How to Get Rid of Wasps in Your Yard

Wasps aren’t all bad – it may surprise you to know that they are an essential part of your yard’s ecosystem, playing a key role in pollination and keeping the populations of other pests under control. With that said, for most, the threats posed by wasps outweigh the benefits.

The two main methods you can use to get rid of wasps are to either bait the wasps using store-bought or DIY wasp traps, or to spray the wasps and their nest with a wasp spray. There are a number of further actions you can take to keep wasps away from your yard for good, like growing wasp-repellant plants, keeping your yard clean, and setting up wasp decoys.

Read on to learn more about the various methods you can use to get rid of wasps, as well as information on what attracts them to your yard in the first place. We’ve also explained some of the most common types of wasps to help you identify what species you’re dealing with. 

What Are Wasps?

Wasps are a diverse species of insect, with there being more than 100,000 identified subspecies and many more that are yet unidentified. They are members of the order Hymenoptera, suborder Apocrita, category of insects, in the same category as bees and ants. 

Some wasps (about 1,000 subspecies) are known as social insects, while the majority of other wasp subspecies are classed as solitary. Solitary wasps nest and hunt on their own, while social species nest together in colonies built by queens. Social wasps rely on their stingers to defend their nests, while solitary wasps use their stingers to hunt prey.

What Do Wasps Do?

Wasps serve two essential purposes: pollinating and regulating the populations of other pests. Even though they are an invasive and often unfriendly species, they play these crucial roles in the balance of the wider ecosystem. 

We’ve explained what wasps are good for in more detail below:

Pollination of Plants

Wasps are one of the most important pollinators in the ecosystem. Although they aren’t quite as essential for pollination as bees, without wasps, the population of many plants would die out.

Adult wasps feed on sweet, sugary substances, including the nectar from plants. As they move from plant to plant to feed, they transfer pollen, thus assisting in the environment’s process of pollination. This classifies wasps as ‘accidental pollinators’. On top of this, some particular species of wasps are also entirely responsible for the pollination of figs. Studies have also shown that wasps are notably involved in the natural circulation of yeast in the environment. 

Regulation of Other Pests

Social wasps are predators, preying on other types of pests such as whiteflies, greenflies, mosquitoes, spiders, and a number of caterpillar subspecies. Without wasps, the environment would be overrun with these other pests, from our food crops to our backyards. 

The adult wasps go out to hunt for protein to take back to their growing larvae in the nest. For example, paper wasps feed their young with caterpillars and leaf beetle larvae, while hornets target any type of live insect to feed theirs. Once they have found suitable prey, the wasps will kill the prey, chop it up, and carry the insect’s body parts back to the nest where they feed them to their larvae. 

What Do Wasps Look Like?

Wasps vary in appearance from species to species. With that said, all species of wasp share some common characteristics that you can look out for to identify what insect you’re dealing with. 

Wasps of all species have six legs, two antennae, and one pair of wings. They have slender bodies with three sections – the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The thorax and abdomen sections are connected by a thin tapered waist. Coloring also varies across wasp species, the most recognizable coloring being the yellow and black banded bodies, but this can vary with some species being black and white or black and red. 

We have gone into specifics about some of the most common types of wasps and their identifying features in the next section.

Identifying Common Types of Wasps

There are more than 100,000 species of wasps throughout the world, and over 4,000 in the US alone. We have gone through five of the most common species below: yellow jackets, paper wasps, hornets, mud daubers, and cicada killers.

Yellow Jackets

Yellowjackets are identified by their distinctive black and yellow striped coloring. Their bodies typically measure about ½ an inch in length. They are one of the more aggressive species of wasp. Yellowjackets are found all over the world, but particularly in the southeast region of the US. 

Yellowjackets are social wasps, meaning they nest in colonies. The nests of yellow jackets are made up of papery hexagonal cells enclosed in a sort of envelope. They tend to nest in the cavities found inside trees or buildings, or under the ground. To look at the four most common subspecies of yellow jackets; eastern and western yellow jackets are those that nest in underground burrows, making them ground wasps, German yellow jackets nest in building cavities aboveground, and bald-faced hornets build nests that hang from trees or the eaves of buildings.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps have long abdomens, long legs, and narrow waists. Their coloring varies between subspecies, but most paper wasps have yellow bands around their abdomen. They are less aggressive than yellow jackets, and their sting is less toxic to humans.

