If bees are visiting your holly bushes you are blessed.

Press Release: I wrote this as an article for a local newspaper. Please feel free to use it in its entirety with attribution. No compensation is required; however, please notify me by email concerning where it was published. (queenbjan [at] msn [dot] com)

HEMINGWAY, SC – I love the spring when the flowers are popping out everywhere, the birds are singing, a few butterflies have already hatched out, and the bees are buzzing from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar. This is as it should be.  Unfortunately, some are not happy with this picture.

Honeybee on Holly

Honeybee on Holly

Only yesterday I received a panic call from a lady who knew that my husband and I were (retired) beekeepers. She wanted to know what she could do, because the bees were all over her holly bushes. It wasn’t the first time we had received such a call, and it won’t be the last. Fortunately, this lady hadn’t already resorted to spraying them with Raid before she called – as some others had done.

I explained to the lady that the bees would only be in the holly bushes until they finished blooming. Holly blooms are pale green and so tiny that you have to look closely to notice them. These bees, I explained to the lady, are happy bees. After the long, lean winter season, they are so excited to be finding nectar and pollen that you would probably have to knock them around to get one to sting you. I also explained to the lady that without the bees in her holly, she wouldn’t have holly berries on her bushes in the fall. I hope I successfully put her mind to rest so that she would let the bees “bee” and not try to harm them.

Our declining honeybee population has received a lot of publicity in the past couple of years, so many people are discovering for the first time the importance of our bee population on our food supply. One third of the food we eat is dependant upon pollination by bees, and this has nothing to do with the honey they make.

Sadly, one of the major enemies of the bees, both honeybees and native bees, is man. Pesticides have been used without regard to the regulations written on the labels – and have killed the bees along with the pests they were trying to eradicate. Natural nesting areas are destroyed as homes, shopping malls and industries continue to use up the land. Then there are the totally uninformed who think anything with six or more legs is a pest and must be destroyed. Unfortunately these uninformed bug killers may be depleting the population of an otherwise healthy hive of honeybees owned by a local beekeeper, who is trying to make his garden (as well as his/her neighbors’ gardens) productive. Or even worse, they could be killing off one of the few feral colonies of honeybees still left in the wild, or the native bees and pollinators around them.

But back to the holly bushes and the bees—my husband and I have been enjoying watching not only the bees as they pollinate our holly bushes, but we have also seen how the holly bushes have provided food and protection to hundreds of birds throughout the winter season. We keep birdfeeders on our deck and in our back yard and have been continually entertained year round with the antics of the various birds vying for domination of the food supply. When we walk past the bushes in the yard there is a constant fluttering of wings as birds scurry from one branch to another to get away from us, who they still perceive as a potential enemy even though they regularly see us filling the feeders and fuss at us if we let them go empty.

There are many kinds of holly bushes, and all provide food and shelter for the birds, but our personal preference is for the Dahoon hollies. These bushes are quite dense and their leaves are slightly less prickly than other more decorative varieties. Their blooms provide abundant nectar for the bees and other pollinating insects, and are followed by green berries that turn red in the fall. The birds tend to prefer other fruits and berries over the holly berries, but when winter turns its coldest and other food supplies have become scarce, the holly berries are still there waiting for them, and by spring the birds will have picked them clean.

So if you should notice there are bees all over your holly bushes, or dandelions, or clover, or …, consider yourself blessed. Somewhere there is a hive of bees still carrying out the task it was created to perform—pollinating the food supply for both wildlife and man.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

Note: This popular post is on my first blog, QueenBJan’s Weblog. I no longer post on this blog as I combined it with several of my other blogs. For more great posts see Honeycomb Adventures Press, LLC.

32 Responses

  1. I just love my China Girl Hollys. We just planted them last spring and they took off real well. A few days ago I noticed that I have bees all over them and yes I am glad. But I notice also that some of the leaves are turning yellow and some are half brown. I don’t see any bugs or cotton looking stuff on them. Could you maybe tell me if I should be worried and what should I do? Any information you can give me would be very appreciated. Thank You. Kim Piper of St. Charles, MO.

