Yellow jackets are a particular species of ground nesting wasp found across North America but the name has become synonymous with all types of common wasp in the US. They also happen to be nature’s most annoying creation. Seemingly designed for the sole purpose of ruining picnics, outdoor suppers, and indeed any garden activity, these little critters are a real nuisance. They are at peak nuisance level during the fall and will spend the spring and summer building up their numbers when fruit begins to fall and rot. But don’t despair. If you want to know how to find the yellow jacket nest and also know how to get rid of yellow jackets naturally when the nest is located, there are plenty of home remedies for yellow jackets that are just as effective as chemical insecticides and much kinder to other insects and pollinators.
First and foremost, you need to find the nest. Yellow jacket traps do work and will control the problem, but unless you deal with the nest, it is a war you will not win.
Yellow jackets build their nests in a variety of places with different species preferring different structures. Yellow jackets often build using wood pulped up to form a paper mache like substance. These types of wasps are often called paper wasps.
The nests can be in trees, shrubs, in sheltered areas such as inside man-made structures, and in tree stumps, etc. These nests tend to be easy to spot as a structure is clearly visible. Yet, many yellow jacket nests are located underground and if the nest you are trying to locate is one of these, there is no obvious structure. All you have to go on is the hope of catching a glimpse of a yellow jacket entering the nest.
So how do you find a yellow jacket nest that is not clearly visible?
Fortunately, there are few easy techniques to help you find the nest.
The best time to find a yellow jacket nest is in the morning or at dusk and preferably when there is no wind, but there is still some sunshine. At these times, most of the insects will either be returning to or leaving the nest, and their direction of travel will be more direct. When the wind is low, the only things moving are birds and insects, so it is easier to make out their flight path. When the sun shines, the light bounces off the insects which is easily picked up by the naked eye.
Pay keen attention to how the insects fly.
When foraging, yellow jackets will move randomly a few inches from the ground. The insects’ movement is much more erratic, making it harder to discern any pattern.When returning to the nest, they will fly directly, faster, at a higher altitude of several feet and in a straight line.
Once you know how to judge the flight of yellow jackets, you need the yellow jackets to play ball, stop foraging and return to the nest. Luckily, there are a few tips to do just that and help you find the nest.
How to find a yellow jacket nest using jelly
First technique is to put some bait out. Jelly or something sweet is fine. The yellow jackets will happily gorge themselves. Pay close attention to the wasps that leave and their style of flight. Their direction of travel will always be straight back towards the nest when full. Try and follow them if you can. If this pointer is not enough to locate the nest, move the bait 10 yards towards the nest in the right direction. Repeat the process until you find the nest.
How to find a yellow jacket nest using flour
Second technique is to locate the nest is to use flour. Sprinkle some flour on individuals that you find. If you can, blow the flour on using bellows or puff as you want the little critter to be able to fly which it won’t be able to do if it has its own body weight of flour on its back. Follow the yellow jacket straight afterward as it will be heading back home to clean itself up.
When you see several dots descending vertically over the same spot, you have found your yellow jacket nest.
How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets
- Clear Glass Bowl
This has to be the simplest technique to get rid of jackets, yet it is highly effective as long as the nest is in the ground. Once you’ve located the nest, check for alternative exits. If there is more than one exit, block the exit carefully with a stone, leaving the other exit open. Place an upside down, large, clear glass bowl over the open exit and make sure there are no gaps for the yellow jackets to crawl under.
The yellow jackets will fly around in their little greenhouse, exhaust themselves and eventually starve. Do not be tempted to block all the exits as the yellow jackets will realize they are trapped and burrow out another escape route. Using a bowl, they don’t quite have the brains to realize they are trapped, and so do not seek an alternative route. Within a few days, there will be no more insects flying and the colony will be dead.
- Dry Ice
In comparison to the bowl technique, this method to get rid of yellow jackets is definitely the most whacky, but it certainly works if you can get hold of dry ice. Like the bowl method, it only suitable for yellow jacket ground nests. Once you’ve located the nest, first block any secondary exits with stones or a board.
DO IT CAREFULLY SO NOT TO DISTURB.
At the main entrance, place a block of dry ice over the hole, and then cover the hole and the ice in dirt. As the dry ice evaporates, it will cool the nest at the same time as release carbon dioxide down into the nest. The yellow jackets will become more active in the nest in an attempt to generate heat, using up precious oxygen. Eventually, the yellow jackets will suffocate.
- Yellow Jacket Trap
There are many trap designs but they all involve a lure and some liquid to drown the insects. The simplest method is to hang some rotting fruit, meat or fish from a tree branch (I think an old fish works better than meat and use rotting fruit in the fall) and directly beneath the lure, place a large bucket of water. Make sure the lure is close to the water. The yellow jackets are so full from gorging on the fish that they will often just fall off, weighed down by their own gluttony, and drown in the bucket below.
If you want to perfect this design and catch all the yellow jackets interested in your bait, take a small plank of wood. Smear one side with wet catfood, or jelly/jam. Take a large flat baking dish and fill with soapy water. Place the plank of wood across the baking dish with the lure upside down. There should only be a few centimeters (max 1 inch) between the surface of the water and the lure. The yellow jackets will either fall off the lure into the water (as they are upside down), or fly downwards into the water as they leave. This method will catch hundreds of insects in just a few hours.
