or digger bees in lawns may be strange little mounds of soil with a hole nearby. The bees pile earth around the sides of the hole.

Female ground bees dig nests in the ground up to 6 inches deep to raise young. The female ground bee stocks the nest with pollen and nectar to feed the young bees.

These bees can be very active in March and April and will fly over the area.

Ground bees typically cause little problem. The digging should not be enough to damage the lawn, and the bees are not very aggressive. They probably will not sting, enabling you to work and mow grass around them.

People who are allergic to bee stings may want to be cautious when working around the bees.

We do not recommend chemical controls for ground bees or wasps. These bees can be beneficial, serving to pollinate plants or destroy harmful insects. They will probably only be around for four to six weeks and disappear until next year.

If you must control them, use cultural controls.

Water the soil when bees become active. Apply one inch of water once a week if it does not rain.

Find and correct problems that make the turf thin. This may involve soil sampling, irrigation, soil aeration or other practices.

Thicken the turf in the area to reduce ground bee problems. Know the needs of the turf grass and meet them.

Put down mulch in areas that will not grow grass.

If you must use a pesticide, watch during the day to see where the holes are located. After dark, dust the areas with carbaryl (sold under the name Sevin and other names) dust. A 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.

The bees are not generally harmful and pesticides are toxic. So, the cure may be worse than the problem. Try to put up with the bees if you can.

If you have ongoing problems with them, follow all recommendations very carefully. For more information about this, visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/lawn/note100/note100.html.

There is one large caution in connection with ground bees and wasps. Ground bees are not aggressive but can look like other bees and wasps that are very aggressive and harmful.

Make absolutely certain you are not dealing with a yellow jacket or bumble bee nest. Both insects can literally cover you with stings very quickly. They can also have extremely large nests in Georgia.

If you ever get into trouble with these, run until you escape them. Running inside may help. Do not stop to swat or roll on the ground.

Before you begin control of any stinging insect, make certain of your pest. This or other websites can help you identify the lawn invader: http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/plantclinic/documents/t-10-waspsandbees.pdf.

One difference between ground bees and other bees or wasps is ground bees live by themselves and make many holes in the ground. Yellow jackets and bumble bees have many insects per hole.

Use the following from Dr. Will Hudson, UGA Entomologist, as a guide for identification. Many holes with one 1 bee per hole equals solitary bees (like ground bees) that sting only as a last resort.

One hole, many bees equal 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, consider hiring a pest control company or a wildlife removal company. They should have the training and equipment to do the job properly.

Willie Chance is a retired University of Georgia Extension Agent.

 

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