If you're looking to add some powerful garden helpers, Leaf Cutter bees are an easy to care for and efficient workforce. Leaf Cutter bees are gentle pollinators, meaning they are not defensive of their nest in the way that honey bees or bumble bees can be. In addition to their gentle nature, they do not create nesting cavities so there is no concern that they will drill holes in your siding or favorite Adirondack chair. Instead, they nest in existing holes or tubes. Many people purchase cardboard tubes to use in small bee houses, such as my favorite bee house made by Bee Built, that also serves as my mason bee house in early spring. I like this style because the roof provides rain protection, plus the cocoons can be placed in the "attic" prior to hatching.
Leaf Cutter bees gather plant materials, often rose leaves and sometimes flower petals to wrap their eggs in. They use their mandibles to cut little round sections that they carry back to their nests. When I see nearly perfectly round holes cut from leaves and flower petals, I know it is from my leaf cutter bees and not a garden pest. Although, most garden pests are tasty treats for the beneficial insects & birds that frequent my gardens so perhaps "pest" isn't the right word.
I get a real kick out of watching Leaf Cutters in my garden. They are tiny, sassy, and very fast. I observe them zipping from flower to flower. I recently planted some sea holly and it has been a real favorite of theirs! They are also visiting my asters, yarrow, black eyed susans, and clovers. Though I don't have a vegetable garden, they are known to be excellent pollinators of vegetable plants.
Leaf Cutter bees are solitary bees, meaning that each female is fertile and lays her own eggs to care for. They do not produce wax, or honey, or live in a "hive" like honeybees do. The life cycle is generally 6 weeks from the time they emerge from their cocoon. It is possible for multiple generations of Leaf Cutters to hatch in one season if the temperatures are favorable. But generally, once they have filled up their tubes or nesting cavities the cocoons will remain intact until the following summer. The tubes/cocoons can be stored in a cool dry location to keep them safe from predators.
You can purchase Leaf Cutter cocoons online, but sometimes local garden centers carry them. The wonderful thing about these bees is that they are so prolific, your stock will grow quickly from one year to the next.
Having a bustling pollinator garden is a great spring and summer highlight! There are few outdoor activities more gratifying than strolling through your garden and marveling at the variety of insects that are enjoying the variety of forage that you have provided. If you plant it, they will come!