How To Keep Wasps Away From Your Home

Whether you're mowing the lawn or hosting a cookout, the last thing you want to worry about is stinging insects such as wasps. But the truth is that wasps have a somewhat undeserved bad reputation. These insects actually do plenty of good in our lawns and gardens, and not all types of wasps are aggressive.

Most of the time, wasps mind their own business. “Wasps are pollinators and provide biological controls, preying on pests such as brown marmorated stink bugs, and caterpillars,” says Mike Raupp, PhD, professor emeritus of entomology and extension specialist, at the University of Maryland. “When wasps are in your yard foraging, they’re not interested in you. They’re just providing food for their babies, like any good parent.”

Of course, problems arise when wasps build their homes too close to ours. “While you can’t keep wasps out of your yard, you can make your living space as unattractive as possible to them,” says Sydney E. Crawley, PhD, assistant professor and extension specialist, urban and structural entomology, North Carolina State University. “You may be able to leave a nest alone if it’s in low traffic area. But when the risk of stinging is greater than the biological benefits wasps provide, you should remove the nest.”

Here’s what else you should know about wasps:

Wasps Nest

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What Wasps Are Aggressive?

Solitary wasps are single females whose only job in life is to feed her babies; solitary wasps are non-aggressive and don’t sting in defense. The problematic types are the social wasps, who live together in a colony with a queen. The biggest troublemakers are yellowjackets. Their colonies contain thousands of workers by late summer, says Raupp. They nest in the ground, in a wall or behind siding. When disturbed, they attack and send pheromones to their friends to aid them, and they can sting multiple times. They’re most aggressive in the fall.

Another common wasp in the South is the European hornet. This wasp builds tan paper nests containing several hundred workers in hollow trees, walls, and attics. They’re not aggressive but will sting if they feel threatened. They feed on insects, often hunt at night, and are attracted to outdoor lights in the evening, says Raupp.

Paper wasps construct umbrella-shaped nests of paper-like material in protected spots such as shrubs, behind shutters, inside porch lights, doorways, grills and mailboxes. They feed on pests such as caterpillars and aren’t aggressive but will sting if you disturb their nests.

The Baldfaced hornet is a type of yellowjacket that builds round or football-shaped nests in shrubs, attached to buildings, or high above ground in trees. They feed on many pests, such as flies and caterpillars, says Raupp, but they will defend their nests if disturbed.

How Do I Keep Wasps Away From My House?

·  During picnics, cover foods and drinks. Wasps like many foods including meat, chicken, fish, fruit, sweets, and sweet beverages, says Crawley.

·  Don’t drink out of a soda can because wasps can fall in and sting you; pour it into a lidded cup.

·  Keep household trash cans covered and far away from living spaces. Wash them regularly to remove residues that attract wasps, says Raupp.

·  In the springtime, walk around and look for activity or new nests near your living spaces or in doorways or fence poles. It’s best to destroy these when they’re small and contain just a few workers, says Raupp.

·  If you have fruit trees or a garden, pick up fallen fruit and veggies so they won’t ferment and attract foraging wasps, says Crawley.

Do essential oils repel wasps?

You may have heard that essential oils such as clove, geranium, lemongrass or peppermint oil keep wasps away. Some research has found these oils sprayed on a surface may repel wasps so that they don’t gather cellulose materials (for building their nests) from that spot. But results don’t last long. “The oils break down within hours or days, and you must reapply after rain or sun exposure,” says Crawley.

Essential oils also can be slick or oily and may stain surfaces or be irritating to people and pets. Spraying every potential cellulose-containing surface in your yard also isn’t practical. “How will you ever cover every surface, such as the shed, the deck, under the eaves or boxes in your attic? It would be a huge amount of labor for little payoff,” says Crawley. “It’s not something I’ve ever recommended.”

Can you kill wasps with soap and water?

Another DIY remedy you may have heard of is spraying wasps with soapy water. “This works for any insect, including wasps. It will break down their waxy protective cuticle and clog the sphericals through which they breathe,” says Crawley. But you have no idea how long it will take to work, and the wasps still can sting you repeatedly while they’re dying. (FYI, commercial EPA-registered sprays must knock down wasps within 10 seconds).

Do wasp traps work?

Yes and no. These traps contain an attractant, which draws wasps in, and then they drown inside the trap. DIY recipes recommend using vinegar, but one study showed vinegar actually repels some types of female wasps, says Crawley. Many commercial traps contain an ingredient that attracts one kind of yellowjacket, but not all common types in the South, such as southern or German yellowjackets.

Overall, there’s no evidence you’ll cause a decline in wasp activity with traps, and you may capture beneficial insects, too. “Don’t count on traps to solve wasp problems,” says Crawley. “Wasps forage up to 1,000 yards away, so the wasps you trap may not even be a problem on your property.”

Do wasp decoy nests work?

Probably not. Some wasps, such as yellowjackets, don’t even build nests that resemble the decoys. While these devices do look like a baldfaced hornet’s nest, “I’ve never seen a study indicating that baldfaced hornets avoid building nests in sites where other baldfaced hornets have built,” says Raupp. They also do not reuse the same nest over and over, so they won’t return to an old nest.

How To Get Rid of a Wasp Nest

For nests that must be eliminated, wait until evening to treat because too many workers are out foraging during the day, says Raupp. Any type of aerosol wasp spray is okay, but make sure it’s one that sprays 10 feet or more so you don’t need to get too close. Shine a flashlight toward the side of the opening, then spray directly into the hole. Stay away from the nest for at least a day.

Both Raupp and Crawly caution that if you are allergic to stings or have a nest inside a wall or an aerial nest, call a professional pest control company. Also, don’t try to block the entry to the nest that’s in a wall or behind shutters because angry yellowjackets can chew through wallboard to escape and emerge indoors, says Crawley.

Do I have to remove a wasp nest?

Not necessarily. If a nest is located somewhere on your property where you’re not working or playing, leave it alone, says Raupp. Wasps do lots of good, so live and let live if they’re not a threat to your family.

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