How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets and Prevent Them From Returning

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated December 8, 2022
A view of a sunny backyard garden
Photo: Aiselin82 / iStock / Getty Images

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Your garden should be abuzz with plants, butterflies, birds, and insects. But if you find your garden is buzzing a bit too much, don’t worry. There are ways to get rid of yellow jackets and discourage them from returning. 

While this can be a dangerous DIY, if you have the proper safety gear and experience, you can tackle this project on your own. However, since yellow jackets can inflict painful stings when they feel threatened, it’s best to hire a professional to ensure everything goes smoothly with the removal. 

Why Do I Have Yellow Jackets in My Yard?

A yellow jacket perches on a flower
Photo: Mark / Adobe Stock

The yellow jacket, a kind of wasp, enjoys spending time in home gardens, as it often eats many insects that could otherwise harm your budding swiss chard and tomato plants. 

Because of this, these wasps can be beneficial in small numbers, though too many of them too close to your home—which usually means a nest is present—can spell trouble. 

Yellow Jackets Are Drawn to Food 

Yellow jackets are found in virtually every country in the world, and like all other insects and other urban critters, they’ve come to your yard in search of shelter and food. They are particularly drawn to garbage bins and pet food, as well as sugary liquids from items such as soda cans and hummingbird feeders. 

In addition, they seek protein from other pests that are harmful to your garden, such as aphids and grubs. In this way, they can be beneficial, restoring equilibrium to your garden space. They can also be useful pollinators, and will prey on annoying mosquitos. 

Consider If You Can Peacefully Coexist 

To that end, a few yellow jackets in your garden are nothing to worry about, especially if your yard is large enough that they won’t constantly be near areas where pets or children play. 

But if there are many wasps present, or you spot a nest within 10 feet of your home, it might be necessary to take action to remove the wasps and their nest. If aggravated, yellow jackets can become aggressive very quickly and sting multiple times (unlike bees, which only sting once). 

In addition, if yellow jackets believe they are being threatened, they may release pheromones that attract more yellow jackets to the area.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Pest Control Service?

On average, the cost to have wasps professionally removed is $375. To ensure a safe and effective removal, hiring a professional exterminator is a smart move, especially if a nest is present (colonies can contain thousands of yellow jackets) or the wasps are becoming aggressive toward you and your family.

How to Identify Yellow Jackets

5 differences compared for yellow jackets and honeybees, with honeybees only stinging once and yellow jackets stinging repeatedly
Photo: Daniel Prudek / Adobe

With so many bugs out there, it’s hard to know how to identify these aggressive, winged insects. Often mistaken for bees, yellow jackets are similarly black and yellow, but the yellow jacket has a smooth body compared to a bee’s furry one. 

They range from 12 to 18 millimeters in size and have three distinct body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. 

How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets

A view of a wasp trap in a garden
Photo: Joaquin Corbalan / iStock / Getty Images

If you’ve noticed an increasing number of these wasps around your home or—ouch!—you’ve been stung, it’s time to get rid of them and their nest. 

Warning: Yellow jackets can inflict painful stings when provoked. If you notice a significant number of yellow jackets around your home, it’s best to call a local pest exterminator. If you do wish to exterminate them and their nesting site, work after the sun has set, when the wasps are less active.

Eliminate Their Food Sources

Yellow jackets are visiting or making a home in your yard because they can regularly find food there. Cut off their source of food and see if they look for a new hangout spot. 

  1. Keep trash containers closed.

  2. Store pet food in sealed containers, ideally in the home, the garage, or a shed.

  3. Clean up after outdoor meals, removing soda cans, juice glasses, and other sugary liquids.

  4. Wash your hummingbird feeder regularly to prevent sugary buildup on its exterior.

  5. If you grow fruit, make sure to pick up any that has fallen on the ground.

Use a Trap 

Lure traps can be used to kill off a few localized yellow jackets, but won’t be effective in destroying an entire nest if one is present. A trap is most useful to keep the wasps away from a small area—such as an outdoor dining room table—but not eliminate the problem entirely unless you are employing other methods listed here. 

  1. Set the trap in early spring: You’ll be more likely to capture a queen wasp; if you never trap the queen, the wasp colony will continue to grow.

  2. Check if your trap has chemical attractants: If not, use meat in the spring and summer and something sugary (like fruit juice) in later summer and autumn. Be mindful that traps with food can also attract beneficial insects (and other harmful ones).

  3. Keep the trap at a safe distance: Hang the trap away from where people and pets hang out and congregate. 

  4. Safely keep an eye on the traps: Check the traps and replace the bait every few days.

Get Rid of the Nest 

Removing yellow jackets yourself is a dangerous DIY that is best left to the professionals. But if you’re forging ahead, you should first—carefully—locate the nest, whether in the ground or up on an eave, in the daytime. (But wait until evening to attempt removal.) 

Wear long sleeves and pants, as well as face and eye protection to reduce the risk of a sting. 

  1. Listen for buzzing sounds: Watch where active yellow jackets are flying; the nests are usually in the ground, but can, depending on the species, also be found in eaves, doorways, and other high-up spots. 

  2. Locate the nest: Determine the entry and exit point by watching the wasps from a safe distance.

  3. Return at night to use a spray treatment: Yellow jackets will have a difficult time locating you once the sun has begun to set, and they are less active in the evening.

  4. Use an aerosol spray: Look for active ingredients such as carbaryl, acephate, tetramethrin, or diazinon. 

  5. Spray the nest: Using a long-range jet spray, focus on the entrance and exit points of the nest for one minute. 

  6. Cover the entire area: Spray around the nest in increasingly wide circles to ensure you have covered the entire area.

  7. Retreat to safety: If any wasps fly out during this process, spray them as well. Leave the area immediately, as soon as you have finished spraying, as any remaining alive and active yellow jackets might become agitated.

  8. Check the area after 24 hours: Multiple treatments may be needed—it usually takes at least two or three sprays.

  9. Don’t seal the nest: This will cause the wasps to look for a new exit, which might become a spot closer to your home.

Tips for Preventing Yellow Jackets

Wasps crawl on the ground
Photo: skhoward / iStock / Getty Images

Without a reliable food source, yellow jackets are unlikely to make your home their home. Eliminate their food sources and you should be able to prevent the wasps from building a nest nearby.

You can also take some other proactive measures by placing items in your yard that repel yellow jackets. Any sites where previous nests were should be sprayed with a mixture of soap and water once per month. These flying pests also hate the smell of peppermint, so it could be time to plant a few mint plants in your garden.

Finally, make sure to keep your yard clean. Yellow jackets will often build nests in rotting wood or around other yard debris for camouflage.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

We recommend hiring a professional for this task, as yellow jackets can become aggravated very quickly. That said, if you know for certain you are not allergic to yellow jackets and are willing to take the risk of being stung, you can try to eliminate these wasps on your own. It’s best to attempt this in the colder months of the year when the insects are less active. 

That said, the sting from a yellow jacket is very painful, and they will become aggressive fast when bothered. If you know there is a nest in your yard, call a local pest control company to take care of the problem before it gets even bigger.

Frequently Asked Questions

Probably not. Many imitation nests are meant to be hung from trees or other tall places, but not all yellow jackets nest up high—most species, such as the common yellow jacket and the southern yellow jacket, build nests in the ground. 

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