Leafcutter bees

by Pippa Greenwood

I always get a real thrill when I find the telltale marks of the leafcutter bee on the leaves of my roses and wisteria.

Wildlife - holes cut in rose leaf by leafcutter beeI always get a real thrill when I find the telltale marks of the leafcutter bee on the leaves of my roses and wisteria. Sometimes I catch them in action, cutting out a circle of leaf, or flying around carrying it. It doesn't bother me to find plants full of holes - leafcutter bees are delightful creatures and I'm more than happy to share my garden with them.

This summer I saw no evidence of leafcutter bee activity on the leaves of my plants, but witnessed something much more exciting. When emptying out containers ready to refill with fresh compost for autumn and winter pot displays, one of my children exclaimed "look what I've found ... one of those leaf bee things!" Sure enough, there in amongst the compost were several beautiful cylinders, each one carefully constructed from one cut-out circle of foliage. Inside will have been eggs laid by the leafcutter bee, along with a store of nectar and pollen for the emerging grubs to feed on (we didn't dare look in case we disturbed them).

We carefully placed the leafy cylinders back in some similar compost and covered them up. We’re hoping our digging around them didn't damage the eggs or grubs, and that in 2009 we'll all be able to see them hatch. Hopefully I'll find some circular holes in the foliage of my roses and wisteria. Some people despise leafcutter bees, claiming the circular holes cause their plants damage. I think they're magic, and can't wait to see more of them!

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/10/2008 at 19:46

I was so pleased to see your blog, have obviously had leafcutter bees, but I didnt know!

Gardeners' World Web User 24/10/2008 at 19:50

I too love seeing leaf cutter and other solitary bees, though I have only seen one female and no cut leaves in my garden in Northumberland this year. I presume that their poor showing was because of the wet weather. Last summer I saw at least a couple of females on many occaions between early June and the middle of August. They nested in bundles of hollow stems that I placed tightly inside open-ended plastic juice bottles hung beside the house walls - dry and warm on the bricks. Hopefully they will return next summer!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/10/2008 at 00:54

Leaf cutter bees. I bought a bee box last year and set it up near a rose bush. They certainly used it and all the little holes were soon filled up with little swirls of rolled up leaf. The rose looked very pretty with its lacy leaves and didn't suffer.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/10/2008 at 20:45

I agree with you Pippa, I think leaf cutter bees are marvellous! I have a bee box and was thrilled a few years ago when leafcutters used it for their larvae. All solitary bees are welcome here and I have several bee boxes around the garden. Bee boxes can be bought or are very easy to make from eight inch lengths of hollow bamboo or similar material held together with string and tied in a sunny spot in your garden. Other ways you can help the solitary bees in your garden is by providing nectar rich flowers and, in the case of the wool carder bee, hairy plants such as stachys and lychnis. They will reward you with hours of enjoyment as you watch them in return. :)

Gardeners' World Web User 27/10/2008 at 09:41

This Spring my husband made an insect retreat by packing an old American Postbox with pieces of garden cane and egg cartons. We were delighted when less than a week later, leaf cutter bees were packing the canes with their offspring. There were several holes in nearby foliage and we watched as they were made into mini-doors to make the contents cosy. Will be watching carefully in the Spring and hope to see some bees emerge.

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