3 Ways to Manage Yellowjackets Without Chemicals

Closeup of western yellowjacket, on a green plant

It’s hard to like yellowjackets. They sting, cause violent allergic reactions in some people, harass picnickers, and have a knack for causing trouble at the wrong time. This doesn’t mean, however, that reaching for a spray can is a good way to deal with a yellowjacket problem. Chemical-free techniques are surprisingly effective.

Yellowjackets, sometimes known as hornets, are wasps that are black and yellow or white. Common pest species in the Northwest are the western yellowjacket, the common yellowjacket, and the German yellowjacket. A wasp that is commonly mistaken for a yellowjacket is the paper wasp. They are longer and more slender than yellowjackets and are usually unaggressive (see Bees & Wasps). Their nests are a single comb, and not surrounded by a paper envelope.1,2

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3 Ways to Manage Yellowjackets Without Chemicals

Watch this short video, or read the 3 methods below.

1.   Prevention

Prevention is the best solution. If you’re expecting yellowjacket problems, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce or eliminate them.

  • Don’t provide these scavengers with food or drink. If you have a meal outside, keep the food and drink covered as much as possible. If you feed your pets outside, keep the pet food covered.1
  • Keep a tight lid on garbage cans. Also eliminate any standing water.1,3
  • Avoid behavior that attracts yellowjackets. Avoid perfume, sweet smelling shampoos, or other scented body care products. Don’t wear bright colored clothes, particularly yellow, or floral patterns. Yellowjackets seem to be attracted by these colors.4 
  • Avoid taking action that angers yellowjackets. Stay away from their nests as much as possible.1 Don’t swat at yellowjackets that approach you since this can provoke them to sting. Don’t let children throw rocks or other items at nests.4 
2.   Trapping

Traps can be an effective, pesticide-free technique for managing yellowjackets, and trapping experts have tips for making this technique work well:

  • Traps can either be purchased or homemade. Examples of sources for commercial traps are http://www.rescue.com and http://saferbrand.com. They are widely available at garden and hardware stores.

  • Homemade traps are usually made from a five gallon bucket. Fill the bucket with soapy water and hang a protein bait a couple of inches above the water. You can put a wide mesh screen over the bucket and bait so that pets or other animals don’t eat the bait. The yellowjackets grab a piece of the bait too heavy to fly with, then fall down, get trapped in the water, and drown.1 

  • Using the right bait in a trap is critical. Protein baits are most effective in the spring and summer. The foraging yellowjackets need the protein in order to feed their young. Canned white chicken meat is a very successful protein bait, preferred over pet food and fish.5

  • In the late summer and early fall, the yellowjackets prefer sweet baits. Sweet drinks like sodas or juices are effective.2 The highly successful trapping program at the Waterfront Park baseball stadium used a mixture of beer and diluted Italian soda syrup.6 Commercial baits are also available.

  • There are several ways to kill wasps after they’re trapped. You can put traps in the freezer or put them inside a plastic bag in the hot sun for several hours. You can also submerge them in a bucket of soapy water.7

  • Traps need to be emptied and refilled with bait at least weekly.2

  • Trapping queens in the late winter to early spring can reduce the number of nests later in the season.1

3.  Nest Removal

Removing a nest is a chore that should be tackled only by professionals with expertise in working around stinging insects and protective clothing.7 Aerial nests can be removed at night by enclosing them in a plastic bag and pulling them loose. Other kinds of nests can be vacuumed out.7 Some companies provide this service inexpensively because they sell the wasps as a source of venom to pharmaceutical companies.7 Check out Bee Removal Source for an extensive list of resources organized by state.

If You Think Pesticides Are Necessary

NCAP does not recommend the use of pesticides. However, we recognize that you may feel that you have no other options. If you feel that yellowjacket pesticides are necessary, consider using one of the products that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified as minimum risk pesticides. For example: http://www.saferbrand.com/ or http://www.ecosmart.com.  These “minimum risk” products do not have a registration number and identify all ingredients on the labels of the products.8

Additional Information About Yellowjackets

Yellowjacket Nests

All yellowjackets build paper nests that are completely surrounded by a paper envelope. Most yellowjackets nest underground. They often use burrows made by rodents or other natural openings as nest sites. The German yellowjacket likes to nest inside walls of houses. There are two kinds of yellowjackets, the aerial yellowjacket and the bald-faced hornet, that hang their nests from trees or building eaves.1

