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Mason Bee Basics

© Renée K. Velkoff

So why would anyone want to attract bees to their property? Haven’t we all thought that bees are just out to sting us? The truth about bees is far more complex than that. It is important to note that domesticated honeybees, which come to us from Eurasia, are not the only pollinators of fruits and vegetables in our gardens. There are many different types of  insects that we think of as bees. They range from honeybees, bumblebees, and mason bees, to wasps, hornets and yellow jackets. Other flying insects besides bees pollinate plants as well. Consider flies for example, which are attracted to flowers that smell like rotting flesh! All flying insects have an important role in making sure that plants get pollinated at the right time, so that fruits, vegetables and other seeds can develop.

There are many species of wild bees that are native to North America, including mason bees, a solitary bee species. They build their nests inside hollow stems of decaying plant twigs. Their name comes from the way they use mud to seal up the egg chambers, after they deposit their eggs. These bees can be far more efficient in pollinating flowers than their domestic counterparts. The same could also be said of bumblebees, another solitary native bee.

On the one hand, domesticated honeybees live socially in hives, and often depend upon a caretaker to take them to the plants that must be pollinated. This is the process used by strawberry and orchard fruit growers. On the other hand, wild bees live on site, and are always there to pollinate at an optimal time, since there’s no need to wait for honeybees to be brought in. That’s why it’s so important to have plants which attract pollinators, so that they can help your garden plants set fruit.

Mason bees can be encouraged to set up shop by providing a nest-building habitat for them. Bee bundles are made from the hollow stems of grasses, bound together into a stack. Mason bees prefer to deposit their eggs in these tubes, sealing them in with dampened mud.

Watch our video below, to see mason bees building their nests. Then order your bee bundle, and attract mason bees to your property today.
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Visit the Xerces Society to find out how you can do more to support pollinators in your area.

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The Beauty of Spring is Here!


It’s amazing how quickly the plants rebound after the bleak, cold of winter’s grip. And they burst forth which such gusto! Making use of every bit of sunlight coming their way. The early blooming flowers delight the emerging insects, a diverse bunch of invertebrates, which include bees, wasps, flies and of course ants. All of these pollinators are looking for breakfast. What are you serving? Contact us to find out how you can add this wonderful mix of wildflowers, herbs and ground covers to your pollinator-friendly garden!

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Contact Mother Oak’s Garden to find out about stopping by to buy plants!

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Get ready, get set… Plant!


Within the last week or so, spring has pushed forth; new shoots of daylilies, onions, dandelions and iris poking out from the leaves. Daffodils, crocus and forsythia, following. Now is the time to pull back the leaves on the ground, which have lain there since last fall. The soil underneath has been covered with a new layer of compost. As the leaves and debris is collected into the compost pile, seed heads, twigs and mosses are scattered by the wind, where they can renew the woodland floor with fresh seedlings. It’s best to rake leaves now into the compost pile, before the spring plants are fully emerged from the soil.

Now is also, the time to observe the “bones” of your garden. Where will the sun be obscured by shade during the summer? Where will future understory trees and shrubs benefit from morning, or late afternoon sun? Are there invasive species such as English ivy, vinca, pachysandra, euonymus, Bradford pear or Norway maples on your property? These species overrun native plants, which deprives local birds, native bees and other insects of the foods which they eat in order to survive. You may want to consider replacing these plants with species better suited to the north shore of Long Island.

Last month, I attended a seminar presented by the Xerces Society in Brooklyn, NY, on how to help support invertebrate pollinators. Topics included an in-depth examination of specific, solitary native bees, such as the mason bee, which have demonstrated to be more effective plant pollinators than European honeybees. It was evident from their presentation that our current landscape industry of “blow, collect, and haul away” leaves is a really bad idea, environmentally speaking. Some pollinators can spend a great deal of their life cycles in leaf litter, so collecting leaves and bagging them effectively kills pollinator larvae, preventing them from reproducing. These pollinators need our support, not removal. Read more about bumblebee conservation here:

Bumble Bee Conservation

As homeowners, it is time to change our habits in order to enrich our local environments with native plants while protecting pollinator habitat. Replace lawns, especially in areas where they perform poorly (dry shade), and plant other ground covers and perennials which will prove to be far more attractive, and beneficial to invertebrates. Mother Oak’s Garden creates lovely garden designs utilizing native plants for your property. Please sign up to receive our email at:

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Thoughts of Spring During the Dead of Winter.

How many of these plants can you identify?

