Often mistaken for bees, the yellow jacket is actually a member of the paper wasp family. Yellow jackets form large colonies, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Mostly, gardeners welcome yellow jackets into the garden as they kill many insects considered to be problematic in your garden.
Trouble is, when they colonize in heavily traveled outdoor areas, they can be dangerous to children and pets. The wasps will build nests in locations advantageous to the colony; in and around food and water sources, and where the colony can be left alone. Left undisturbed, entire colonies can live in harmony with humans and wildlife. They take up residency in their nest for one season only, abandoning it in late fall as most of the adults die off.
Yellow jackets can get too close for comfort. And when they do, you don’t have to reach for the can of wasp spray at the first sign of trouble. Consider these kinder, gentler solutions first.
Wasps love sweet, wet food. Next time you are at a barbecue, watch their behavior around open, undisturbed soda cans. They’ll crawl right in and stay there until you give them a reason to come out. Sliced watermelon and fruit salad is impossible for these wanna-bees to resist. They’ll hover over a hot barbecue if they think they have a shot at getting a taste of your favorite barbecue sauce recipe. So, to stay one step ahead of them, be vigilant about cleaning up after your garden guests if you are having a get-together or kid’s birthday party in the yard. While I can’t back this up with science, yellow jackets seem to appear tenfold, out of thin air – and fast- if they think there’s a meal in it for them.
Live traps and decoys
There are many commercially available live traps on the market at your local home and garden store. Before your next party, pick one or two different brands up, to give them a try. If you have the 411 on where the yellow jacket’s nest is, set up some decoy food near the nest, a safe distance from your party. It will keep them busy while you entertain. Just don’t forget to tell your guests to avoid the area.
Wasps and bees don’t like smoke. If it’s convenient, start a barbecue early and line the coals with items that will produce smoke, but still be pleasant for your guests. Add wet smoker chips, hardwoods, or even large clumps of wet, fresh herbs to the coals. If you catch it early enough, the wasps will get frustrated and move on.
Yellow jackets have a barb-like stinger that generally does not detach when they sting, so they’re capable of multiple stings. Give some thought to these methods in order to keep yellow jackets at bay when you have to share the same outdoor spaces with them.
Editor’s note- cover photo by biology.duke.edu
What tricks do you use, to keep bees and wasps at a safe distance from your family?