Managing Yellow Jacket Pests

People tend to fear yellow jacket wasps because of their stings which can be painful and can cause an allergic reaction for some. Yellow jackets actually can be useful – they eat flies, caterpillars and other insects.

Avoid Getting Stung

Here’s how you can minimize your chances of getting stung:

  • Remove all outdoor food sources attractive to wasps – feed pets indoors, keep garbage cans tightly covered, wash cans regularly, bury fallen fruit and table scraps deep in compost piles and don't compost meat scraps or bones
  • Watch where you sit or step – don't go barefoot!
  • Be especially careful to look before reaching into berry bushes or picking fruit and pick in the early morning or evening when wasps are less active
  • Be cautious when sitting on or handling wet beach towels
  • Never swat at a yellow jacket hovering around you – instead, quietly move away or let the wasp leave
  • If you accidentally disturb a nest and hear buzzing, protect your face with your hands and run!

Keep Wasps Away

  • When eating outdoors, keep food and drinks covered and clear away scraps or dirty plates as soon as the meal is over
  • Set up baited yellow jacket traps around the edge of picnic areas or on the table – drown wasps caught by sinking the traps in a bucket of soapy water
  • Remove nests early in the season while they are still small (see next section)
  • Leave larger nests until the end of the season when the wasps die
  • Use chemical wasp sprays with caution – consider where the spray will land and follow the directions on the label
  • Wear gloves to remove and dispose of an exposed nest that has been sprayed as soon as the wasps are dead
  • Don’t use poison baits – they’re dangerous to children, pets and other beneficial insects
  • Never pour gas or kerosene into an underground wasp nest where it poisons the soil
  • Consider using a professional pest control service for nests that are very large or in locations that are difficult to access

Removing a Nest

Have someone help you when removing a nest and wear protective clothing from head to foot:

  • Wear boots with your pants pulled outside the boot tops and seal the cuffs with rubber bands
  • Wear gloves and pull your sleeve cuffs over the tops of the gloves and seal them as well
  • Drape the screening over the hat (the brim should keep it away from your face) and tie it around your neck, over the collar of the coveralls. Make sure there are no openings around the collar or base of the veil
  • Wear another layer of clothing underneath the overalls because wasp stingers are long enough to reach through one layer of cloth

Approach the nest in the evening or at night when it’s cool – wasps will be inside their nest and less active. Then follow these steps:

  • Have your helper hold open a large, heavy bag or a box with a tight lid under the nest
  • Cut the attaching stem of the nest as quickly as possible using a long handled pruning hook or other tool
  • When the nest is in the bag or box, close it immediately and seal shut
  • Kill the wasps inside by putting the whole package in a deep freeze for 24 hours or by spraying an insecticide into the package through a small hole (follow label instructions)

Another approach is to spray a chemical alternative like pyrethrins directly into wasp nest. Repeat applications nightly until no more wasps are seen leaving the hole.

When treating nests in wall voids, never block up an opening in your house because wasps can chew through wood or follow wiring to the interior of the house. Once the nest is definitely vacant, caulk or repair any openings to prevent the wasps from returning. Nests that are located in wall voids can be difficult to treat. Consider hiring a pest management professional.

Underground Wasp Nests

Underground wasp nests are difficult to remove and better left to a pest control operator who can dig and vacuum out the nest. If you decide to remove the nest yourself, you can apply pyrethrins spray or pour several gallons of boiling water into the nest. Be sure to wear protective clothing and be careful not to scald yourself with boiling water.