Most yellowjackets defend their nest vigorously, and being near a nest means you’re likely to get stung. Typically, the ground-dwelling yellowjackets are the most aggressive, while those that nest aboveground are somewhat less touchy.1

Seasonal Behavior

Most yellowjackets die with the first frost in the fall. The nest is abandoned and typically not used again. Only the queens find a protected spot to spend the winter. In the spring, the queens build new nests and begin laying eggs which hatch into worker wasps. All summer the number of workers increases. By the end of summer there can be thousands of yellowjackets in a nest. This is typically when the yellowjackets are most troublesome.2

Yellowjackets Are Important Insectivores

Yellowjackets feed their young large numbers of insects that might otherwise damage trees or crops. They also feed their young houseflies, lots of them.  What this means, according to the University of California, is that they “should be protected and encouraged to nest in areas of little human or animal activity.”1 If you find yellowjackets in a place where people and pets are unlikely to get close, it’s a good idea to just let them be.

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    1. Mussen, E.C. and M.K. Rust. 2012. Pest Notes: Yellowjackets and Other Social Wasps. U.C. Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7450.html
    2. Landolt, P.J. and A.L. Antonelli. 2003. Yellowjackets and Paper Wasps. Washington State University Cooperative Extension. https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/1384/2016/07/Yellowjackets-and-Paper-Wasps.pdf
    3. Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District. Undated. Yellowjackets and Paper Waspshttps://www.fightthebite.net/education/yellowjackets-and-paper-wasps/ 
    4. Anderson, M. 2016. Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets. The EPA Blog. https://blog.epa.gov/2016/09/28/avoid-painful-often-dangerous-encounters-with-yellow-jackets/
    5. Rust, M.K. et al. 2010. Developing Baits for the Control of Yellowjackets in California. University of California Riverside, Department of Entomology. https://www.pestboard.ca.gov/howdoi/research/2009_yellowjacket.pdf
    6. Goldstein, M. 1996. Program hits home run. Pest Control (August):44-46.
    7. Daar, S. et al. 1997. IPM For Schools: A How-to Manual. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/94003Q78.PDF?Dockey=94003Q78.PDF
    8. 40 Code of Federal Regulations 152.25.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • Taylor McLean
    commented 2022-11-26 10:41:43 -0800
    Thank so much for this detailed info one how to deal with hornets without using chemicals. As a pressure washing expert I often have to deal with hornets nests but my company only uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, so we find your articles very inspiring. Some of the examples you mentioned for trapping the hornets I’ve never heard of before, and might give a try next time we come across a yellowjacket nest on a pressure washing job. Again, thanks so much. #hornets #yellowjackets #pestcontrol #nochemicals

    Respectfully yours,
    Taylor M.
    The Pressure Washing Pros
  • Ashley Chesser
    commented 2021-09-14 10:33:02 -0700
    To support yellowjackets and keep them away from where you live, you could try a few things. Planting mint near your home (in containers so as not to let it spread aggressively) will help deter them from making nests near your home. To provide them with food, plant flowers that will bloom throughout the seasons. Yellowjackets can be aggressive and kill honey bees, so it’s not ideal to have too many in one given area. For that reason, I would avoid leaving out meat or syrup for yellowjackets. Putting out a tray of water with rocks or marbles inside for pollinators to land on will help out a variety of beneficial insects. Just be sure to put the water as far from your house as possible and replace regularly so as not to allow mosquitoes to breed.
  • Alexandra Baron
    commented 2021-09-04 14:42:19 -0700
    Hello this is only sort of what I am looking for. I sadly and one of the violent allergic ones and they naturally seem to gravitate to my unscented self. I don’t wish to trap kill or harm them especially since I now understand their feeding cycle and that they are starving and desperate. So rather than harm them I am looking to find ways of helping them and attracting them away from me hopefully by giving them a yellow jacket heaven zone. Any ideas how much distance would be most effective and what the ideal way of setting that up so neither they nor I need to die?
  • Alec Stevens
    commented 2017-03-23 22:17:33 -0700
    There are tons of ways to take care of yellow jackets that we can see after reading this article. Thoroughly impressed with how much work was put into this. We are going to start implementing the trapping techniques. We have done a lot of these types of techniques, but we have always felt a little bad killing the wasps and think there are better options to “get some use” out of the dead wasps and have them taken care of in a more humane way.