How to Deal With Yellow Jackets in Your Garden

By Tracy Colby | Lawn & Garden

Aug 20

Yellow jackets can be a huge problem in your garden and yard. After all, who wants to work in their garden or sit outside among stinging pests bent on destruction? If yellow jackets are a problem around your home, there is a chance you may have some exposed items that are attracting them.

In the following article we will discuss several strategies for eradicating those pesky insects—or at least driving them away from your home. We will also provide the names of several plants you can introduce to your garden that may be able to help repel any yellow jacket activity in the future.

Having a Picnic or Gathering? Cover Your Food!

During the summertime, nothing is better than an old fashioned picnic or outdoor get-together on the patio or in the garden.

Whether you plan to BBQ, make sandwiches, or have a romantic interlude with cheese and wine, these outside parties can be a blast. However, nothing puts more of a damper on an outdoor gathering than a collection of bothersome yellow jackets.

Those of you who have ever been stung by a yellow jacket—which includes yours truly—understand the pain, itching and irritation that can follow one of these unfortunate encounters. As such, even the sight of a single yellow jacket may cause you and/or your group to temporarily abandon your party in search of safe refuge.

So why do yellow jackets have such an infinity for outdoor picnics and parties? Our food! Yellow jackets are attracted to different kinds of food and their ingredients, particularly sugary foods and those loaded with protein. Because of this, things like soda, fruits and that uncooked piece of meat you are planning to place on the BBQ can lure yellow jackets from far away with their smell or aroma.

To protect against these invasions, we recommend you cover all of your food until you are ready to cook or eat it. If you are drinking soda at your party, forgo open cups for bottles that have lids, as yellow jackets are especially fond of that sugary treat. All other food items should be covered with lids or cellophane until you are ready to dig in (or kept inside); and you should always wait until the last minute to bring raw meat outside in preparation for the grill.

Properly Seal All Outdoor Trash Cans

As we mentioned above, yellow jackets are attracted to sugars and proteins, which together make up about 50 percent of our rubbish.

These types of food scraps, especially as they begin to decay and give off a foul odor, can cause yellow jackets to gather around your trash cans in search of a bite or two. And make no mistake, yellow jackets, as most of you know, can be quite determined in getting what they want, so simply shooing them away is seldom enough to fix the problem.

Instead, we recommend you properly seal all of your trash cans—with the lids down and locked into place—until it is time to put them out on the curb for pickup. For even more security, we recommend you place all of your trash in a large plastic bag of some kind (Glad Bag, Hefty, etc.) before placing it into the trash can and sealing the lid. This holds true with discarded food at a picnic, party or some other gathering. Do not merely throw scraps away in an open brown bag or trash can, unless you like the idea of being stung by those pesky critters.

About Your Compost Pile

If you have a compost pile that you plan to use as fertilizer in your garden we strongly recommend one of the following two strategies:

  • Cover your compost. If you believe your compost pile will remain fairly small there are containers in which you can place that compost. These containers have lids that can keep yellow jackets and other insects away.
  • Gather far away from the compost pile. If your compost pile already exists, always set up any outdoor gathering spots a good distance from that compost. Not only will this keep the yellow jackets away from your party it will also save you from the unpleasant aroma those piles can emit.

Naturally, option one is the more expensive of the two, but either one will prevent or at least mitigate the problem. Note: If you go with option number two you can still reap some of the benefits of yellow jackets, as these insects also tend to feed on harmful flies and caterpillars.

Pick Up Fallen Fruit

Fruit trees can be a wonderful addition to any garden or backyard space. When in bloom, not only do they produce lots of edible goodies, they also look absolutely beautiful.

However, there will be times, such as during wind storms, when the ripened or un-ripened fruit will fall from the tree onto the ground. And if you are not diligent when it comes to picking up the fallen goodies, you may amass quite a bit of rotting fruit in your backyard space.

As we mentioned above, yellow jackets are very fond of the sugar found in fruit, and they will come from far and wide for such an amazing feast. You can prevent this by picking up any fallen fruit on a regular basis—about every two to three days.

Hang Traps

If you are not opposed to some of the more lethal eradication methods, you can always hang yellow jacket traps to help control their population around your home. Be sure to hang these traps in various spots around your home, but concentrate your efforts on any problem areas you may have noticed—areas in which they seem to congregate. We recommend you hang these traps in the very early part of the summer, before the queens begin searching for nesting spots.

If your budget cannot support the purchase these commercial yellow jacket traps you can always make your own. Merely cut a hole in an open two-liter bottle filled with sugar water to attract and trap the stinging pests. As a bonus, you may also catch some other crawling or flying insects as well.

Other Strategies

Other strategies for ridding your garden and backyard of yellow jackets include:

  • Locating and destroying their nests. Look for these nests—very cautiously—in logs, below eaves, or even underground, as yellow jackets often create nests in rodent holes found on lawns and in flower beds.
  • Spray the nest. Insecticides like RAID, when sprayed onto an occupied nest, can kill most if not all of the creepy occupants. This can be dangerous, however. If you plan to do this, make sure to cover your body from head to toe to avoid being stung or opt instead for the third option—call an exterminator.
  • Call an Exterminator. Exterminators are well trained and well-armed to deal with yellow jackets and other insects around your home.

Plants that Can Repel Yellow Jackets

There are a handful of plant types that can often act as yellow jacket repellants. These plants include:

  • Wormwood

Also known as Artemisia, Wormwood is a poisonous plant that was once used for medicinal purposes. The boxy shrub is the ideal plant when you want to create a yellow jacket-free border around your garden.

  • Mint

While we may like the pleasant smell and taste of the mint herb, yellow jackets seem to hate it. As a result, the plant works wonderfully as a repellant against the insects. The mint plant also looks great in any garden space, and when cut can be used in bouquets and in a variety of food and drink recipes.

  • Lemon Grass

Similar to wormwood, lemon grass has a number of inherent properties that act as an insect repellant, including yellow jackets. Although native to Asia, lemon grass can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. As a bonus, not only does lemon grass repel yellow jackets and wasps, it also repels mosquitoes, making it one of the most beneficial plants for an insect free garden.