  2. I’m not really an expert on the care of holly bushes. But I recommend that you contact the County Extension Office in the county seat of the county you live in. I’m sure they could offer some help or refer you to someone who could help you.

  3. […] Posts How to Wash Dishes Once a WeekAbout QueenBJanIf bees are visiting your holly bushes you are blessed.Bees or Yellowjackets? There is a difference!Deaths: Iraq war 4189; Abortion in 2008 alone […]

  4. Good Day

    We are starting to get small bees in one our bush
    that looks like a small round xma type needles

    They do get into the garage since it next to
    the door.

    What can we do to get them out of this bush?
    This is the first time for this problem.

    They don’t seem to bother us when we walk
    around there.

    Thank you.
    Have a great day.

  5. Jim,
    Please look at my other post, Bees or Yellowjackets, There is a Difference. I want to know if we are talking about true bees or those pesky slick and shiny yellowjackets before I attempt to answer your question.

  6. It’s 2 years later, but I’m glad I found this! I freaked out a little when I walked outside this morning on our first really warm day and my yard was literally humming with the sound of bees around our large holly bush. Not something I wanted to live with all summer, so I was glad to learn they’ll only be doing this for a little while (and I’ll enjoy it while they’re here) 🙂

  7. Thanks for your post. I’m so glad you didn’t run for a can of bug spray. We need all the bees.

  8. Thank you for posting this, it does wonders to calm the anxiety when you know you’re not being overtaken by bees… lol. We have the honey bees in our holly bushes all along the front of our house, along with these really fat, round black bees too. (maybe wood bees) My only concern is mowing the lawn near the bushes…? Should i look into protective gear or let my husband brave it?

    • Your bees should be happy because they are finding food on a pretty sunny day. Protective gear shouldn’t be necessary. The most important thing is not to swat at them or smash one. Either would be seen by the bee as threatening them and would give them a reason to sting.

  9. I too am glad to have found this article. I had already contacted the Master Gardener Society in my locality and had my question forwarded to a beekeeper. ISince moving in 4 years ago, I have not used pesticides or anything chemical on my yard, and i LOVE seeing the bees. I am planting more bee freindly flowers this year and hope to keep them around for years to come. Thanks for verifying (with the phots) I have honeybees and not an africanized version.

    • Good for you. I wish more people would become proactive in protecting and promoting healthy bee populations.

      Where do you live? You can’t tell by looking at the bee if it is an African bee or not. Your location is the best gauge of that in my opinion. Also, if they are flying around and not bothering anyone, then they aren’t likely to be African bees.

  10. While coming up my driveway tonight with my dogs I noticed a dormant cluster of bees in a gourd shape about 2 feet long in an Oleander bush adjacent to some holly. I don’t know the type of bees. It is an amazing sight to see what must be a couple of thousand of them but I must admit to being freaked out by so many of them. It must be temporary housing for them. There doesn’t appear to be any structure. Any suggestions by anyone? Are they likely to move on? Thanks.

    • I’m sorry I didn’t find your post until now. What you saw was a swarm. This is like a baby calf – a portion of a larger hive of bees that is leaving the colony to become a new hive of bees. In this swarm is at least one queen and thousands of worker bees. There are a few drones as well. Some of the bees, “scouts,” are looking for an opening in a tree or other cavity in the side of a building or whatever seems appropriate to make into their new home. Once they make up their mind, the rest will follow and begin building combs for the queen to lay eggs and for the rest of the bees to fill with pollen and with nectar which will be made into honey to feed the growing larvae.

  11. I am trying to paint my house and one side is rowed with bee infested hollies. When will the plants stop attracting the bees? I
    mean do I have to wait all Summer to finish painting. These litte turds are not as calm and passive as you described… lol I have been bitten a few times, but I was trying to work over them when it happened.

    • They will leave the holly alone in a week or two – whenever they stop blooming. It might be worth the wait to hold off on the painting that long. Right now the bees are making sure you get a pretty show of red berries in the fall.

      If you are brushing against the bushes trying to paint around them you are inviting stings. If you are just walking by and looking at them they aren’t likely to bother you. The difference is whether the bees see you as threatening or not.