Note: it important to use soapy water as the soap breaks the surface tension of the water and ensures that the insects are quickly submerged.
- Shop Vacuum
This method is ideal for dealing with nests that are in hard to get places, such as rafters or when the nest is tucked away within a structure. Shop vacuums are wet vacuum cleaners (1). You can use dry vacuum cleaner but I would not recommend it as after the procedure is complete, you will have a bag full of angry yellow jackets to dispose of. With shop vacs, the water drowns the insects for safe disposal.
With your shop vac, you want to position the end of the hose as close as possible to the entrance to the nest. If the nest is high up, strap the hose to a ladder and position the ladder accordingly.
Add a little dish soap to the water (not too much otherwise you get bubbles). Switch on the vacuum and leave it running for a few hours. Make sure you are well clear of the nest when the vac is running as the yellow jackets will be very angry. It is best to do this procedure at dusk when most of the insects will be back home rather than foraging.
Within a few hours, 95% of the wasps will be dead in the vac. Repeat the procedure the next day to pickup any stragglers. The queen and pupae will remain in the nest, but without the workers to feed them, they will quickly starve. This is also an effective mechanism to get rid of carpenter bees.
- Boiling Water
Many people are tempted to drown the yellow jacket nest that they find in the garden. Unfortunately, this rarely works and once the nest has dried out, the yellow jackets reappear. A much better way to use water against the yellow jackets is to boil it first.
If you have located the nest, boil a kettle and pour the contents on the nest. Simple and effective. Nothing likes boiling water. To make the treatment more effective, add one of the natural insecticides listed below. If the boiling water does not get them, the insecticide will finish the job. This is also an effective method to get rid of ants nests.
Natural yellow jacket Insecticides
- Boric Acid
Boric acid is a wonderful natural yellow jacket insecticide. It is non-toxic to humans but is deadly for a yellow jacket nest. You can easily purchase Boric acid from any pharmacy or hardware shop. Once you have located the nest, all you have to do is apply a generous helping of the powder to the entrance of the nest to ensure that any yellow jacket entering will take brush against the powder and take it into the nest.
Diatomaceous Earth is another fantastic natural insecticide to get rid of yellow jackets. It consists of the tiny remains of fossilized algae-like plants. The powder works to desiccate the yellow jackets and should be applied in the same way as boric acid. I.e. the entrance to the nest needs a good dusting with the powder.
- Peppermint Oil
Many essential oils have insecticide properties and can be used to combat a yellow jacket nest. The oils can also act as a deterrent to keep wasps away from areas. One such oil is peppermint oil which can be used yellow jacket repellent. Spraying outside tables before food is served not only provides a lovely aroma but will keep the yellow jackets at bay while you eat. It can also be added to boiling water and used to destroy the nests. On its own, spraying the nest with peppermint oil will probably not be strong enough to kill the nest, but it certainly will kill a few critters.
- Cedar Oil
Cedar oil is also natural insecticide for yellow jackets. It is effective against all insects and arthropods. When yellow jackets come into contact with cedar oil, they suffer from osmotic dehydration and suffocate. The oil also emulsifies the insect’s body fats and kills them. (2) You can spray the nest with cedar oil solution or as before, mix the cedar oil with boiling water and pour on the nest
- Neem Oil
Neem oil is another great essential oil that can be used as an insecticide to get rid of yellow jackets. The oil contains an active compound called azadirachtin which has profound effects on insects. The oil has a slightly different mechanism for killing the yellow jackets as the azadirachtin found in neem oil destabilize the insect’s hormonal systems. Exposure to neem oil can impede the colonies ability to reproduce. (3).
- Liquid Dish Soap
Dish soap on its own will not kill a yellow jacket nest although it does act as a mild insecticide. The soap solution suffocates the yellow jackets when they come into contact with soap. If essential oils are not available, add dish soap to boiling water and pour on the nest.
Bonus Tip – Gasoline
We would not recommend this method because it will contaminate the ground after application, killing plants and any small fauna in the vicinity. It is also dangerous for the ‘exterminator’. However, it is effective and can be used if other natural methods for killing yellow jackets are not available. Simply pour gasoline down the entrance to the ground nest (only use this method for yellow jacket ground nests!). The fumes from the gasoline and the gasoline itself will quickly kill the nest. Whatever you do, do not light the gasoline. Gasoline ignited in a confined space does not just burn, it explodes. You could literally blow yourself up.
- When dealing with yellow jacket nests, wear as much protective clothing as possible. Angry yellow jackets will protect the nest by stinging.
- If you are stung, there are plenty of home remedies for yellow jacket stings you should use.
- Ensure protective clothing is thick and be sure to wear a veil or a beekeepers hat
- Place yellow jacket traps at about 15 yards away from outdoor eating areas. The trap needs to be close enough to attract yellow jackets away from the eating area, but far away enough for the swarming wasps to not be a problem.
- Yellow jackets insecticides are also effective against sugar ants and carpenter ants nests
- Don’t tackle your yellow jacket nest in the day. Wait until dusk, or if possible night time when all the yellow jackets are home. If you use a flashlight while treating the nest, the yellow jackets will attack the light and not you.
- Don’t use sudden movement around a nest. This will anger the yellow jackets.
- If you disturb a nest, keep calm and walk away. Do not flap your arms
- Never poke or intentionally disturb a nest.