Damage to rose leaves caused by leaf cutter bees.

What in the world causes the semicircular holes you see in the leaves of your rose bushes, holes so round and neatly cut they look like they were made by some sort of a punch?

The guilty party is the leaf cutter bee. And it’s actually a beneficial insect… if you can get over its leaf-cutting habit. And that’s what I hope to convince you of by the end of this article!

A Great Pollinator

Leaf cutter bee in action. Note that it carries pollen under its abdomen, giving the latter a yellow coloration.

Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are small solitary bees, usually black with hairy bands on the abdomen. There are many species, usually 5 to 20 mm in length. And, other than for an annoying tendency to pierce holes in leaves, they are considered beneficial.

You see, with the population of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in decline worldwide, gardeners need other pollinators to help ensure pollination of their plants. After all, up to a third of the plants we eat depend on bees for pollination. And leafcutter bees are among the best bee pollinators around.

Why Are They Attacking My Roses?

In fact, leafcutter bees don’t stop at rose leaves. They’ll also cut semi-circular chunks out of other thin, smooth leaves like those of azaleas, black locusts, ashes, barrenworts, and others. And they also frequently cut holes in flower petals too.

A leaf cutter bee lining its nest with pieces of leaf.

Unlike leaf-eating insects like caterpillars or grasshoppers, leafcutter bees don’t eat the leaves on the spot, In fact, they don’t eat them at all. They cut pieces out of leaves and petals to prepare a nest for their offspring. Once the nest is well lined with leaf pieces, the female bee heads to nearby flowers to seek pollen and nectar… and in so doing pollinates the flowers. It then adds both substances to the nest: future food for its young.

The bee then lays a single egg per cell, seals its entrance to protect the egg from predators… and then builds another cell. There may be a dozen cells per nest, even many more. The larvae that hatch feed on the pollen and nectar left by their mother right through the summer. In fact, they only leave the nest the following spring, never to return, as there is only one generation per year.


Leaf cutter bees are not aggressive. They rarely sting and when they do, it’s only because they feel they’re being attacked. Their sting is less painful than a honeybee sting and in fact, with some species, you’re not even likely to feel it. Because they are solitary, even if you step on a leaf cutter bee barefoot, provoking it to sting you, at least you will only suffer a single sting. There is no swarm to attack you. That’s what “solitary bee” means.

Cosmetic Damage

The damage leaf cutter bees cause to plants is strictly aesthetic. The plant does not really suffer from the attack, largely because it already produces more leaves that it really needs to thrive. Moreover, when the bees cut out sections of a few leaves, this stimulates the plant to produce more. In fact, the holes in the leaves leaves will bother you much more than they bother the plant!

Anyway, leaf cutter bees rarely stay long on the same plant. After a day, sometimes two, it will move on to “greener pastures”.

Bee Hotels

Commercial bee hotel.

You can attract solitary bees (mostly leaf cutters and mason bees) and solitary wasps to your garden by installing a “bee hotel”. (Note solitary wasps are not yellow jackets or hornets: they are smaller, non aggressive, great pollinators, and no more dangerous to people than solitary bees.) Commercial bee hotels are widely available, made up of various shapes and sizes of wood and hollow stems packed tightly together in a frame.

You can also make your own bee hotel by drilling holes of different diameters, from 3 to 14 mm, in the end of a log or by packing hollow stems (ornamental grasses, bamboos, elderberry branches, and perennial stems are good choices) tightly together. Or just leave a piece of rotten wood lying around.

Put the hotel in your garden near flowering plants and between 1 and 10 feet off the ground (each species has its preferred height). Ideally the spot would be protected from the rain, but would heat up early in the morning, so a site facing southeast is best.

Obviously, solitary bees don’t only live in hotels provided by people! In the wild they can nest in various holes or dig nests in the ground.

Learning to Accept a Few Flaws

Since they are beneficial and not aggressive, plus cause only cosmetic damage, and modest damage at that, would it not make more sense to learn to tolerate leaf cutter bees rather than trying to eliminate them? This is the ideal situation for applying the “15 pace rule“:  before treating a plant, step back 15 paces: if you can’t see the problem at at that distance, it’s probably not a problem worth treating!

You Still Want to Control The Varmints?

Well, if so, I wish you the best of luck! They are not easy insects to eliminate.

No flowers, no bees!

The one good way of keeping them out of your garden entirely is to eliminate all the plants that are bee-pollinated, that is, largely those with showy flowers. That’s because, although leaf cutter bees do harvest a few leaf parts with which to feather their nests, they are not much attracted to greenery, but rather seek out flowers rich in pollen and nectar with which to feed themselves and their larvae. A garden without flowers will not attract bees of any kind. It might also be a bit boring.

Usually when you see the holes in a few leaves, it is already too late to react. The bee has already done its damage and has gone elsewhere. But if you catch one in the act (and remember, it is alone: there will be no other), wait until it leaves, then cover the plant with cheesecloth or floating row cover. Leave this barrier in place for a few days. By the time you remove it, the bee will have gone elsewhere.

Above all, please don’t try to poison leaf cutter bees by spraying them with insecticides. Not only will you be killing a beneficial insect, but you may also accidentally harm other beneficials.