As I look forward to seeing all of the plants in the garden reawaken in the spring, this particular image of green leaves on my desktop caught my eye. It reminded me of how important it can be to have a green carpet underfoot; not just one composed solely of Kentucky bluegrass.

Originally, this garden bed in my shady, woodland garden located adjacent to a grass path was planted with a running cultivar of foamflower and hosta. But as the years passed, other plant species naturalized and took up residence. A reading of the plants in the image above reveals how quickly various species can interact to create a unique, walkable palette. Two species of native trees, black cherry and chestnut oak, have anchored themselves in the garden bed, along the left side in the image. Someday, they may replace the mature specimens that already exist nearby. A small Norway maple hopes to dominate the scene, but will not last long on this property! Norway maples are invasive, to say the least, and should be removed.  Native vine five-leaved Virginia creeper meanders throughout the ground covers, interspersed with non-natives Duchesnea indica, or mock strawberry, which is often confused with wild strawberry and ajuga reptans. The perennial stalwart which has taken up residence at the top in this scene, is the native white wood aster, a Long Island perennial well suited to the dry, sandy woodland soils found along the north shore. Finally, a sprinkling of golden creeping Jenny splashes across the steps on the right. Another non-native, it escaped from a pot of annuals a number of years ago, and been held in check by the occasional plunge into the deep freeze. Throw in some sedges, mosses, and violets, and a groundcover that is easy to care for can replace “lawn” in those woodland, shadier places of the garden.

Soon, Mother Oak’s Garden will be offering a variety of shrubs, perennials, and herbs that can be added to your woodland garden, which will support the survival of local pollinators by providing food and habitat. Some of the native and non-native plants we hope to carry include:

Tiarella ‘Running Tapestry’, Asarum europeum, Uvularia grandiflora, Dicentraspectabilis, Smilacina racemosa aka Maianthemum dilatatum, Geranium maculatum, Iris cristata, Japanese Painted Fern and Ajuga reptans.

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Scenes from Summers Past


Over the years, the garden has transformed from a partly sunny area, where many flowers and herbs could manage with part shade; to a dense, shady retreat that is dominated by foliage standouts and undemanding flowers and shrubs. Hostas and daylilies were favorites for years. But as the shade encroached, the daylilies were crowded out, and many hostas were at risk of being lost under the rhododendrons.

Furthermore, as many trees grew and aged, some suffered significant storm damage from the brutal nor’easters that dumped heavy snow in the spring. But leafy ground covers help to add textural interest along the ground. Goatsbeard, Lenten roses, tall phlox and ferns have meandered around the garden, filling spaces where the less sturdy succumbed to the elements.

Does your property need to be transformed? Message Mother Oak’s Garden today and make an appointment for a landscape consultation.

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Did You Know?


Many villages and towns, such as Northport on the North Shore of Long Island, have strict regulations governing the removal of trees from one’s property. Existing trees, especially large stands of good-sized trees (24″ caliper and larger), provide many benefits to a community. From providing shade from the hot sun during the afternoon, to a place for birds, mammals and insects to carry-on the daily tasks of living: collecting food, building nests, rearing young.

By removing just one tree, habitat for hundreds of different plants and animal species can be destroyed. This can have a far-reaching impact on the overall local ecosystem. So when considering the removal of trees from your property, think about what you may lose when you cut one mature tree down. Be aware of which trees are more beneficial to an eco-community than others. Planting and conserving native trees helps to provide cooling shade in the summer, beautiful fall color, winter interest during the snowy months and habitat for native, Long Island species.

Mother Oak’s Garden can help you create and draft a plan the for the woodland, shade garden you desire. Our ecologically responsible design services are thorough; from site analysis to completed design. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our designer.

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Native Plant Beauty: Mountain Laurel


The recent, generous rains have brought forth the fresh glory of late spring, with it’s lush greens, and brilliant hues of pink, fuchsia and magenta, falling in cascades from the trees. One particular shrub that holds a demure place in the landscape is Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). It’s scraggly outline can be seen on the slopes of wooded hillsides. It’s pointy buds emerge pink; their oddly shaped buds are reminiscent of a space probe, or spiky virus!

Kalmia latifolia – Mountain Laurel

However, these lovely, broadleaf evergreens tolerate the dry, sandy soil found on Long Island’s North Shore. Although slow to establish, it is worth the wait to watch their buds develop, and subsequently bloom. But you may need to protect them from the deer! Deer are voraceous foragers, especially in early spring when the pickin’s are slim, will chew those tender green shoots off before you get to see them open. Mountain laurels grow best when left undisturbed in the ground, so proper siting is essential from the outset, as they do not tolerate transplanting very well.

