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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Honeybees and pollinators, Beneficial insects

I am taking a large, overgrown fern out of our backyard, to make room for more lawn (we are doing the opposite in other parts of our outdoor space). While I was cutting off the fronds, to get to the root, bees started to hang out near the cuttings. There seems to be a bumblebee nest at the base of our fern. I know that honeybees have been dying. Should I leave the bees' nest? They are not aggressive, but I would like to take out the plant. Is there some way to move the nest?


Bumblebees are bees native to North America, and they are above all important pollinators, so if you can leave them, that would be ideal. Fortunately, bumble bees nest for only one year, so if you don't mind waiting until fall to remove your plant that might be the best solution for you and them. This information, and more, is in Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). Like honeybees, bumblebees are currently experiencing a decline, so it's a good time to protect them. The Xerces Society has useful information on this and other bee-related topics.

Bees choose their nests in the spring, when a queen bumblebee comes out from hibernation. They often choose an old rodent or bird's nest, or something else with lots of good insulation, and establish a colony. Find more about the life cycle of bumblebees here. In fact, you can encourage bumblebees to nest in spring by building them a nesting site! The Xerces Society describes nest plans, if you would like to encourage bumblebees elsewhere.

If you do decide you need to move the plant before fall, you might be able to get information on moving the next by contacting the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association or a Seattle-area stinging-insect enthusiast, Jerry the Bee Guy. Another local stinging insect removal expert is Dan the Bee Man.

Date 2018-08-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Alyssum, Aphids, Apples--Diseases and pests, Beneficial insects

Is there something I can do to prevent my apple trees from getting woolly aphids? I'd rather not have to spray anything.


Encouraging beneficial insects is one step you can take. A 2013 study at Washington State University found that planting Alyssum flowers attracted syrphids which did a good job of reducing woolly aphid populations. Here are highlights of the paper that was published based on the study's findings:

  • Sweet alyssum flowers had the highest attractiveness to syrphids.
  • Faster suppression of woolly apple aphid occurred on trees closer to alyssum flowers.
  • Higher densities of natural enemies were observed near sweet alyssum plantings.
  • Natural enemies were found to move between sweet alyssum and adjacent apple trees.

As Washington State University's HortSense website (search under "tree fruit," "apple," then "aphids") indicates, encouraging beneficial insects is a good practice for the control of all 3 main types of aphids affecting apples, be they woolly, rosy, or green:

  • Control honeydew-feeding ants, which may protect aphid colonies from predators.
  • Encourage natural predators including ladybird beetles, lacewings, syrphid (hover) fly larvae, and parasitic wasps. Avoid use of broad-spectrum insecticides which kill these beneficial insects.
  • Hand-wipe or prune to control small, localized infestations (when practical).
  • Provide proper nutrition. High levels of nitrogen encourage aphid reproduction. Switch to a slow-release or low-nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Wash aphids from tree with a strong stream of water before leaves curl.

Date 2018-07-19
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Integrated pest management, Beneficial insects

Yellowjackets are at their most aggressive in late summer so it is understandable that people want to destroy their nests. Before you pull out the can of pesticide, remember that wasps are considered beneficial insects that eat plant-eating bugs, and will only inhabit their nest for one season. This article from University of Minnesota Extension gives good advice on how to deal with these insects.

Date: 2007-03-26
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