Leave Flower Stems for Bees and Small, Solitary Wasps


~ Tips for Attracting Pollinators & Wildlife ~

 

Stems with hollow or soft, pithy centers like this cup plant stem are Mother Nature’s original version of a bee hotel with removable tubes. Photo credit: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0

Fall is a time when many people “put their gardens to bed” by cutting back their dead flowers and cleaning up their gardens before winter. However, if attracting pollinators to your garden is one of your goals, then you might want to rethink cutting old flower stems to the ground.

Some of our small, solitary, native bees and wasps build nesting cavities in old flower and plant stems. As you are doing your fall clean-up, leave 1 – 2 feet of stem standing, especially on plants where the stem is hollow or has a soft, pithy center.

You can provide nesting habitat for our stem-nesting bees and wasps by not cutting old flower stems to the ground when you do your fall garden clean-up. Photo credit: Diane Wilson, CC BY-ND-NC 1.0

Many of the small bees and wasps that use flower stems can’t chew through the tough outside layers of the stem. Instead, they rely on a break in the stem or a hole that was chewed in the stem by another insect. By cutting the stems back to 1 or 2 feet tall, you are exposing the hollow or pithy center and are providing nesting sites for stem-nesting bees and wasps to use when they emerge next year. Because next year’s wasps will be laying eggs in this year’s stems, you need to leave the stems for 2 years so that next year’s eggs have time to hatch, mature, and emerge as adults the following spring.

By leaving the stems in your garden, you are providing Mother Nature’s original version of a bee hotel with removable tubes. And next spring as your garden plants grow, they will hide the old stems while providing a safe, nesting location for our stem-nesting pollinators.

 

 



Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.

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