Tolerance is the Best Solution

Really, why not just learn to live with leaf cutter bees? They really don’t do that much damage and they are so useful.

Besides, live and let live is the motto of any good laidback gardener!

? Want to learn more about bees in the garden? Here’s a wonderful and very helpful article you could take a look at:  Backyard Beekeeping 101: All You Need to Know from the web site Porch.com.

55 comments on “Round Holes In Rose Leaves?

  1. Thanks for the article! I have exactly these munch-signs on my white roses, and was wondering because I did not see any caterpillar or other insects on my roses. Riddle solved. Curious that the bee only likes to cut the white rose bush, and I have four other roses in the same patch that remain untouched.

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  27. I have these same holes in my peach trees. Do you think is possible that they are from bees? Thanks!

  28. Mystic Firefly

    I am so glad I found you today – my climbing roses leaves are full of these perfect cut holes – its as if someone comes out at night time with a hole puncher – my neighborhood children keep wondering what is happening – so now I can read them this – so thanks for the Educational info – so I can teach the young ones who love gardening with me……. I will let them be – and so far I have helped them not to be afraid if there is a bee in the garden – I ask them, “Are you a Flower”??d? …. if so then the Bee will come to you – and we laugh as they stand and watch in amazement. Gardening in Manitoba CANADA. Morden – so my Morden roses seem to be their feast here.

  29. Michael Marcon

    Thank you for this article… I was becoming restless because I felt that my golden legium might suffer greatly from this tiny creature… I was already contemplating killing it but I thought every living creature on this planet have the inherent right to life and nature and if we haven’t paved our surroundings then this bee would have more options… God bless…

  30. Krishnam Kumawat

    Thanks a lot man! Helped me aane my mom from having a panic attack! Aa few leaves looked scary, but I can deal with them ?

  31. Pingback: What’s Putting Holes in My Plants’ Leaves? – Laidback Gardener

  32. Dyan Ferris

    Does Diatomaceous hurt the Cutter Bees? I have been using around the bottom of my bushes/plants think leaf damage was from snails/slugs

  33. I’m glad to know that I don’t have to worry about them. So far they’ve only taken a few leaves and the plants look good otherwise. I just watched one cut a circle. She works fast!

  34. Shaun Thunder Bidois

    They cut blueberry leaves aswell this is fact

  35. Dana K. Wagner

    I don’t want to kill the leaf cutter bees, but I am trying to start fruit trees, for two years in a row they have destroyed the small trees. I covered them in cheesecloth this year but that didn’t work out either, 50 mph winds and cheesecloth don’t work. I tied plastic flagging on the trees hoping to discourage them and they chewed holes in the flagging. I am willing to spray something to keep them off the leaves until the tree gets big enough to survive. Is there any natural repellent?

    • I think your cheesecloth idea ought to work if you can find some way of making it stay in place. At any rate, some sort of barrier will be needed.

  36. Are they only attracted to roses? Because something has been cutting very similar round holes in the leaves of my sugar maple seedlings.

  37. Well out here in the desert, they’ve decimated my decorative and fruit trees so that there are no leaves left because with so many holes and the heat, too much moisture is being lost and leaves shrivel and drop and the trees are dying. I can’t afford to lose trees year after year and this is the second time they’ve gotten all 10 trees. I’d rather have stinging bees than these destructive ones.

    • Very interesting point! You could, of course, try protecting your trees with row cover. You wouldn’t want to poison them with insecticides, as they remain useful in the wild and for plants in your neighbors’ gardens.

  38. Victoria Alexander

    Hi Now that I see the imprtance of this for the bees Iam relieved however the holes in the leaves realy don’t bother me my main problem is the roses ate a mess, they don’t even grow to maturity they just shrivel up and die what’s that about and can I do anything to help the actual flower? thanks for the important info and I hope u have some suggestions for my dying rose buds 🙁 ty, Vicki

    • There are all sorts of reasons that a rose bud could shrivel up rather than opening. Not enough light, air too humid, buds soaked by rain that then dry to form a sort of impenetrable barrier, etc. If it happens only once, well… that’s life. If it happens again and again, I’d assume the variety you’re growing just isn’t a good choice under your conditions and you should try a different one.

  39. Dian Elvin

    I found a “petal-cutter” on hollyhock flowers and watched it cut a half circle of yellow petal, fold it, hold it in its legs and then fly off. When it came back and had partly made a curved cut it noticed me and flew off leaving the half-cut on the petal. It didn’t come back after that, but may return later.

  40. Jeanine Wright

    Yep, was really afraid that something bad had been introduced and it’d be all Summer before I could rid my roses of whatever it was. So, sohsppy to find that, for oonce, it wasn’t a bad bug. So like the other two posters I’ll leave them be, . (Pun intended)

  41. shooshoosolutionsblog

    So glad to learn from this article…they are welcome to make holes in my rose leaves!

  42. Kerry Wilson

    Thank you for the advice. I will live and let live and put up a bug hotel as well and enjoy the leaf cutter bee and feel privileged instead of annoyed it has chosen my leaves to line it’s best 🙂

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