Though these insects usually aren't pollinators, they still have a beneficial role in the environment. If you have to get rid of them, try natural methods first, and use chemicals as a last resort.

By Deb Wiley
Updated August 10, 2020
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Even though a thriving garden has plenty of diverse insects, you probably aren't too happy when you spot wasps and hornets buzzing around. These insects can be very aggressive toward humans, injuring us with stings that may cause swelling and allergic reactions. Unlike bees, most wasps aren't pollinators, but they do prey on other insects (including caterpillars and aphids), so they can help keep pest populations down. Because of this, it's best to leave wasps alone if you can, but if they're becoming a problem by arriving in large numbers or making it impossible to enjoy your yard, it's time to take action. Here's how to identify wasps in your garden (don't mistake helpful bees for wasps!) and get rid of them.

wasp on top of veronica plant flower
Credit: Marty Baldwin

How to Identify Wasps

The word "wasp" is an umbrella term used for thousands of types of flying and stinging insects, including yellow jackets, hornets, and paper wasps. So how can you tell if a flying insect is a beneficial bee or a threatening wasp? A wasp has a waist that is much thinner than the rest of its body; a bee's body is about the same thickness throughout.

Wasp bodies look almost sleek, lacking the fuzzy hairs that enable bees to gather pollen. Color isn't a reliable way to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp, although many wasps have a distinctive yellow-and-black striped pattern, and some hornets are black and white.

Best Way to Get Rid of Wasps Naturally

Some yellow jackets build their papery nests below ground in hollow logs or other cavities, while others build rounded hanging nests that resemble large paper coconuts. Paper wasps build nests that look like umbrella-shaped honeycombs; they're usually found under overhangs, beams, and limbs.

In both cases, leave the nests alone if they're in places you can avoid, such as a back corner of your yard or garden. Wasps only use a nest for one year, although they may return to a site if it's an especially good one. If you find a wasp nest in early spring, when the colony is still small, you can try sealing up all openings to the nests. However, if wasps are nesting inside a house, such as inside the siding, never block the hole, as the wasps will find a way to get inside.

Knock out nests in the spring and early summer with a pressurized spray of water from a distance of at least 15 to 20 feet. Be prepared to run. Or, if you don't want to risk getting rid of the nest yourself, you can also hire a professional pest exterminator to take it down for you (if it's a large nest with a lot of wasps, it's best to leave it to the pros).

Wasp bait and traps work on some species, but only early in the season. Remove wasp traps before midsummer so they don't attract more insects and create a colony. Also remove goodies that may attract wasps, such as decaying foods, open garbage or recycling bins, pet food, etc. In spring, caulk and seal any cracks on the exterior of your home to prevent wasps from entering.

wasps building nest
Credit: Robert Cardillo

Using Chemicals to Kill Wasps

If you need to use chemicals to get rid of a wasp nest because of its proximity to people, especially late in the summer when wasp colonies are at their largest numbers, it's best to hire a professional exterminator. You should also call a pro if you're allergic to stings.

If you decided to try getting rid of the wasps yourself, take appropriate precautions before you spray them. Wear long pants or overalls, a shirt with long sleeves, boots, gloves, and a hat with an insect veil. Seal your pant cuffs to boots and sleeves to gloves using tape or rubber bands.

For wasps with ground-level nests, use an insecticidal dust. The dust works by sticking to the insects as they come and go out of the nest.

For above-ground nests, use a jet aerosol wasp spray with a range of 10 to 20 feet. Never climb on a ladder to spray wasps; they can attack before you're able to descend safely. Plan an escape route before spraying so you know which way to run.

Dust or spray at night or early in the morning when most wasps are inactive and inside the nest. Read and follow all label directions when you're spraying, and stay away from treated wasp nest sites for a full day. If the wasps are still active, you can repeat the process. Don't use any of these chemicals inside your home; if you spot wasps inside, call a professional exterminator to safely remove them.

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