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University of Minnesota Extension

Nests for pollinators

Quick facts

  • 15 percent of bee species nest in cavities, such as hollow plant stems or holes in wood. 

  • Any time of year is fine for buying or building and installing a bee house.
  • Fall is a good time to plant seeds for bee lawns and native perennial pollinator gardens.
  • Leave areas of bare ground, leaves on the ground and a few brush piles for ground nesting bees.
Closeup of a bee on a blue flower with many petals and green leaves in a garden

Creating a healthy home for pollinators requires planning and maintenance of your landscape.

Growing plants like coneflowers, milkweed, bee balm and other pollinator-friendly plants in your yard is a great start. 

During the fall, take the next step and create a habitat for Minnesota's native bees that will make your yard pollinator-friendly all year long.

Fall cleanup for pollinators

This video shows simple steps for cleaning up your yard in the fall to leave habitat for pollinators.

As you clean up your fall landscapes, think about pollinators and what you can do to help them through the winter and in the spring.

Fall is also a good time to get seeds out for your bee lawn. Over-seeding or seeding bare spots in the lawn with flowering ground covers like white clover and prunella can add ecological value to your lawn.

But, since the majority of bees are ground nesting, also consider leaving some areas of bare ground.

Bee houses

About 80 percent of bee species nest in the ground. About 5 percent of bee species don't make nests, but take over the nests of others. The other 15 percent nest in cavities, using hollow plant stems or holes in wood.

A nesting bee will use mud, leaves or another material to build walls and divide the tunnel into a series of small, sealed cells. Each cell contains a lump of pollen and an egg, and the complete life cycle usually takes one year.

You can attract cavity-nesting bees by providing tunnels in a homemade bee house—like a bird house for bees.

Consider installing a bee house for native bees to nest in during the winter.

  • Any time of year is fine for buying or building and installing a bee house.
  • If you buy a commercially-available mason bee house:
    • It should be at lease eight inches deep with removable or cleanable tunnels.
    • The bee house should be anchored on a tree, fence, deck or house.
    • Place in a spot where it is exposed to morning sun and afternoon shade.
    • Hang it away from vegetation.
  • You can also make homemade bee houses out of blocks of wood drilled with holes.
    • Clean them out every few years.
    • Take the nest down and leave it down for a year so bees can emerge.
    • Clean the house out the next fall and put it back up.

Artificial nests tend to support more non-native bees and parasites than natural nesting areas. It may be better to create a natural habitat for the bees, rather than a house, unless you are trying to study them.

Photo of mason bee on a flower over a stem nest with labels pointing out the pollen ball, baby bee and nest plug.
Mason bees make nests in hollow stems.

Natural habitats

  • You can make your own natural habitat for stem nesting bees using the hollow stems of dead plants.
    • The stems should be eight inches long.
    • Tuck a bound bunch of dead hollow stems in the crotch of a tree.
    • Stems can also be left in the ground. Cut to five inches or more and leave in the garden for two years.
  • Provide habitat for ground nesting bees by leaving some areas of bare ground, leaving leaves on the ground, and having a brush pile.
  • Create bee nesting habitat
  • Nesting and overwintering habitat

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator and Elaine Evans, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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