Making Carpenter Bee Houses [DIY Project]

Making Carpenter Bee Houses [DIY Project]

As I mentioned in my previous post about bees, I am upset about finding dead bees, Valley Carpenter Bees to be specific.  It appears other folks might want them dead and gone or at least off of their property. I hope to offer them sanctuary and welcome them at Hanbury House.  Valley Carpenter Bees are solitary, docile, hardworking, native bees, that spend many hours a day pollinating fruits and vegetables.Because I want to keep the bees around the garden, I decided the the best way to do it was for the kids and I spend an afternoon on a homemade DIY project of making carpenter bee houses out of leftover wood we had lying around.

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What kind of bee is inch in size
Citrus tree with a Female Valley Carpenter Bee on the blossoms

Design of Bee House

Although European Honey Bees like community hives, our Bee houses are a series of holes for the carpenter bees to hopefully discover, improve, and make into a nest.  I have seen some commercially made bee houses for sale at Amazon and in gardening catalogs. They don’t look too complicated to make, but most of them are designed for smaller mason bees, like the ones I photographed while visiting Catalina in March.

I love learning about insects and try to provide a habitat for a variety of beneficial ones. Over the years I have learned a lot about insects that are found in California. One of my favorite bug books is Insects of the Los Angeles Basin,* by Charles L. Hogue. It was out of print for a long time, but there is a new edition. I have a hard copy from the 1990s on my shelf. df

Valley Carpenter Bees,  Xylocopa varipuncta, are rather large in comparison to many of the other carpenter bee species, a little over an inch in length.  They are the largest bee found in California and are one of the largest bees in America.  I was unable to find information on how wide of a hole we needed for the Valley Carpenter Bees.  Most of the holes on other sites were for the smaller species of wood-dwelling bees.  Therefore, we made them slightly larger and of 3 different sizes, ranging from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch.  The bees are bound to find one of the sizes to their liking.

black and yellow bee in Southern California
A smaller native bee on Echimum on Catalina Island last Spring. This one is about a half inch in size.

Making the Carpenter Bee Houses

We had plenty of scrap lumber around, left from our facelift to the back bathroom and laundry room makeover.  I chopped up a partial redwood 4 x 4 into six pieces, mitered the top half of each section, cut little roof pieces from another scrap piece of plywood at 45-degree angles, and then we all had fun playing with a drill.  Most of the Bee House you can buy online * have holes that are very symmetrical in neat little rows, but all the holes I have seen made by carpenter bees, certainly aren’t that way in their design, very random. From the research I read, into the type of damage that carpenter bees do, they like to dig out a hole and then it changes direction. Some of the ready made bee houses don’t allow for that. We only drilled part way into the wood, enough so that if the bees liked it, they could dig into the wood a more.

On a side note, on Tuesday afternoon, while I was out supervising the baby chicks wandering around the yard, I was happy to notice a female carpenter bee in the yard, with no signs of illness.  I guess I better hurry up and find a nice spot to hang our new bee houses.  The patio table is not a good spot for them.

family project of DIY bee houses
The whole family pitched in to help make the bee houses
native bee houses project
My daughter B, drilling holes in blocks of wood that was left over from another project.
How to make carpenter bee houses for native bees
final assembly of bee houses

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24 thoughts on “Making Carpenter Bee Houses [DIY Project]

  1. if the bees don’t use houses it won’t help. I wish someone had success with bees using the houses. I read spray wood with essential citrus oils but would have to do every year. I don’t want to kill them either. Right now there are at least one hundred of them buzzing around and making holes in my roof joists and eves. Worries me a lot. I am staining the wood but many say it doesn’t help

  2. I found that putting up a plank of unfinished wood facing east next to where the bees were hanging out last year attracted a couple of bees and one nested for sure. Then earlier this year an adult bee fell out and appeared to be a brand new bee that had been developing in the nest. It eventually gathered its senses and slowly flew off. So exciting!

  3. Any updates on the success of this project? We have carpenter bees that make their homes in our eaves and l’d like to offer them alternatives. Our eaves were varnished when we moved in 20+ years ago, but they have been boring through for several years now. We painted this year with the idea that would keep them out, but it hasn’t deterred them. I’d love to save our eaves and give them a home.

    1. Hi Pauline, Unfortunately we have not noticed any residents in the bee houses, including two we purchased. Just this year we have tried placing them in other areas of the garden, after noticing a valley carpenter bee liked an old woodpecker nest up high, that faced North. Our bee houses had been mounted East facing and at about 4-6 ft high, and not near other wood.

      1. Thank you for the update, although I’m sorry to hear it. Sounds like this situation is harder than it looked. I’m planning to try putting up some cedar blocks on my eaves in hopes that they will nest there instead of in the painted eaves. I’ll let you know if it works.

