Get to Know the Mason Bee

A lot of plants need pollination, which means every great garden needs pollinators. More and more gardeners are discovering that Mason Bees are the best option.

Why Mason Bees?

For generations American farmers have had the good fortune of relying on honeybees to pollinate their fruits and flowering vegetables, but unfortunately honeybee numbers are in decline, with whole colonies dying off at alarming rates. If you have noticed that your fruit trees aren’t bearing much fruit, not many of your cucumber flowers not turning into actual cucumbers, or your re-seeding flowers are failing to come back, your garden might be in serious need of pollination.

Luckily, nature has provided us with some back-ups. There are around 4,000 different species of native bees we can choose from to pollinate our orchards and gardens. Among this huge diversity of bees, Mason Bees are the best choice for most pollination duty. Also known as Carpenter Bees or Solitary Bees, these industrious insects are an incredibly practical solution to the pollination problem. Mason Bees do not form hives or make honey, but instead build one nest at a time, filling it with an egg and plenty of pollen or nectar. To give the larva all the food that it needs to develop, Mason Bees need to gather as much pollen as possible.

In their tireless quest to gather as much food as possible for their nests by summer, Mason Bees travel far and wide gathering pollen and nectar from every flower in sight. Their habit for tireless foraging allows 1 Mason Bee to pollinate the same area that it can take up to 100 honey bees to cover! And, even better, the plants Mason Bees forage from enjoy a 99.7% pollination rate! Dr. Bryan Danforth, an Entomology Professor studying Colony Collapse Disorder, claims that native bees (like Mason Bees) are three times better pollinators than honeybees because the Mason Bees are messier, getting pollen all over their bodies as they flop onto a flower and crawl inside to find the nectar, while honey bees are neater, collecting pollen and gathering it carefully on their legs and then going back to the hive. This means that for a honey bee to pollinate, the pollen usually has to go from one bee’s legs to another bee’s body, then back out into the field. Mason bees are much more direct pollinators because they flit from flower to flower, hitting many in a row, and spreading pollen around the whole time.

And because they do not have a central hive to defend, Mason Bees do not swarm and they are much less aggressive than honeybees. Furthermore, they rarely sting–males don’t even have stingers and the female is less venomous than a honeybee! Its sting is comparable to a mosquito bite and it does not cause anaphylactic shock. This is why you can observe Mason Bees without the need for any special Their solitary nature has one more benefit: they are much less susceptible to diseases, especially to the dreaded varroa mite that has been ravaging honeybee populations. Honeybee hives can be a breeding grounds for disease. While Mason Bees have their own pest problems, their solitary nature helps to minimize any losses they experience to disease.

Thanks to their gentle nature, efficient pollination, and immunity to hive collapse, Mason Bees are the best pollinator available for home gardens and orchards.

How to Set Up the Perfect Habitat for Your Bees

In nature, mason bees like to build their nests in any tubular structure they can find, from hollow twigs to reeds to snail shells! Mason bees do not burrow their own tubes, but must find them in the environment—this provides the perfect opportunity to convince mason bees to nest on your land! You can encourage mason bees to nest in your backyard by providing them a house full of inviting tubes. Many people use a block of wood with numerous holes drilled in it, but this is not recommended because it is hard to clean adequately to prevent infestations of mites and diseases. We recommend instead making your nest from Reeds or Tubes, since these can be easily opened to retrieve the larva at the end of the season. These are for one-time use; stackable wood trays are just as easy to open, but can be cleaned and re-used season after season. Place your mason bee house on a wall that gets warmed by sunlight in the morning. Position it under an overhang to keep the rain out, and at about eye level so you can easily observe your fuzzy friends.


Mason bees have several natural predators, including robins, woodpeckers, parasitic wasps, ants, squirrels, crows, and more. These predators gobble up mason bees like sweet treats and particularly love to find a whole nest of larvae! We suggest protecting the nest with a sheet of hardware cloth to keep bigger pests out in the spring and then placing the nesting materials in a finer mesh bag in summer so that the larvae can develop in peace. Once your mason bees and their larvae have gone dormant, you can protect them from weather and predation through fall and winter by retrieving them and storing them in a cool, dark place until spring.

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