How to get rid of ground bees (and prevent their return)

getting rid of ground bee by spraying water

Some ground-dwelling bees can sting you, so most people want to learn how to get rid of ground bees as soon as they see a few ground bees in their yard or around their property. In this article, we’ll show you how to identify what type of ground bees you’re dealing with, how to prevent and discourage them from your lawn, and how to remove them and keep them from returning.

Ground dwelling leafcutter bee pollinating a milk thistle flower
Ground dwelling leafcutter bee pollinating a milk thistle flower

Type of bees (and wasps) that live in the ground

There are several types of bees that live in the ground but there are some wasps that live in the ground too. Make sure you accurately identify what type of bee (or wasp) you’re seeing emerging from your lawn because they require different approaches. For example, many people confuse yellow jackets for ground bees but getting rid of yellow jackets requires a different approach. Most ground bees you can encourage to leave on their own because they’re not nearly as aggressive as colony bees and wasps.

Video showing ground bee behavior

Ground-nesting bees

Most ground-burrowing bees are solitary and quite harmless. Solitary ground bees can look similar to some ground-burrowing wasps. In particular, gound bees can look quite similar to yellow jackets. The key difference is that ground bees don’t eat other bugs like ground wasps do. Instead, gound bees are polinators

Video showing digger bees
  • Digger bees: generally solitary bees, meaning they don’t form colonies
  • Leafcutter bees: generally solitary bees, meaning they don’t form colonies
  • Mason bees: generally solitary bees, meaning they don’t form colonies
  • Sweat bees: generally solitary bees, meaning they don’t form colonies
  • Bumble bees: not solitary and sometimes establish their colonies inside abandoned rodent holes
Video showing a bumblebee ground nest removal

Ground-nesting wasps

There are around 1400 different wasp species that burrow in the ground but they’re often grouped into three main categories. Using these three categories is sufficient for determining whether you have ground burrowing bees or wasps in your yard.

Video showing the differences between yellow jackets, ‘ground bees’, and ground-nesting bees.
  • Yellow jackets (genus Vespula): These smaller, colony wasps that can be quite aggressive. Yellow jackets find an abandoned hole in the ground where a queen Yellow Jacket will nest in the ground with dozens to thousands of her worker wasps.
  • Cicada Killers (genus Sphecius): These seemingly giant wasps (around 2 inches long) are solitary wasps and mostly use their stinger to paralyze their prey (cicadas). Female cicada killers will occasionally sting people in self-defense, but this is a fairly rare occurence.
  • Sphex Wasps (Genus Sphex): These are also nonagressive, solitary wasps. Females rarely sting people (only in self defense), using their stinger instead to capture prey (other insects) for their young. Sphex wasps can be as long as Cicada killers (around 2 inches) but are much thiner.
Video showing a great golden digger wasp (a type of sphex wasp).

Sings of ground bees

Most people notice ground bees around their property simply by observing them flying around or entering and exiting one of their holes. Their holes often have a small amount of dirt stacked around a centered hole. The small dirt mound is from the bees’ excavation process.

What attracts ground bees?

Ground bees are attracted to ground that is sparsely covered with vegetation and that has well drained soil. So yards that have open dirt patches where the grass isn’t growing or garden beds or landscaping portions with exposed dirt can be attractive to ground bees.

Because they tend to like drier soil, you’ll often find ground bees in parts of your lawn that are most exposed to the sun.

Ground-burrowing red mason bee crawling up side of house
Ground-burrowing red mason bee crawling up side of house

How long will ground bees stay in my yard?

Ground bees are normally very active in your yard for 1 to two weeks (their mating season) and tend to stay in your yard for 4 to 6 weeks. Normally the ground bees you see flying around are male ground bees (which can’t sting) looking for females.

Green, ground-nesting sweat bee pollinating milkweed flowers
Green, ground-nesting sweat bee pollinating milkweed flowers

What do ground bees eat

Ground bees are pollinators so, like honey bees, they’re attracted to various plants, particularly flowering plants. Since they’re polinators, they play an important role in ecosystems. In fact, some types of ground bees are natural polinators of blueberry plants and apple trees. If ground bees aren’t bothering you, it’s best to leave them alone.

How to prevent ground-nesting bees

To prevent ground-nesting bees from taking up residence in your lawn or around your yard, minimize open patches of soil. If you fertilize, seed, and water your lawn properly, you will reduce the bare patches of soil that ground bees like. If you have landscaping or a garden that has exposed ground, ground bees will dig their tunnels there too. So, you can mulch those areas to deter ground-burrowing bees from your property.

What eats ground bees (Ground bee predators)

Some birds will eat ground bees. So some will centipedes, dragonflies, hornets, and robber flies. Some larger mammals will eat ground bees too. Skunks and bears, for example, will dig up bees for protein It is more likely that such mammals target colony ground bees like bumble bees because exerting the effort to find solitary ground bees (which is the majority of ground dwelling bees) would be inefficient.

