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Garden Help Desk: Spring brings swarming bees and aphids

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 27, 2024
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Spring through early summer is bee swarm season, although a colony can split at other times. If you find a dense swarm of bees out in the open like this, don't panic. It's just a temporary stop on their search for a new home.
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A heavy infestation of aphids on rose bushes can damage the tender new growth and buds.

We have a swarm of bees (we’re pretty sure they’re bees, not wasps) on a stump close to our big garden. We know they would be good for our garden and fruit trees, so we’d like to let them stay. How can we encourage them to stick around?

There is a swarm of bees in my chimney. I know I could get rid of them by building a fire and smoking them out, but I want to find a way to save the bees (somewhere else) because they’re such important pollinators. What can I do?

This is the time of year when gardeners are most likely to see bee swarms, and it does looks like those are bees in your photo, not wasps.

Swarming is a natural process that happens in some honeybee colonies every year. In the spring, honeybee colonies will produce new broods, and if the conditions in the colony, or hive, become too crowded, the colony will rear a new queen. Part of the colony, along with the old queen, will leave to establish a new colony in another suitable location.

Swarms may temporarily settle into a dense “ball” on tree branches, posts or other exposed areas and then leave for a permanent location after just a few hours.

There’s no need to try to chase a mass of swarming bees away. Leave the swarm alone — they’ll most likely move along on their own.

A swarm of honeybees can look very intimidating, but they aren’t out looking for trouble. They simply want to protect their queen and find a new home. Swarming honeybees are generally docile unless they feel threatened or harassed.

If you want to keep the bees, you’ll need to move them into a hive. There may be a beekeeper in your neighborhood who can help you with this if you don’t have any experience with honeybees. (FYI to our readers: A friendly local beekeeper helped these gardeners by moving the bees into a hive on their property.)

Our local beekeepers association may also be able to advise you about how to do this. Contact them at utahcountybeekeepers.com.

I was out in my garden yesterday and discovered that the new growth on my roses is covered with aphids. What is the best product to get rid of them?

Aphids are a common problem at this time every year, especially on fruit trees and roses. Their populations can rise quickly because of their high reproductive rate. The damage they cause is unsightly and doesn’t usually affect the health of fruit trees, but their feeding can damage the tender new growth and flower buds on roses. Resist the temptation to prune out the twigs and rosebuds, though.

The first thing you can do is a free, effective and all-natural control method: hose off your rose bushes with a strong spray of water. (But no need to power wash!) Spray from several different directions. Repeat this every morning or two until you’re no longer seeing heavy infestations. These “hose downs” will remove a lot of the aphids and provide immediate relief for your plants.

You can also spray with insecticidal soap or 0.5% to 1% horticultural oil spray once the leaves are dry. This will kill many of the aphids that weren’t washed off. An oil or soap spray can damage the leaves if temperatures are hot while the spray is still wet, so you’ll want to spray in the early morning or in the evening to give the spray plenty of time to dry while temperatures are cooler. The slower drying during cooler temperatures also makes the spray more effective. Thorough coverage of the leaves and buds is important because there is no residual effect after the spray dries; the spray only works on direct contract. Repeat the spray as needed at the interval recommended on the label for a few weeks.

In the spring each year, when the buds begin to swell, spray your rose bushes with a 2% dormant oil spray to suffocate overwintering aphid eggs. It won’t get rid of all the aphids, but it will reduce their population to a more manageable level.


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