Paper wasps are social wasps and build papery umbrella-shaped nests made up of hexagonal cells for their colony. They tend to hunt for food in fields and meadows, but nest under the eaves or overhangs of buildings. In terms of subspecies, Northern and European paper wasps are the most commonly encountered types. Northern paper wasps are native to North America, being in the highest numbers in the midwestern states. European paper wasps can be found in North America, however, they aren’t native to the US.

Hornets

Hornets are distinguished by their coloring; they typically have black or brown bodies with white, yellow, or orange markings on their face, thorax, and abdomen. Wasps that have black and white bodies are most likely to be hornets. They grow to a length of an inch or more. They are less aggressive than yellow jackets but are highly protective of their nests.

Hornets are social wasps. They tend to nest in the cavities of trees or beneath roofs, and their nests are enveloped in a protective covering. The most common subspecies of hornets are the Asian giant hornet, growing up to 1.6 inches in length, and the European hornet, which can grow up to 1.5 inches. The only true subspecies of hornets found in the US are European hornets, but they aren’t native to the country. 

Mud Daubers

Mud daubers are longer and thinner than other types of wasp, typically measuring about ¾ of an inch in length. They have a particularly distinctive body shape, having a long, thin waist that connects their thorax and abdomen. They are a non-aggressive species of wasp. 

These wasps are so-called mud daubers as they nest in mud. They are solitary wasps, meaning they nest on their own. The main subspecies of mud daubers include black and yellow mud daubers, blue mud daubers, and organ-pipe mud daubers. Black and yellow mud daubers are the only species native to the US but are found throughout the world, as are organ-pipe mud daubers. Blue mud daubers tend to be found in regions from southern Canada to northern Mexico, with some populations being present in Hawaii and Bermuda.

Cicada Killers

Cicada killers are one of the largest species of common wasp, having stocky bodies that measure up to 2 inches in length. They aren’t as aggressive towards humans as yellow jackets or hornets.

Cicada killers are solitary wasps that nest beneath the ground. The cicada killers found in the eastern US have reddish-brown bodies and yellow legs and banding. Those found in the south are primarily red with a black-tipped abdomen. There is also a western subspecies that can be found in the western US, being particularly prevalent in California.

Bees vs Wasps – What’s the Difference?

Wasps and honey bees look very similar in appearance. It’s important to be able to tell the difference so you know what type of insect you’re dealing with before taking any action to get rid of them.

Body Shape: Wasps have slender bodies with a distinct tapered waist that connects their thorax and abdomen. Honey bees tend to be more round around the waist.

Coloring: Wasps are usually brightly colored, most often in patterns of black and yellow. Honey bees are typically black in color, with some being black or brown and having an orange or lighter brown patterning on their body.

Hair: Wasps have smooth, shiny skin, while honey bees have a coat of downy hair covering their bodies.

Diet: Wasps feed on insects, honey bees feed on pollen.

Sting: Wasps are able to sting multiple times. Honey bees are only able to use their sting once before dying. 

What Do Wasps Eat?

Wasps’ food sources vary depending on what stage of the lifecycle they’re at. In their larval stages, they eat protein, but in their adult stages, they seek out sugary foods instead.

In their larval stages, wasps require high amounts of protein from other insects or spiders. Parasitic wasps get this protein from feeding off of their host. Social wasp larvae rely on the adult worker wasps to source protein and bring it back to the nest where the larvae can feed on it. While social wasps get this protein from almost any source, including insects, spiders, grubs, and other types of meat, solitary wasps have a more selective diet, only feeding on particular species of insects or spiders. 

In their adult stages, wasps move on to feed more sugary substances like nectar. Some species of wasp get this sugary substance temporarily from their own larvae, as they produce a sweet-tasting fluid that the adults are able to drink. Other sources include the nectar of flowers or aphid honeydew, a sweet substance secreted by aphids.

What Attracts Wasps?

In general, wasps will be drawn to any place that provides them with shelter and a source of food and water.

Shelter

Wasps may seek out shelter in your yard or home, especially leading up to the winter months. In the fall, male wasps impregnate female wasps before dying off. The fertilized female wasps then seek out safe, sheltered locations where they can safely deposit their eggs and start their new colony. This is why wasps are often found in areas with tight crevices or cracks, such as in trees, walls, or overhanging home exteriors.

