What’s the buzz about bees

What do you really know about bees?

Learn about the top four misconceptions about all bees.

Mason bee, Osmia calla, found in Yosemite National Park in California. Photo by USGS Bee Inventory, Flickr.com.

What do you think of when someone is talking about a bee? Do you think of their tasty product, honey? Do you think of them pollinating your flowers in the summer? Many facts that you know about bees might actually be misconceptions. There are over 20,000 species of bees known today and there is a vast diversity of size, appearance, lifecycle and nesting habits among them. Of those, a quarter of them (approximately 5,000) are native to North America. Now, let’s review the top four misconceptions about bees.

1. All bees make honey.

Actually, less than 4 percent of all bees (less than 800 species) actually make honey. The most well-known bee—the honey bee, Apis mellifera—does make beeswax and honey. This bee species is used commercially to pollinate many commercial agricultural crops and is also reared for honey in the beekeeping industry. The honey bee is not representative of the diversity of bee species as a whole. Therefore, the remaining 19,000-plus species make no honey at all.

2. All bees live in colonies and nest in hives.

Less than 8 percent of all bees are considered to be “social” and live with other individuals of their species. Many are solitary (live alone) and do not live in hives. In addition, the vast majority of bees actually nest in the ground. In North America, approximately 30 percent, or about 1,500 species of bees are tunnel-nesting. These bee species nest in cavities aboveground, such as in plant stems or beetle holes in wood. The three main kinds of tunnel-nesting bees in North America are mason bees (Osmia spp.), masked bees (Hylaeus spp.) and most leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.). Even fewer bees live in hives. In fact, less than 3 percent of the world’s bees live in hives.

To learn more about tunnel-nesting bees and how to create habitat for these species, check out “Building and Managing Bee Hotels for Wild Bees” by Michigan State University Extension.

3. All bees work hard pollinating flowers.

While bees might be most visible to us while they are hard at work pollinating flowers, there is an entire group of bees that do not work hard. The cuckoo bees are parasitic bees that lay eggs in other bee’s nests. While cuckoo bees still gather nectar for their day-to-day activities, they do not need to gather food for their young. Instead, they focus on finding other bees’ nests to parasitize. The female cuckoo bee might even eat the egg of the host bee species. More than 18 percent of bee species are cuckoo bees.

4. All bees sting.

Yes, some bees do sting. However, there are many species that have evolved to not have the stingers. Within the species that do have stingers, only female bees can sting.

Additional facts and resources

In addition to these top four common misconceptions about all bees, many bees are actually confused with wasps and hornets. Wasps and hornets are relatives of bees, but are more aggressive and may pose greater threats to humans.

So, what is the take-home message? The poster child for bees— the honey bee—possesses many characteristics that are unusual when compared with other bees. Honey bees do produce honey, are social, live in hives and can sting. There is an incredible diversity of bees around the world and most of which are nothing like the honey bee, but are just as important!

To learn more about bee diversity, check out resources such as “Bees of the World” by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw. To learn more about bee biology and common misconceptions about bees, check out “Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them” by Laurence Packer. Also, check out “Bees: An up-close look at pollinators around the World” by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer.

For a resource on bees developed by MSU Extension, check out “Bees of the Great Lakes Region and Wildflowers to Support Them” and “Protecting and enhancing pollinators in urban landscapes for the U.S. North Central Region.”

Thank you to Dr. Laurence Packer, professor of biology at York University, for his keynote, “Bees: Importance and Diversity,” discussing these topics at the Second National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference hosted by MSUExtension and North Carolina State University in October of 2017. Thank you to Dr. Packer for his review of this article. 

Pruning Hydrangeas

From our friends at Espoma, here is a great guide to pruning hydrangeas. Of  course, we are always available at the garden center to answer any questions.


Caring for your hydrangea can make all the difference for next year’s blooms. Hydrangea’s are strong and can come back from almost anything when given enough time and proper care.

Just follow these fall tips for pruning and maintenance. It isn’t complicated.


It is important to identify your variety first because some hydrangea varieties do not like being pruned in the fall.

If your garden has hydrangeas, then you need to know that there are two types of hydrangeas. One type produces flower buds on old wood and the other produces flower buds on new wood. Stems are called old wood if they have been on the plant since the summer before. New wood are stems that develop in the current season.  Most varieties found in gardens are old wood bloomers including Mophead, Big Leaf, Lacecap, and Oakleaf hydrangeas. Double check your variety with your local garden center.

When to Prune

Hydrangeas can grow for years without being pruned, but if they get unruly, over take an area of the garden or lose their growing capabilities – it is time to trim. But when to prune them?

Prune fall blooming hydrangeas, or old wood bloomers, after they bloom in the summer. If you prune old wooded hydrangeas in fall, you are cutting off next seasons blooms.

Summer blooming hydrangeas, or those that bloom on new wood, are pruned in the fall, after they stop blooming.

Hydrangeas are colorful and vibrant in the early season, but are hard to preserve after being cut. They are easier to care for after they start drying on the bush.

How to Prune

Near the bottom of your plant, you will see thin, wispy, weak growth. Cut those down. They will take up energy that your plant could use for blooms.

Look for any dead stumps on your stems. They will not have grown any new wood or buds out of the original old wood. Cut the dead stumps down to their base to completely remove them. This will allow the new growth underneath to have a chance to succeed.

Dead and old blooms need to be removed to make room for new buds to come through. Cut the flower head off right above the first few leaves to encourage blooms for the next summer.

Stand back from the plant and observe its shape. You’ll want to prune the shrub into the shape you prefer, a sphere is the typical style but you could prune it into any shape you want!

Clean the Debris

Remove any debris that fell off from the base of the plant. You want to make sure your soil is free of any weeds, leaves and dead flowers.


If you’re growing blue hydrangeas, feed with Holly-tone to keep the soil acidic and the blooms bright. Otherwise, opt for Flower-tone.

For the best hydrangea care, feed 2-3 times throughout the growing season, which is from spring until fall.

Follow these few steps and your hydrangeas will be happy and vibrant for years to come.


Seeding or Overseeding Lawn Tip

If you’re thinking about seeding a new lawn or overseeding your old lawn, don’t forget to water. It has been very dry lately and grass seed needs to be kept moist at all times until it germinates. This means watering 2-3 times a day for 3 weeks in order to keep the seed moist, not wet. The top inch of soil needs to be moist and until the area is densely green you should keep it watered.