Carpenter Bees and Wooden Swingsets What You Should Know

September 27, 2019 1:25 pm

Anyone who has had to deal with Carpenter Bees knows what a nuisance they can be. Unfortunately, even a top-of-the-line Cedar or Redwood swing set from Swingset & Toy Warehouse won’t save you from Carpenter Bees, a common pest across the Northeast. Even though Cedar and Redwood are both top-quality woods to use for outdoor residential play sets, Carpenter Bees love them as much as you do!

Thankfully, there’s no need to fear! We have just the tips you’ll need to keep these bees under control and save your investment from damage or destruction.

Understanding The Life Cycle of Carpenter Bee Activity

It’s important to understand when Carpenter Bees are active and what they are doing so you can more safely treat areas that have been invaded. First, some facts about the bees:

  • Males have no stingers, so no ability to sting. However, they will try to protect the tunnels that females have dug in the wood, and are known to dive toward humans who get too close. While this might be annoying, they cannot hurt you.
  • Females have a stinger but typically stay within the tunnels they have bored. Unless disturbed, female Carpenter Bees are not typically aggressive.
  • In the early spring, females will burrow into wood, creating a tunnel to lay her eggs and set up pockets of nectar and pollen (a delicious snack for baby bees when they arrive!). Once a female has completed these tasks, she dies within the tunnel.
  • Much like other types of bees, Carpenters are not very active at night. During late summer, newborn bees will come out of their tunnels, returning later in winter.

This cycle is important for homeowners to understand, as you’ll want to make sure that you treat tunnels when activity is lowest. Read on to learn how exactly to treat the wood.

How Do Carpenter Bees Affect My Playset

While it is not ideal to have these holes and tunnel in your play set, you can rest assured that a large majority of the damage from Carpenter Bees will not affect the structural integrity of your swing set. That being said, if damaged areas are left untreated and worsen over the years, your swing set will become weakened.

Tunnels are typically formed in the same way every year. The female Carpenter Bee will drill down about 1” into the wood before turning to run her tunnel either left or right, following the grain of the wood. Her tunnel will go about 6” or so. Within this tunnel she will set up sections for her eggs, separating them with nectar and pollen for her young to feed on.

Early detection and action is key!

We encourage parents to pay close attention to outdoor swing sets, mostly in the spring and summer when the majority of these tunnels are formed. Female Carpenter Bees will dig their tunnels quickly, seeming to appear almost overnight. To be safe, it’s a good idea to give your play set a look-over whenever you are out playing with the kids.

Interestingly, one problem with leaving Carpenter Bee holes alone or untreated is the woodpecker! Structural issues are likely to pile up if a woodpecker has taken notice of the bees in your play set. The woodpecker will hear them digging and want to get to the nectar and pollen. The damage a woodpecker will do to your wood trying to get to these bees could wreak significant damage to your wood.

Remember, even though a warranty may cover damage by Carpenter Bees and/or Woodpeckers, you could still be responsible to pay for repairs! To avoid damage all together, take action as soon as you see the first signs of activity.

What Should I Do If I See Carpenter Bee Holes

Once you notice the signs of Carpenter Bees, there are two things you can do.

Address the issue yourself *

If you choose to try and take care of a Carpenter Bee infestation yourself, it is a very easy fix but just be mindful of seasonal timing – remember, the female can sting! The best time of day to treat holes/tunnels is in the evening, when bees are resting.

First, get a stiff wire that you can insert into the hole/tunnel, making sure it is long enough to reach all the chambers of pollen, nectar, and eggs. (Don’t worry, the wire is just to give the pesticide a better chance of reaching the back of the tunnel when you spray.)

Once you’ve cleared the hole/tunnels with the wire, you’ll need to spray the pesticide (any bee or hornet spray) into the hole and at/around the entrance.

The following day, plug the hole with a durable wood putty so no new bees will enter.

Call an exterminator

An exterminator will most likely come to your home and treat Carpenter Bee holes and entrances with a pesticide to kill the bees. Some companies also offer to fill the holes/tunnels; if your exterminator does not offer this service, make sure to do it yourself, even if just with wood putty. As mentioned above, bees will use unfilled holes/tunnels upon their return, possibly even branching off the original tunnel to dig more.

* If you don’t notice holes in your swing set until late summer (end of August or in September), you can probably just fill the hole in with putty, as there likely aren’t any bees still active in the tunnels around that time of the year.

What Can I Do to Prevent Carpenter Bees

When it comes to prevention, unfortunately, there aren’t many sure things you will be able to do. Treated woods may help to deter the bees, but most will still dig into the wood. Cedar and Redwood, in particular, are especially soft woods that Carpenter Bees look for. Having a protective coating or finish on your wood swing set may lessen the amount of bees that come your way. As an added bonus, a sealant can help to protect wood from UV rays and rain.

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