How to get rid of carpenter bees: identification methods and natural ways to deter them

If you need to know how to get rid of carpenter bees, professional pest controllers say it's key to identify them properly, remove them humanely, and to try natural ways of deterring them from your propety above all else

A carpenter bee flying over flowers
(Image credit: Oscar Suarez / Getty)

Carpenter bees, unlike honey bees or bumblebees, can be destructive in your home and yard, burrowing deep into fascia, siding, decking, and any other wooden structures. So it's no wonder that knowing how to get rid of carpenter bees is on your mind, as they can quickly become a problem and once a female carpenter bee has begun the burrowing behavior, she builds a network of long tunnels, gradually destroying the wood... 

With carpenter bees, it's very important to identify these bugs in your home correctly. You don't want to accidentally harm a honeybee or another key pollinator species. We've asked a professional pest controller to help us learn to identify carpenter bees and give his top tips for getting rid of them effectively.

A carpenter bee feeding on flower nectar

(Image credit: By Eve Livesey / Getty)

How to identify carpenter bees

First, you need to make sure that you are dealing with carpenter bees and not another type of bees' nest. John Melchior Owner of Kapture Pest Control (opens in new tab) in Old Tappan, NJ, recommends looking for the following tell-tale signs that it is carpenter bees that are causing wood damage on your property:

  • Size: carpenter bees are 'fairly large, as far as insects go, and normally measure between a half-inch and an inch.'
  • Sectioned bodies: 'Their bodies are more articulated than, say, a bumblebee, who’s quite roly-poly. You can see each section of a carpenter bee’s body.'
  • Hairless and shiny body: 'A bumblebee, on the other hand, has a furry, yellow belly. 
  • Coloring: Eastern carpenter bees are 'mostly black with yellow on their backs. In other parts of the US, the heads, legs and undersides of carpenter bees can be other colors as well, usually greenish or purple, as well as black.'
  • Nesting behavior: 'carpenter bees bore holes into soft woods such as pine, fir and cedar. So, if you notice a solitary bee (carpenter bees aren’t social like bumbles and honeys; they don’t build colonies) flying in and out of a perfectly round hole in your home’s siding, fascia or soffit it’s probably a carpenter.'

Carpenter bee nesting hole

(Image credit: Douglas Sacha / Getty)

How to get rid of carpenter bees

Now we know what carpenter bees look like and how they behave, let's examine the most effective to get rid of them. Melchior recommends the following steps.

1. Focus on prevention if at all possible

'Even though I get paid to eliminate pests, I counsel folks to focus on prevention', says Melchior. 'If your home has exposed wood, or there are wooden structures such as picnic tables, sheds, and the like - especially if they are near the garden - it’s smart to make sure the wood is treated and sealed. 

'Caulking nail holes and other breaks in the wood is also a good idea. Once the surface of the wood is breached, the bees have an easier time getting in, not to mention the additional damage caused by moisture getting into the wood.'

2. Attract birds to your yard

Creating a wildlife garden is a very good idea if you are being plagued by carpenter bees. Melchior advises that woodpeckers in particular 'think carpenter bee larvae are the tastiest snack around, so those little holes created by the bees can become quarter-sized or larger holes after the birds have pecked their way into the tunnels to eat them.' 

You can start by getting a woodpecker-friendly bird feeder from Amazon (opens in new tab).

3. Consider trying to repair the damage instead

Of course, if you have a serious infestation, you may need to call in pest control, but Melchior says that 'not every carpenter bee situation warrants killing the bees. They might not be the busiest pollinators on the block, but with the falling numbers in bee colonies everywhere, it’s a good idea to let these bees be, if possible.'

Often, the damage from carpenter bees will be small, so if you notice a single hole in a shingle or piece of wood, 'especially if it’s perfectly round and stained with a sticky yellow residue below the hole, consider removing and replacing the damaged piece of wood.

What not everyone knows is that it takes 'several years for one carpenter bee tunnel to grow to a length that can create true structural damage.' For that reason, a regular routine of maintenance and quick action if a tunnel is discovered 'should be enough to protect your home and let the carpenter bees do the good things that bees do.'

4. Avoid cedar

Finally, a word on using cedar wood. 'It’s a popular choice for home shingles and for building decks and porches. Many people believe it will repel insects since it’s normally used in closets and chests to keep clothing or fabrics safe from moths. However, the odorous oils in cedar neither repel nor harm carpenter bees. They love it! So, if you use cedar make sure you paint or stain it. A lot of people like the weathered look of untreated cedar, but that’s just inviting trouble.'

What do carpenter bees dislike?

So, what do carpenter bees dislike and what will repel them? Fortunately, there are a couple of perfectly natural deterrents for these sometimes bothersome bees. The two remedies you should try are:

  • Peppermint: 'Carpenter bees, like many four- and six-legged pests, hate the smell of peppermint. Try putting pots of peppermint (don’t just plant the herb in your garden; it will run rampant!) on your deck. The scent just might just be enough to keep carpenter bees moving to a new location.'
  • Citrus: 'A squirt of citrus oil (opens in new tab) into their tunnel could keep the bees from laying their eggs there. Rubbing citrus oil on wood will discourage tunneling.'
  • A wind chime: 'carpenter bees, like people, like a quiet place to lay their heads. They don’t like noise very much, so a wind chime (opens in new tab) could just keep them away. It’s worth a try, right?' Plus, this is a great one for better garden Feng Shui.

How long will carpenter bees stay on my property?

The good news is that typically, carpenter bees will not stay around very long. Melanie Rose, a Trained Pest Specialist at Nationwide Pest Control (opens in new tab), tells us that carpenter bees 'typically stay around for about two weeks, but if they stay longer, they may become a problem.' If none of the measures outlined above have worked and you have a lot of wood damage, you may need to call in a professional pest controller. 

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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