Hornets and paper wasps and garbage bees, oh my! Yellow jackets may have a wide range of names, behaviors, and appearances, but they all share the same two traits: they all have black and yellow bodies, and they all sting ferociously!
Here’s everything you need to know about dealing with these stinging insects around your lawn and garden, including what they look like, how they nest, and how to get rid of their numbers for good.
How to identify yellowjackets
Yellow jackets are a species of wasp known for their extreme aggression and ability to sting multiple times. As mentioned earlier, there are three major species:
- Paper wasps
- Common yellow jackets
We’re focusing on common yellow jackets here, which are some of the most familiar (and aggressive!) species you’ll find around the house. Thankfully, they’re also extremely easy to identify.
Apart from their black and yellow coloration and smooth, hairless bodies, yellow jackets have a pinched, thin waist that immediately distinguishes them from bees. These pests are attracted to sweet, sugary foods and good sources of protein, and are active predators of other pests.
Types of yellow jacket nests
Yellow jackets typically nest in one of two places: in the ground or in the air. Identifying where these pests are coming from is the first step in controlling their activities.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Ground nests are typically camouflaged in shady areas of the lawn. You might not see the entry and exit points at first glance, but the constant ‘air traffic’ of drones and workers will be a dead giveaway. Yellow jacket ground nests can grow up to 3,000 workers in a single summer.
- Aerial nests are typically gray, papery, and about the size of a basketball. Tree branches and house eaves are some of the most common targets, but shrubs, wall voids, and porches are other potential nesting sites. By the end of the summer, there may be more than 15,000 yellow jackets in a single colony.
Like many other types of lawn pests, yellow jackets build their nests near potential food sources. Yellow jackets eat just about anything, including beetles, worms, and other pests, which means infestations from other insects can attract a whole colony.
How to safely treat yellow jacket nests
You know what yellow jackets look like and how they nest around the yard. Now it’s time to kill yellow jackets and their colonies using a safe and repeatable protocol.
You can do this in five steps:
- Put on protective clothing. A long sleeve shirt and solid pair of pants should do the trick.
- Get ready to treat after sunset or before sunrise. Yellow jackets are less active in the dark and have poorer visibility as well.
- Determine your pest control product of choice. You can use an insecticidal dust like Tempo for ground nests, or a liquid insecticide like Zylam for aerial nests. If you’re dealing with a yellowjacket nest in more sensitive locations (think wall voids and garages), you could opt for organic EcoVia WD treatments.
- Want to get rid of yellow jackets using a natural approach? You could cover the entry and exit points with dry ice, pour boiling water into the exit holes, or block the entrance with a plastic bowl. Just make sure to do this in the dark!
- It’s not enough to remove current yellow jacket infestations. You also need a way of ensuring they never come back; AKA, yellow jacket prevention. Feel free to install bait stations or Advantage Yellow Jacket Traps that continuously kill yellowjackets. You could also spray old habitat locations with peppermint castile soap to make the area less inviting to future invaders.
Remember: you’ll want to get rid of yellow jackets during inactive times to avoid a potential attack. If you do get a yellow jacket sting, don’t panic! Wash the sting site with dish soap and water and apply a cold pack ASAP. You’re welcome to take ibuprofen to manage the pain and swelling, but a walk-in visit may be necessary if you’re allergic to yellowjacket stings.
Yellow Jacket FAQs
There’s a lot more to yellow jackets than meets the eye. If you need to remove a yellow jacket nest now and don’t have time to read, here are the fast facts for your convenience.
Do yellow jackets nest in the grass?
Yes! Depending on the species in question, a yellow jacket colony can build nests in the ground and hide within your grass, or construct an aerial nest on windows, eaves, and tree branches. If yellow jacket nests are a constant problem in your area, you may want to wear shoes around the yard from late spring to late summer. Better safe than sorry!
What attracts yellow jackets to your yard?
There are five primary factors that attract yellowjacket nests to your grass:
1. Strongly scented trash cans (especially uncovered or open trash cans)
2. The presence of food sources (pet food or other protein)
3. Sweet things left outside (soda cans, fruit juice, etc)
4. Sweet scents worn on people (perfumes, body sprays, etc)
5. The presence of pest prey (beetles, caterpillars, etc)
If any of these factors are present around your house during the spring or early summer, your risks of acquiring a yellow jacket nest go up exponentially.
Why are there so many yellow jackets in my grass?
Yellow jackets won’t use the same nest year after year, but they’ll be sure to use the same nesting site if the habitat is good enough. If your yard has plenty of pooling water and lots of pest prey like flies and spiders, it may attract yellow jacket nests in droves. These flying insects will build small holes close to one another and nest in the same area for as long as possible.
To summarize: as soon as you see a yellow jacket nest in your grass, you can assume there are many more nearby.
How do you get rid of yellow jackets yourself?
You can easily get rid of yellow jackets on your own — as long as you follow the right precautions, of course. These pests are easily provoked and can sting multiple times, so it’s best to approach nests cautiously.
Be sure to:
1. Wear protective clothing like a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
2. Leave the area immediately after applying pest control products to the nest.
3. Rely on yellow jacket traps to eliminate stinging insects without putting yourself in danger.
If you don’t feel comfortable addressing an entire colony of yellow jackets by yourself, stop and get some help! The chance of an allergic reaction just isn’t worth it.