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This bee hotel can be harmful to future generations of beesAn example of a manageable, healthy bee hotel

Healthy Bee Hotels

Learn how to care for your guests and how to make your bee hotel great!

It’s no secret that bees are threatened, and to help them an increasing number of people are building bee hotels. Bee hotels, which can range from simple drilled blocks of wood to large structures, give native bees much-needed nesting materials and space. As experts with decades of experience raising these kinds of bees, we’d like to help you with the design and management of bee hotels.

Bees are not just staying here on a stop-over

Many native bees do not migrate or travel great distances, so they don’t rest at a hotel before moving on, they move in. Solitary hole-nesting bees are living their entire lives at their hole-nesting site. While some bees are only actively flying for about six weeks, the bees spend many more months hibernating in their hotels. Bee hotels are actually bee homes!

Bees need a good location

Unlike honey bees, native bees don’t like to travel far from their nest to forage. The flying range of mason and leafcutter bees is only about 300ft, or 100m, which is about 6 acres of surrounding area. Bees need water, a variety of blooming flowers, and nest-building material. Native hole-nesting bees use different natural materials for building their protective cocoons or nest walls. Examples are tree resin, flower and leaf fuzz, pebbles, mud, pollen, leaves, and sometimes a combination of more than one. 

Design tips for bee health

The goals of bee hotels are to provide nesting habitat, create awareness, and mitigate the extinction of our native bees.

  • Lots of flowers. Each bee needs about 1 square yard or meter of densely-packed flowers per day. Does your area have flowering trees and bushes or is it a meadow of wildflowers? 
  • Local materials are best. Avoid exotic materials like bamboo, which our native bees have not evolved to nest within. Please see our Pests, Chemicals, & Drilled Wood section to learn why we don’t recommend bamboo.
  • Location, location. Bee hotels should be placed in a spot that receives morning sun and is not too hot in the afternoon. Hotels placed in the shade tend to attract beneficial wasps instead of bees. These wasps are great insect predators but they might not be the goal of your bee hotel.
  • Management is key. Managing bee hotels is an easy task and it is the best way to reduce the spread of pests and disease. The best way to maintain a bee hotel is to harvest the cocoons in the spring and separate the pests from the guests each year.
  • To manage bees, harvest their cocoons. The only way that you can harvest cocoons is to design your hotel with nesting materials that can be opened. There is no easy way to open a drilled block of wood but you can insert paper liners before the bees start nesting. Provide nesting tubes like natural lake reeds and avoid plastic straws. Bees feel and are safer in nesting tubes that are closed on the back end.
  • Protect against birds. If needed, choose bird wire with at least 1" openings and bubble the bird wire so that it is at least 2-3" away from nesting holes. Do not install the bird wire flush against the nesting materials because this keeps bees from being able to get in, too.
  • Give mason bee cocoons a try. You can reintroduce native mason bees to your yard's bee hotel by simply purchasing our cocoons. Raising mason bees can help you learn how to take care of your hotel's other wild guests, too!

Harvest cocoons to ensure bee health

Harvesting bee cocoons is the best way to ensure the health of your hotel’s guests. As you open nesting material you are able to separate and remove infected nesting chambers and pests. Our reusable wooden nesting trays can be cleaned with a stiff hard wire brush or a mild bleach solution when needed. Look at our Harvest Cocoons | Step by Step page for more details.

Our natural lake reeds are cut at the node to provide a sealed back wall that helps the bees feel safe. They are also easy to open, simply pinch at the open end and they will start to split. Lake reeds are preferred by bees and they offer the best protection against parasitic wasps. Our Pollinator Pack has lake reeds and cardboard tubes in a variety of sizes.  

What to avoid

Many DIY bee hotel instructions mean well but their designs lack the forethought that comes from knowing what can harm bees. Bee hotels should aim to mimic natural nesting sites and this can be a hard task to undertake. Bee hotels must be maintained in order to keep diseases and parasites from easily moving from one nesting hole to the next. Below are common design mistakes and how to avoid them. 

  • Structures that are too large. A large hotel may look impressive but its size may actually hinder its purpose. In the wild, nesting sites are spread out among dead branches, standing dead trees, and broken bush stems. Smaller hotels spread out along a path can work better.
  • Materials permanently installed in place. Nesting materials should not be glued, nailed, or stapled within the protective bee house. Nesting materials should be easy to remove at the end of the season and refreshed as needed.
  • Bird wire flush with nesting holes. Attaching bird wire flat against the front of the nesting holes doesn't give the bees the space they need to approach and land. Bees would appreciate us taking the time to design a bee hotel with a landing area.
  • Not enough wind and rain protection. The bee hotel will protect nesting materials from wind and rain if it has 2-3 inches of overhang.
  • Unnatural nesting materials. Plastic does not allow the pollen and nectar loaf to breathe. Plastic pipes are typically much too large for hole-nesting bees.
  • Huge nesting holes. Nesting holes should range in size from 3mm to 11mm (0.43 inches) at most. Anything larger than 11mm will force the bee to lay its egg chambers in an awkward orientation.
  • Shallow nesting materials. Nesting materials that are too short can force female bees to lay the wrong ratio of female to male bees. Our nesting materials are the right length.

What to know even more?

Get to know the bees and wasps that may be in your hotel by participating in our Native Bee Network. Learn about the characteristics of native hole-nesting bees in our Spring Bees vs Summer Bees page. Understand what can harm your bees by reading our Pests, Chemicals & Drilled Wood page. And we would love for you to Help Build Bee Education!