Solitary wasps seek out shelter underground and occasionally in the nests of other insects, such as spiders. Other types of solitary wasp nest overground, with mud daubers in particular building their nests on vertical, sheltered surfaces, often being found on the sides of buildings. 

Social wasps live in colonies inside papery nests. They are most drawn to sheltered areas where they have a copious supply of weathered wood close by. This is because queen wasps use wood fiber to build their nests; the queen chews the wood, which she mixes in with her saliva to create a paper pulp substance. She then builds the nest by spitting out this paper pulp. Yellow jackets have been known to nest underground, or in the cavities in trees, buildings, or rotten logs. Hornets and paper wasps tend to build nests that are more open-air, hanging from the eaves of buildings or branches of trees. Other places that are highly attractive to wasps include patios, porches, and covered decks.

Sources of Food and Water

Wasps are drawn to yards that have potential sources of food and water. In colonies, the queen and the worker wasps hibernate over winter, after which they emerge in the summer. When they emerge in the warmer months, the hungry wasps immediately start searching for prey to eat.

Wasps also need water to survive. They will be drawn to yards that have freshwater sources, such as birdbaths, dog water bowls, or puddles.

Leftover Meat

As we’ve discussed, wasps seek out protein sources in the spring and summer months. In addition to hunting for insects and spiders, they will also look for meat scraps. This means they will likely show a lot of interest in any food scraps you have in your trash or compost heap. They will also be attracted to outdoor cooking, i.e. barbecues, to feast on the meat or grill drippings.

Sugar

Once the summer has passed, wasps will start looking for sweet, sugary food sources in anticipation of the winter months. They will be drawn to the growing or fallen fruits of any fruit trees in your yard. They will go after anything else that is a rich source of sugar, like soda cans, fruit juice, or hummingbird feed.

Flowers

Wasps will be drawn to yards containing a lot of flowering plants. Not only do they use the nectar of flowers as a food source, but they also enjoy the sweet-scented aroma that the flowers give off. For this reason, you might attract wasps to yourself by wearing a sweet-scented or floral perfume.

Note: If you notice wasps flying low to the ground, this could be an indication that you have a grub infestation in your garden or lawn. These wasps are known as digger wasps and they seek out grubs or larvae to feed on.

How to Get Rid of Wasps

The methods you can use to get rid of wasps include baiting them with wasp traps or spraying them with a wasp or nest spray.

Bait Wasps with Wasp Traps

The most effective and commonly-used method to get rid of wasps in a yard is to set up store-bought wasp traps. These traps contain a bait liquid that the wasps are attracted to. The wasps crawl into the trap in pursuit of the smell, which in turn causes them to get stuck and drown in the liquid. The main drawback of this method is that the traps can be unappealing to look at, but it is a highly effective way to get rid of wasps.

Method: Set up wasp traps throughout your yard, making sure to place them away from the outdoor areas your household uses. Remember to replace them regularly with fresh traps.

Bait Wasps with DIY Wasp Traps

If you would rather DIY and make your own wasp trap, this can be done easily and for free by repurposing some materials from around your home. This trap works in the same way as a commercially-bought wasp trap does. 

Method: Take a large soda bottle and cut the top of it off with a knife or pair of scissors (set the top aside to be used later). Fill the bottom of the bottle with a few inches of a sugary drink, e.g. soda or fruit juice, and mix in a few drops of dish soap. You could also add in lunch meat and/or vinegar to make the trap extra tempting.

Then, take the top part of the bottle that you cut off earlier, flip it so the neck of the bottle is facing down, and replace it back onto the bottom half of the bottle. Place or hang your DIY trap in your yard, setting it away from the outdoor areas that your household use. 

Note: While the previous two methods involve baiting the wasps, the following methods involve actively going after the wasps yourself.

If using these methods, it’s important to wear protective clothing over as much of your exposed skin as possible to avoid being stung; opt for long sleeves and pants made from tightly woven fabrics, and wear thick gloves, a hat, and a bandana.

It’s also best to carry out these methods late in the evening; the worker wasps are dormant at this time, and the queen will also be present in the nest. Approach nests using an orange or red-colored flashlight so as not to alarm the wasps.

