Gardens

How to get rid of carpenter bees

If carpenter bees are heading for your garden structures, it's vital to get rid of them so that they don't cause damage. Here's how

Carpenter bee on a flower
(Image credit: Diane Helentjaris/Unsplash)

Carpenter bees can damage wooden structures, which is why you need to look out for them, and discourage them from these parts of your home. 

Part of the Xylocopa genus of the Apidae, or bee family, carpenter bees are common in the USA, and while they are important pollinators of many flowering plants, can damage additions, sheds, pergolas and much more. 

Unlike with getting rid of wasps, where you may seek to kill them if you have a real problem, it is far better to deter carpenter bees in the first place – they are only seen as pests because of the damage they can do to buildings.

How to get rid of carpenter bees

There are many ways to get rid of carpenter bees, from doing so without killing them to using spray and even vinegar. These are the most effective ways of tackling them.

How to get rid of carpenter bees without killing them

To get rid of carpenter bees without killing them, it’s best to try natural methods – any treatment that can harm the environment, and in particular useful pollinators, is best avoided. If you’re carrying out any anti-bee treatments, do so at dusk to avoid the bees. 

To make wooden structures much less appealing to carpenter bees, it's vital to varnish or paint them – carpenter bees love untreated ior unstained wood, but hate wood that has been treated. This is an easy fix and will protect wood structures from the weather, too.

Discourage carpenter bees with insecticide

Of course, you can kill carpenter bees with insecticide but that should only be done in desperate circumstances because, as we say, these are important pollinators. It is far better to prevent them boring into wood in the first place. If you are not looking for a natural solution, which is our preferred option, spraying an insecticide on to the wood where carpenter bees will or have in the past gathered before they arrive will deter them. This should be done in late winter, since carpenter bees tend to arrive in spring. 

How to get rid of carpenter bees with spray

You can use carpenter bee spray to get deter them. For a natural solution that deters rather than kills them – our preferred route – use citrus scents, which they dislike to get rid of them.

To make your own, boil up citrus fruit rinds in water, or add some drops of citrus oil to water, and spray around the tell-tale holes. Alternatively, try a few drops of almond oil. If you’re worried about the solution marking the wood, try it out in an inconspicuous area first.

If you need a last resort, you can use a chemical carpenter bee spray, though be aware that insecticides are hazardous to children and pets so keep them in the house while you work, and put on protective clothing. 

Use carpenter bee spray with care, to avoid harming other friendly creatures and insects around the garden. Specialist insecticides designed for carpenter bees can be sprayed around and into their holes. Try a foaming aerosol to get right into the tunnels the bees create, or use an insecticidal liquid in a trigger spray. Alternatively, an insecticidal dust can be puffed into the holes. 

You might need to make repeat applications, starting from early spring. Once the bees have died, seal up the holes to prevent them being used by new bees. Lengths of wooden dowelling or caulk can be used to plug the holes. 

Worried about getting too close to carpenter bees? We would always advise calling in a professional firm to do the job for you.

How to get rid of carpenter bees with sound

It’s said that carpenter bees are affected by sound, so by turning up the volume to teenager-level close to the carpenter bees’ home, the vibrations might encourage them to move out. 

Do explain to your neighbors before blasting them with noise for a couple of days.

Another option is to try wind chimes, which may be enough to deter them from settling.

Can I use a carpenter bee trap?

You certainly can use a carpenter bee trap. The bees fly in but they can’t escape. Choose one that’s designed specifically for carpenter bees. Hang the trap close to the affected wood. You can also make your own bee trap, constructing a wooden box with angled holes for the bee to enter, with a plastic jar fixed to the bottom – the bees get in, head towards the light but can’t get out.

How to get rid of carpenter bees with vinegar

To get rid of carpenter bees with vinegar, mix up a strong solution of vinegar and water and spray it directly into the bees' holes. This will kill carpenter bee larvae, so  if you are looking to deter them rather than kill them, you might want to look to more bee-friendly options.

How to kill carpenter bees with WD40

You can use WD40 to get rid of carpenter bees – spray it into their nest and they will die or flee quickly. However, this is another method of getting rid of carpenter bees that isn't friendly, is risky to carry out – and we would advise calling in the professionals if you have a real problem rather than tackling it yourself.

What do carpenter bees hate most?

Bees really hate the scent of citrus oil, but they also avoid wood that's been treated, and dislike jarring noise.

How do I recognize carpenter bees?

Unlike honeybees or bumblebees, carpenter bees don’t live in colonies, preferring to excavate a tunnel to lay their eggs. Take a closer look at wooden structures around the yard. 

Carpenter bees like to bore their way into wood – especially sheds, pergolas, posts, porches, window trim and even the eaves of the house. Once they’ve bored a smooth, round hole, about ½ in (1.5cm) in diameter, they make a right-angled turn to construct a burrow, hidden from sight, creating cells for individual eggs.

Carpenter bees differ from the honey bees and bumblebees that we usually spot flitting from plant to plant, collecting pollen. They are much larger and instead of the furry yellow and black stripes, their abdomens are black and shiny. The males don’t sting though they can fly too close for comfort if they feel you’re on their territory. But bother a female carpenter bee at your peril, as they can sting.

How can I spot carpenter bee damage?

To spot carpenter bee damage, take a closer look at wooden structures around the yard. Carpenter bees like to bore their way into wood – especially sheds, pergolas, posts, porches, window trim and even the eaves of the house. 

You might spot sawdust by the holes where a bee has been boring. Older holes can also be enlarged or reused by the bees. Adult bees can overwinter in the tunnels, emerging in spring to mate. Over time, the damage can result in decay, moisture retention and rot.

Lucy Searle
Global Editor in Chief

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.