  12. we also have, what seems like, all varieties of bees in our holly bush. Should we just let them alone or spray them? They dont bother us but they do fly all around our entrance to the garage and the driveway. Just a little scary.

    • By all means leave them alone. Without the bees you won’t have the pretty red berries in the fall. They are happy bees if they are going to your holly. If you spray them they won’t be happy. And the survivors are more likely to bother you than if you leave them alone.

  13. Hello,
    Thank you for this post and repeating your expert knowledge on this subject matter over and over. I live in Fredericksburg, and this is the first year I have noticed a lot of bees near my front door. I immediately ran to google and your site was the first to pop up. I didn’t have a clue on what to do. How are my visitors supposed to enter? I must admit one got in the garage and I shot it with raid (sorry). Now that I know I can expect to have beautiful berry this winter I want cut the Holly down like I was thinking about

  14. Thank you for sharing, Saundra. I’m glad you found my article before you sprayed the bees. Spraying them would have been a mistake. We can live with the one loss in the garage, though even that one would have only been interested in finding her way out and not in stinging you. I’m glad you have learned to appreciate them. You could reach out and touch the bees when they are happily gathering pollen and nectar and they wouldn’t sting you. They only sting when they feel threatened.

    • Thanks Janice for your prompt response. I told a few of my friends about your valuable website. The next day temperatures in Fredericksburg dropped in the low 30’s. I went to listen near the tree and it was silent. I was sad in a way – your article indicated they should only stay in the Holly for a week. Not knowing when they arrived they must have been there for awhile before I heard them humming about.

      Thanks again and thank you so much!

      • Don’t be too sad. Just watch for other blooming plants and shrubs. You may see them again. It’s a good sign that you have pollinators available, so you might consider planting a vegetable garden this year. The bees should be there to help your vegetables develop properly.

  15. Help! We live in a community where the houses are about 12 ft from each other! I have researched the two trees in our front/side yard and they are definitely looking like holly trees. Well, after spraying some wasps, I returned home, got out of the car and still heard the noise. Looking slowly, not 6 inches from my face are the bees all in the trees! I am a big believer in keeping alive what actually does ‘good’ (honey bees!) and I am worried about the trees, the bees, and most importantly, all the neighbor children playing in the yard—not to forget, the houses are on top of each other, anyway! My only question is…how long will the honey bee process last? We moved in mid August so we missed this process last year and didn’t get a feel for the time frame. I just feel bad for constantly reminding the neighbor kids to be careful—but it is for their own good. Give me some advice with nothing or no one getting harmed! Thanks!

    • Kristin, those bees are happy contented bees and are very unlikely to sting anyone. They are doing what they love and barely notice the people around them. If a honeybee stings you it will die. For that reason they are not aggressive nor are they a threat to you or the neighbors.

      To answer your question, the bees will be in the holly bushes for about a week or two. They will be there only as long as the holly is blooming. After that they have no interest in the holly bushes.

  16. i have 20 china boy and china girl bushes along my fenceline. all are between 2 and 6 yrs old. this spring they started blooming and growing as usual, but how the ends of the new buds are all turning black and dying. can you tell me why? thanx

  17. I have 20 Holly bushes across the front of my house, usually there are birds in them except for last week when they were full of Carpenter Bees and Honey Bees they also had a few Red Wasps, Brown Wasps, a couple of Yellow Jackets and five Eastern Swallowtail Butterflies. I walked by several times, took pictures and none of them bothered me. Now they are gone, the bees and wasps only stayed for about a week.

  18. I wish the bees would hurry and leave and I saw a couple wasps do not like his in my holly bush my dogs lay under it sometimes. I don’t want them hurt big bees on it . Help I want to spray it water make them leave

    • Even the wasps are beneficial. They capture caterpillars to use as food for their larvae. Some kinds capture spiders including Black Widow spiders. Please don’t spray or hurt them. The holly will stop blooming soon.

  19. The ten days or so when our hollies are in flower are one of my favorites of the year in Southern New Jersey! I see so many species, and, yes, they all seem quite overjoyed to feast on this resource! Never been stung or attacked – and they’re fun to watch!

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