Many people enjoy the coming of spring. With the warmer weather and rain, the yard starts to come alive with green plants and flowers. The birds arrive, bringing with them their sweet melodic songs. And then come the bees. However, many of us aren't so satisfied with their arrival, and would rather they leave us in peace-and they would prefer to have peace as well.
Our coexistence can be a little stressful. However, there are some things you should know before you try to eliminate them all from your property. We often think of them living in large hives just waiting to attack the unsuspecting human walking by. But for most of us, this isn't how we find them. Instead, we see just one or two at a time, flying around the yard pollinating various plants. Most likely these are what are called Ground bees. There are around 20,000 different species of bees in the world. And about 70% of all of them live in the ground. So what are bees nest in the ground? The most common types of these bees include digger bees, the common sweat bee, and mining bees.
What are Bees Nest in the Ground?
Ground, or Digger Bees play a very beneficial role as some of the world's best pollinators. Ground bees are solitary creatures. They don't live in hives or nests with hundreds of other bees. Instead each female burrows her own nest each spring in which to raise her young. She then seeks out the perfect plants to receive pollen from to provide for those young. While she builds her nest on her own and only she and her young inhabit the burrow, it's important to note that she may do so in an area where other female ground bees have done the same. This isn't because she likes the company but rather, she likes the area. Female ground bees only nest in dry bare soil. So if there is a large area that is dry and relatively bare it's not uncommon to find hundreds, if not more, of ground bee burrows. Some types of ground bees, in addition to liking dry soil, also prefer sandy soil on south-facing slopes. These burrows will resemble that of the ant with the exception to the slightly larger size. The dirt mounds you will find belonging to ground bees are typically a few inches wide with a hole about 1/4 of an inch for entering and exiting.
Males will also be flying over the area looking for potential mates. This may make some wary of the areas in which these bees are found. However, the males, while they might be active and appear aggressive cannot sting you. They don't have a stinger and are, therefore, harmless. Only the females can sting. But don't let this alarm you. Ground bees are known to very docile, unlike social bees and wasps that colonize in hives. The females, in fact, don't even protect their nest aggressively. They will, however, protect themselves. So if you swat at one, you just might get stung. More often than not they will try to simply fly away.
They don't stick around for a long time either. They may show up in your yard sometime in the spring to raise their young, but this process is short, lasting only a few weeks. Afterward, they will abandon their nest and leave the area, taking their young and the males with them.
The Benefits Of Ground-Nesting Bees
These bees are very beneficial both to your yard, and the flowers and plants they visit. As they land and gather pollen for their young, they help to pollinate your gardens, flower beds, and orchards. You will find that even though you may not trust your safety as much in their presence, your gardens and flowers will thrive. They will help cut down on all those expensive plant foods you have to buy every year to help your gardens grow.
They're also beneficial to your yards even if you don't have a garden or plants that need a lot of pollination. Their ground nests or burrows may be unsightly and not so aesthetically pleasing, however, those holes in the ground are a form of natural aeration. Many people spend a small fortune and lots of time to aerate their yards every spring. These little guys will do it for you for free. These holes left behind allow for needed nutrients and water to more quickly enter the soil in the area. This allows for your yard to look and feel its best. After a good solid rain, the soil will wash into the cavity left behind leaving no trace of the mound that was once made by what bees nest in the ground.
Controlling Ground Bees
However, if you would rather not have them on your property or near your home at all, there are a few options to think about. First, don't run off and go spend money on harmful pesticides of any kind that are not good for you or for what bees nest in the ground. As we mentioned before, ground bees will only nest in dry soil. Simply watering your yard or garden will be enough to dissuade them from nesting there. If you know you have ground bees that return to your yard year after year in the same areas, set up a sprinkler and keep the area damp before they show up in the spring. They may come to investigate but will not nest there because the soil is not to their liking.
Another option is to put down a layer of mulch in the area. They don't like mulch as it's not soil and makes for a difficult entrance and exit of their temporary home. Try not to mulch over the area when you know the bees are present though as this will most likely trap the small creatures underground. If, however, you don't catch them before they show up it is not harmful to the bees if you water the area after they arrive. They will gather their larva from their nests and promptly move to another area where the soil is better suited to them.
We would dissuade you from throwing all caution to the wind, however, just because these bees offer little threat to you. Bumblebees and yellow jackets also make their home in the ground as do some solitary wasps. And these aren't like your docile ground bees. They are social and can live amongst hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of others like them. They're aggressive and will defend their nests fiercely. Most often these more aggressive relatives of the ground bees move into abandoned rodent burrows, as they offer more room for the whole colony, than build their own set of tunnels. Therefore, they may look a bit different from the smaller mounds. But this is not always the case.
If you notice any bees at in your yard or throughout your property, your best option is to first observe them from a safe distance. Note if there are single bees coming and going, or if there is a large number of them. Make sure you research and know the differences between wasps and bees. This will help you identify what type of flying creatures you have living near you, and how best to handle their presence. If you suddenly turn on a hose or sprinkler to try to dissuade ground bees from the area and they are, in fact, not ground bees you might be in for a rude awakening.
While some of you might be hesitant, we would encourage to find out what bees nest in the ground nearest to you. Look for signs of their presence and investigate as to whether or not they will cause you harm or not. If you decide you can live with them in close proximity, we advise that you try to do so peacefully. In general what bees nest in the ground are docile and harmless. Most people find they can even continue to mow their lawns right over them without the fear of getting stung. We understand there are those with severe allergies to the venom of bee stings and therefore aren't able to risk having them around their homes or in yards and gardens. If this is the case, try the non-lethal methods we have discussed. We believe you will be pleasantly surprised that something so simple and inexpensive can work so well for you.
However, if you find that what bees nest in the ground near you are simple ground bees, we recommend leaving them be for the short time they're there. It won't be long before they're gone, and you're left with only the wonderful benefits they can provide, such as the pollination of your gardens and aeration of your yards. There are those who decide to get involved with beekeeping as a hobby or a business just for these benefits.