Pesky yellow jackets ruin outdoor events

Our typical fall nuisance pests are beginning to show up in full force and most recently, the yellow jackets have been a real pest. If you have had an outdoor event or picnic, I suspect that you have been swatting them as have I.

Last weekend during the family picnics for the holiday, they were out in droves, especially at my dad’s house. My sister just found their nesting site the other day. It seems they have taken up residence in between the window frame and the brick.

She noticed a bunch of them swarming around the windows and they had little tiny entrance holes in the mortar. We sprayed a few times to knock down populations.

I have also had people calling about wasps and ground nesting bees. Many were concerned about killing the yellow jackets, wasps and other stinging pollinators.

Wasps (yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers, bald-faced hornets etc.) are pollinators and during the early part of the summer, they are considered good guys. They visit flowers for nectar to provide energy for their work.

Their early summer work consists of eating the bad guys such as soft-bodied insects including bagworms and the fall armyworms I mentioned last week.

However, this time of the year, wasps, yellow jackets in particular, turn into bad guys and annoy the heck out of people who are trying to enjoy these last days of warm weather. As flowers start to fade, they seek other sources for carbs and end up around your picnic and your pop can or sweet-smelling perfume.

Populations in the nests are at their max this time of the year, so it appears that there are huge numbers all of a sudden; in reality they have been around all summer building in population.

Again, it’s important to protect our pollinators. However, human safety comes first before pollinators. If nests are in a location where people may come in contact, it’s OK to eliminate them.

If you come across nests that are away from where people gather, leave them alone. These are not aggressive critters, unless they need to protect their home. Therefore, stay away from their nests.

People tend to get stung when they get one caught in their clothing, car, by swatting or simply by accident. If they land on you, they won’t sting you. I let them walk over my hands trying to prove this point but people tend to freak out.

It’s so very hard for people to keep from swatting them, especially children. Try telling a 3-year-old to stand still and it will go away.

I get it – when they are around at the picnic, they can be quite bothersome. At an outdoor picnic, keep food on a table covered as much as possible. Use a screened tent if for the food.

I have had success with the yellow jacket traps that you can purchase. Put a sweet drink in the bag and they become trapped when they go after it.

Or, put a half of a cantaloupe or sweet fruit out away from where you are eating and hopefully, they will go for that instead of your plate.

The good news is that eventually the queen will leave the nest and find an overwintering place to hang out. The rest of the crew will be killed by a frost and they won’t use the same nest next season.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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