Spray Wasp Nests with Soapy Water

Soap and water can be combined and placed in a spray bottle to create an organic DIY insecticide. This is a good alternative for those who want to limit the use of chemicals in their yard, but it should only be used on smaller-scale infestations. The spray works by clogging the wasps’ breathing pores, which kills the wasps instantly by way of suffocation.

Method: Take a spray bottle and fill it with water. Add in two tablespoons of dish soap and mix the solution well. Approaching the nest at night, spray the solution directly onto the nest. Make sure to wear full protective clothing and retreat after 15 seconds of attacking. After you have killed all of the wasps, destroy the nest that remains.

Spray Wasp Nests with Nest Spray

You can use store-bought nest spray to get kill wasps instantly. This method involves using chemical pesticides, so it should only be used for severe infestations or when all other methods have failed. Most wasp sprays contain chemicals called pyrethroids and pyrethrins, which are powerful neurotoxins that kill wasps instantly on contact. These sprays are particularly effective on nests in harder-to-reach places like under property eaves, on porch ceilings, or in tree branches. 

Method: Purchase an appropriate wasp pesticide. Approach the nest at night wearing full protective clothing. Spray the nest with the pesticide, following the directions on the label of your chosen product. Retreat after 15 seconds of attacking. 

How to Keep Wasps Away

Follow the rest of these tips to keep wasps away from your yard all season long.

Grow Aromatic Plants

Even though wasps are attracted to floral, sweet-smelling plants, there are some types of plants that give off strong aromas that they can’t stand. One of the most effective plants for this purpose is fresh mint; try growing a border of mint around your garden, or placing a window box with mint on your property.

Avoid Bright Colors in Yard

Wasps are drawn to brightly colored flowers, meaning that they’re also drawn to other brightly colored objects or those with floral prints. Try to avoid growing bright flowers in your yard, and remove any brightly colored décor or furniture from the outside of your home. The same goes for your clothing – if you want to keep wasps away from you when you’re outside, avoid wearing clothes that are bright or have a floral pattern.

Avoid Leaving Outdoor Lights On

Only use your outdoor lights when you absolutely need to. While wasps aren’t drawn to the light, many other types of insects are. Wasps will be drawn to these insects to eat them as prey. 

Remove Water Sources

As wasps need a source of water as well as food, deter them from your property by removing unnecessary water sources. Anything that contains water or causes it to puddle should be removed, from birdbaths to leaky pipes. This will also help to reduce the presence of other pests, such as mosquitoes. 

Fill In Cracks or Crevices Around Property

Some types of wasps actively seek out cracks or crevices as a safe sheltered areas where they can build their nest. This includes hollow walls and floors, attics, or chimneys, so do as much as you can to seal these parts of your home. Also, seal any gaps or crevices around patios, porches, or covered decks.

Seal Bins and Keep Yard Clear of Trash

Wasps will seek out the leftover food scraps in your bin when looking for sources of sugar and protein. Empty and wash your bins on a regular basis, and make sure that they are tightly secured with well-fitting lids. If you have a compost pile in your yard, cover it up properly. Also, keep your yard clear of organic trash like unused wood or fallen fruit from fruit trees. Wasps are highly attracted to organic materials like these, as they feed on the fruit and use the wood to build their nests. 

Clean Up Immediately After Outdoor Cooking

As we’ve discussed, wasps seek out high-protein food sources in the summer, and this, unfortunately, coincides with barbecue season. You will have to take extra care during this time to clean up after any outdoor cooking. Avoid leaving any leftover meats lying around, as well as cleaning up any sugary substances like juice or sweet drinks. As an extra tip, if you’re dining outside during the summer, remember to check your cup for opportunistic wasps before you drink from it.

Burn Citronella Candles

If you’re trying to dine outside and you need an instant wasp repellant, try burning a few citronella candles on your dining table or around the dining area. These candles are strongly scented and will not only deter wasps but all other insects as well. 

Set Up a Wasp Decoy

You can set up a decoy nest to deter wasps from your yard. As they are highly territorial, wasps will be put off from a yard if they think there is another colony already nesting there. You can trick them into thinking this is the case by setting up a fake decoy nest. Decoy nests can be purchased, or you can make a DIY decoy nest from an inflated brown paper bag. Hang the decoy nest in the area you want to keep clear of wasps. This method will also help to deter colonies of bees.

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