Ground bee removal

Since most ground bees are solitary (meaning they don’t form colonies), removing ground bees from your entire yard would require treating each burrow. There can be many, many bee burrows in a single yard, so before attempting extermination, it is best to simply discourage ground bees by planting grass seed in your bare patches of lawn and keeping your yard relatively well-watered.

Video explaining why ground nesting bees should normally be left alone

Natural ground-nesting bee extermination

The following are some natural ground-nesting bee removal methods you can try. These should only be applied to solitary ground-nesting bees species. Please do not use the methods on ground dwelling bumble bees. Since bumble bees live in colonies, their apt to respond aggressively to attempt to remove their nests, so you need to be careful.

  • Diatomaceous earth: Blowing the dust inside the ground bee holes should exterminate them. This method, however, requires applying Diatomaceous earth in each bee hole, which could be difficult or downright impractical depending on how many bees are on your lawn. It might work, however, if you’re only trying to exterminate ground bees in a specific area—perhaps around you’re children’s swingset.
  • Use water: You can try just spraying down their nesting areas with water. Or if you have a sprinkler, let it run near their nesting areas. Ground bees prefer dry dirt, so the moist soil will likely send some of them packing. As an added benefit, it might also help fill in the bare patches of your yard with grass, further preventing ground nesting bees from returning to that area. The water route may take repeat waterings to work.

Removing ground bees with gas

Pouring gas straight into a ground bee’s hole will kill any bees in the hole at that time, however, pouring gasoline into the violates environmental laws or regulations in quite a few areas. So check if using gasoline in this manner is legal where you live.

Removing ground bees with soap

Pouring soapy water on ground-dwelling bees will kill them. It essentially suffocates them because bees breathe through small holes on the sides of their bodies. Soapy water will also exterminate many other insects so keep that in mind if you decide to use soapy water.

Exterminating ground bees with wasp or hornet spray

Spraying wasp or hornet spray down an active ground bee tunnel will kill them but it is not recommended because ground bees will return the next year if the soil condition remain attractive to them.

Video showing several ground-nesting bees and their burrows

Frequently Asked Questions about getting rid of ground bees

Below are some of the common questions we receive about how to deal with ground nesting bees. Let us know if you have additional questions in the comments below this article.

How can I relocate ground bees without killing them?

You can’t most ground bees in the same manner that you can relocate a honey bee hive because most ground bees live alone. A single female bee lays eggs and gathers food for her brood within a single burrow. Because most ground bees are solitary, the best way to relocate them is to discourage them from nesting in your yard or property by reducing bare batches of ground through adequately seeding, watering, and fertilizing your yard.

Does dish soap kill ground bees?

Soap and soapy water can kill ground bees (and other insects). Bees breathe through holes in the sides of their bodies bodies called spiracles. Bees spiracles are involved in processing carbon dioxide and oxygen, sort of like our lungs. Soapy water enters these spiracles and essentially suffocates ground bees.

Do ground-nesting bees make hives?

Most types of ground-nesting bees are solitary, meaning they don’t make hives. After mating, a lone female ground bee will dig out her own tunnel, or find an abaonded hole, and lay her eggs and gather food for her brood in a single tunnel.

Video showing what a bumble bee nest looks like

Bumble bees are (sometimes) ground dwelling bee makes hives. Since bumble bees make hives, they tend to be more aggressive than solitary bees. Because of their aggression, bumble bee removal is more risky than solitary bee removal and should usually be left to professionals. An experienced bee expert can even relocate a bumble bee colony so that they can hopefully reestablish elsewhere.

Does mulch prevent ground bees from nesting in my yard?

Placing mulch over exposed ground can prevent ground bees from nesting on in that bare soil. Typically, people cover bare earth in their landscaping areas or garden to prevent ground bees from nesting in those areas. Ground bees prefer bare patches of your yard, so covering them makes your yard less appealing to ground bees. You can also ensure your yard is adequately fertilized, watered, and seeded. This will increase the density of your grass, leaving less attractive areas for groun-dwelling bees in your yard.

Summary

Hopefully you now have a good grasp on how to get rid of ground bees. First, identify what type of ground bee you’re dealing with then try to figure out what might be attracting them. If there’s nothing you can do to encourage ground burrowing bees to leave on their own, then you’ll have to employ one of the removal strategies we discussed. Good luck and let us know in the comments if you know of other ground bee removal methods or tips.

Published
Categorized as Bees

By David Jackson

I enjoy learning about new pest control strategies and sharing what I learn at NeverPest.com. I aim to create a reliable resource for people dealing with all sorts of pest issues.

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