Adding Mason Bees to Your Garden? Take a Look at the Leafcutter Instead!
Many savvy gardeners have used the mason bee to pollinate their plants and flowers, but the lesser-known leafcutter bee (or megachile rotundata) is even easier to raise and is just as productive.
How do you decide what is best for your garden?
First, let’s compare the similarities of these two pollinators. Both the leafcutter and the mason possess the following characteristics:
- They are solitary bees, which means they are not a part of a colony.
- They are non-aggressive! Since solitary bees do not have to defend a colony, they are safe to be around without fear of getting stung. You might even say they are friendly, making them fun to watch and raise.
- Both use nesting tubes to lay their eggs in, but only one is self-sufficient.
What to look and listen for.
One of the best ways to quickly tell them apart is the sound they make. Mason bees are often confused with a housefly due to their size and blue tint, but if you listen closely you will hear a housefly will hum and the mason bee buzzes.
Leafcutters are a lighter beige in color, quite small and narrow, and their fuzzy bellies are easy to see as they quietly waft around you. If you watch a leafcutter long enough, you’re likely to catch its little rear end bobbing up and down (insert your own playlist!).
Mud vs…. less work!
One of the biggest differences is the amount of effort you’ll have to put in. Mason bees make their homes in wet mud, hence the name Mason, and not just any mud will do. These bees are a little picky.
Too much sand? “No thanks”.
Too wet? “Pass”.
Not enough moisture? “How am I supposed to work with this?”.
You can almost hear them. Creating and maintaining the perfect mud mix will become your job if you decide to make the mason bee your pollinator of choice. Once the mason finds the mud, they start packing their nesting tubes with it and lay their eggs in the clay inside. Once done, they seal the chamber off with this same mud to protect the eggs from being eaten by predators.
Leafcutters are more self-sufficient. They create the same type of home environment for their babies, but they don’t need any help from you. These bees line their tubes with half-moon-shaped leaves they cut from nearby trees and bushes, then pack them in with their saliva. No mud mixes, no extra materials!
Spring vs Summer Bees.
The mason bees are known for heralding in the spring weather, emerging to be super pollinators of apple, pear, almond, cherry, blueberry and strawberry plants. They also love almond trees. They also like to go further away and higher up than the leafcutter.
Leafcutters, on the other hand, come out of their cocoons in the warmer summer months and are known to be super pollinators of squash, melons, peas and other summer fruits and vegetables. These bees tend to prefer lower-lying plants and flowers, and if you have roses then leafcutters are the pollinators you want buzzing around.
Many farmers have weighed in and claim the leafcutters are great for pollinating summer vegetables with a lot less work. The leafcutters are ideal for gardeners from novice to expert, and small organic or community farms because they have a short flying range. That is also another asset of leafcutter bees – because they pollinate by using their fuzzy bellies – which are dry and not sticky – they can spread more pollen around and are often referred to as super pollinators.