Mountain Laurel in Bloom

Contact us at Mother Oak’s Garden today to plan your woodland garden!


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Five ways that your family’s quality of life will improve by “going natural” in your landscape.


What impact are your current landscaping choices having on your quality of life? Are you paying a lot of money each month for “maintenance” of a lawn, that in reality you are not using very much? Are you concerned about the products being applied to the lawn to “control grubs”? Do you know what these products actually do?  What about the impact that all those landscape maintenance machines used by crews have on human health and the environment? If you are concerned about what impact these suburban lawn care practices are having, you should be. Most of our current landscape maintenance routines consume a great deal of fossil fuels; just to have all the leaves and grass clippings bagged and hauled away to the landfill. Something’s not right here. Why on earth do we bag yard waste and throw it away? It makes no logical sense.

Instead, we need to assume custodial care of the land to which we have committed ourselves in the form of property ownership. We need to apply the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” in our home landscapes. We can compost our grass clippings, leaves and kitchen leaf waste on-site. There is no need to collect, bag, and toss out this precious material, that when bio-degraded, adds nutrients back into the soil. It becomes a win-win, as we are able to lower our household carbon footprint while reducing our contribution to the waste stream. By taking steps towards using ecologically sound practices in our yard maintenance, we can make five improvements to our overall quality of life.

1. and 2. Eco-friendly gardening reduces air and noise pollution in the environment.

By eliminating the use of gasoline-powered lawn maintenance equipment, we can reduce carbon emissions from our yard maintenance routine. Older lawn mowers and leaf blowers often do not meet any kind of meaningful emission reduction standards, and can be highly polluting. Switch to maintenance techniques that require your manual labor, such as a push mower for cutting grass, or using a rake for leaf cleanup. This will reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels to power mowers and blowers. Remember, electric powered machines are generally charged by electricity that was created by burning fossil fuels at a power plant, so switching to electric power tools does not necessarily reduce your carbon footprint. Learn more about your carbon footprint from this article from The Guardian, What is a Carbon Footprint?

3. Gardening provides a built-in fitness program.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I’ve always preferred to be outside working in the garden than exercising in a gym. Nothing beats accomplishing a satisfying workout, along with the feeling of a job well done from preparing a new garden bed! Digging, raking, heaving forkfuls of compost: these physical activities will give you an aerobic workout, along with exercise of key muscle groups in your legs, abdomen and upper body. Check out this Cooperative Extension site for the fitness numbers: Calories Burned During Gardening

4. Gardening provides family’s time for engaging in a meaningful activity together.

In these busy times, it can be difficult for families to find time to participate in an group activity together. However, we all recognize need to set aside time to take care of weekly household chores. Family yard work can be an additional part of that routine. When a family establishes a regular pattern of sharing responsibilities for gardening together, this provides an opportunity for them to grow in their knowledge and experience in a memorable way. Planning and creating a family vegetable garden is one way of setting aside a special time to work together in the garden. As children grow older, they may assume more complex responsibilities to assist their family with the yard work. and eventually, they will pass on their knowledge and skill to their own children.

5. Eco-friendly landscaping creates a healthier play environment for children and pets.

The “perfect, green” lawn, if that is one’s goal, comes at a great environmental cost, not to mention the deleterious effect it can have on the health of all living organisms. The regular application of chemical (inorganic) fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to lawns is a multi-million dollar a year business for Big Agriculture. The cumulative effects of these chemicals on the human body are not fully understood.  However, an increase in algal blooms in our waterways, the result of nitrogen and phosphorus infiltration into our aquifers, has demonstrated negative effects caused by excessive, point-source pollution. In Suffolk County, New York, the primary contributor to this problem is homeowner cesspools. But lawn fertilization also contributes significantly to this pollution. By going “natural” and forgoing fertilization, baby steps are taken towards reducing the excess nitrogen and phosphorus the flows into our drinking water aquifer. For more information, see Nature Conservancy Long Island – modeling nitrogen source loads on the north shore.

And you know those grubs in your lawn that are supposed to be so evil (according to lawn care experts)? Well, they transform into many different insects that provide food and sustenance for birds and other wildlife. So why are we killing these creatures? We need to learn to live with some levels of imperfection in our landscapes. Yes, grubs do eat grass roots. However this generally only becomes a problem where the ecosystem is out of balance. So let the birds do their job, and leave the grubs alone.

These small changes in your landscape maintenance routine will definitely help to improve your family’s quality-of-life, and the health of your neighborhood ecosystem. We welcome your questions and comments.