How to Keep Yellow Jackets Away

How to avoid this wasp in bee’s clothing.

Yellow Jacket PD.jpg

Unlike honeybees, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly when provoked.

Unlike honeybees, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly when provoked.

Photo by: Mick Telkamp

Mick Telkamp

Unlike honeybees, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly when provoked.

Often mistaken for honeybees due to their similar size and coloring, yellow jackets aren’t bees at all. Members of the wasp family, there are several varieties of this summer scourge found throughout the United States. Yellow jackets do have some value to gardeners as pollinators and as a predator of leaf munching caterpillars and other plant-damaging insects. But an appetite that includes scavenging for protein or sugar-rich foods like soda, candy, meats and other picnic or campsite favorites make this aggressive stinger more pest than pal.

In addition to appearance, yellow jackets have something else in common with the more docile honeybee. Yellow jackets are social insects whose colonies revolve around a queen and operate under a division of labor. Male wasps fertilize the queen and female workers defend the colony, gather food and attend to the young. Late in the summer the queen will produce new queens. Only these queens overwinter and each year they emerge to produce new colonies. From a single queen, colonies numbering in the thousands will be established by mid-summer.

Yellow jackets are a common problem in the summertime, scavenging around trash cans, in parks, or anywhere exposed food can be found. Keeping trash cans clean and covering serving dishes when dining outside can reduce their presence. Also avoid wearing brightly colored clothing and floral perfumes, to which yellow jackets are drawn. Lure traps can be set to discourage foragers from visiting, but if there’s food, they are likely to show up. When encountering a yellow jacket, it is important to remain calm.

Unlike honeybees, yellow jackets are able to sting repeatedly and will do so if provoked. Worse yet, when a yellow jacket is squashed, a pheromone that signals other yellow jackets to attack is released. When encountering this pest, keep cool. Move slowly and gently brush away any yellow jacket that might land on you.

If stung by a yellow jacket, wash the sting site immediately and apply ice or take an antihistamine to reduce swelling. Multiple stings or a sting near the throat may require medical attention. Reduce activity and monitor the site for lingering pain or excessive swelling.

Yellow jackets build paper nests in hollow logs, underground or in the attics or walls of man-made structures. If a nest is discovered, often the best treatment is time. Colonies of yellow jackets die off entirely when cold weather hits and rarely return to the same nesting site. If yellow jackets are nesting in the home or in high traffic areas, consider chemical treatment at the nest. Follow manufacturer instructions and proceed with caution. Treatment is most effective after dusk when yellow jackets are least active.

Next Up

How to Get Rid of Earwigs

Earwigs aren't pretty, and they can eat your plants and invade your home. Learn how to make earwigs bug off.

Humane Ways to Get Rid of Groundhogs and Keep Them Away

Got groundhogs? Discover effective, all-natural ways to keep these critters out of your yard and garden.

Cicadas 2024: Everything You Need to Know

Two types of cicadas will emerge this year. This is a rare natural phenomenon that hasn’t happened since 1803! Learn about these fascinating creatures and find a few practical considerations for your home and garden.

Deter Deer in the Garden

Learn how to keep deer from destroying your landscape and backyard garden.

How to Get Rid of Moles and Voles

Find out the difference between moles and voles and learn how to get rid of moles and voles so these burrowing varmints don't turn your lawn or garden into their playpen.

How to Keep Chipmunks Out of the Garden

Learn how to get rid of chipmunks in your garden and stop these critters from wrecking your yard.

How to Get Rid of Grubs

Grubs feed on the roots of your lawn and plants. Take control before these destructive pests get out of hand.

Squash Bugs and Squash Vine Borers in the Garden

Having problems with your squash plants? It might be squash bugs or squash vine borers. Both can cause significant damage to squash, gourds, pumpkins and zucchini plants. Learn how to detect these pests and preserve your crops.

Lawn Seeding: How to Plant Grass Seed

To reinvigorate your existing lawn or plant a new one, follow these steps on how to grow grass in the spring and fall.

How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs in My  House

Brush up on stink bug basics and say so long to these indoor invaders with these quick, natural ways to keep stink bugs at bay.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.