  4. Hi Lianne, Did you had any luck with bees using the houses? Also, do you know what type of wood you used?

  5. Lianne, great article on carpenter bees that focuses on co-habitation. We’re experimenting with houses for these bees this season and will share our results.

    A local county extension agent recently recommemded a ping pong paddle to an audience of 150. We all want to protect our homes but not all of us want a destructive solution that can further impact our new population. Like others here, we’re working on a better, more holistic solution.

    One add’l thought: the Nandina bushes in the video are invasive in the wild in Georgia. I encourage like-minded ecologists to not promote this non-native species which is also known to be highly toxic to birds. 200+ Cedar waxwings died last year as a result of this plant. If gardeners can’t remove them or want to keep a few, at least clip the berries off to protect our birds which are 80% in decline. Many birds feed socially which was the case of the Cedar waxwings.
    #GoNative @GNPSociety

    1. Thank you for the information on Nandina. It isn’t on California’s invasive species list so I didn’t realize it was a problem elsewhere.

  6. Observations.
    Carpenter bees I’ve seen tend to prefer wide horizontal wood faces with a wide open sunny area immediately in front of the hole and I have seen most of them above 7 feet where there is any fair amount of human traffic. I am basing this on where I have seen multiple nest holes in a single area. I wonder also if they like for the wood to warm in the sun and keep their babies warm at night

    1. Brendan, that’s an interesting and helpful observation. We’re going to experiment with the houses in this article around our cedar-shingled house now that they are out. The sunny areas are definitely where these bees congregate. We’ll post our results here. Hoping everyone else will do the same. I wish there was an organic attractant we could add to encourgage settling into the houses. We have pileated woodpeckers which increase the hole size by 10x once they discover the larvae.

  7. Dear Lianne,
    I noticed two carpenter bees hanging around my mom’s porch. I caught one in a net to look at before letting it go. It returned soon after its release. I was hoping to distract them from the house to another location. I was looking for ideas and came across your site. I would love them to stay around but not on my mom’s house. Wondering if I drilled holes in a maple tree they would work? Has anyone had any success with houses?

  8. I’ve just want to say Thank you! I have been searching for a while now on a positive and cruelty free way to get the carpenter bees in my porch to move somewhere else. I am going to try to build some bee houses myself this year and see if it helps. Thanks again.

  9. I’ve read the size to make the hole is 1/4″. Drill the hole only 1 or 2 inches and let the Carpenter bee continue the excavation work, because they will go in and bore another tunnel at a 90 degree angle.I’m hoping this will work, as I have just drilled a dozen or more holes in an old log and set it near the area where the carpenter bees are gathered on my house siding.

  10. I, too, am glad to see a positive site about carpenter bees. We have a lot out under the eaves beside our garage but a woodpecker found them recently and I can see that some of them are looking for a home. (They keep trying to go into other tunnels and get chased out by the resident bee there.)
    There are also some black and white wasps that have taken over one or two of the tunnels. I was hoping to build something that might help out the newly homeless bees as I was thinking that it might be too late in the season for them to build another nest.
    I’m not sure if I can help though, as I haven’t found anywhere online that says they’ve successfully had these bees nest where they’ve made a house for them.

      1. I haven’t found any natural holes at my house. A neighbor, at the end of the street, had a wooden mail box 4×4 post with holes about between 3/5″-1/2″ that she thinks were made by a carpenter bee.

  11. You can’t imagine how long I have been searching for a positive site about carpenter bees! Thank you! Have you had success attracting carpenter bees to your bee houses?

    1. Hi Alison,

      No bees settled into the bee houses so far, but it could be we put them out too late. Or it could be where we mounted them. I might move them to see if another area is more attractive. Maybe this year they will decide to use them. However, I have been seeing a lot of carpenter bees so far this spring around the yard when I am outside, approx. two or three females a day. I have seen a male twice in the last month. I am happy to report, I haven’t found any dead valley carpenter bees this year.


      1. An update this Spring on bees:

        Although no bees have settled into the bee house still, I have seen a greater abundance of carpenter bees this Spring than normal. At any given time there is at least one or two females buzzing around the yard, and sometimes more. And every afternoon, a male Valley Carpenter Bee stacks out his territory near the veggie garden.

        I have also seen a lot of other bees and wasps around, especially Scoliid Wasps, Campsomeris tolteca, around the yard. Scoliid wasps look like a really long honey bee, about the size a queen or an inch or so long.

  12. Those bee houses are also attractive. I have seen the carpenter bees in my yard but they seem healthy. No dead ones about. When the orange trees are in bloom we do see dead bees in the yard but I think that is just from the sheer numbers that come for the orange blossoms.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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