GreenMind publishes authoritative and detailed guides to the things you're curious about.
My Yellowjacket Wasp Nest Encounter
Around the middle of July, I decided it was time to dig up and transplant a row of hostas that were growing alongside our garage. The area was weedy and more neglected than the rest of our garden and yard, and the idea was to dig them up and start prepping the patch for a fall planting of winter wheat. So far so good!
The situation arose when I started clearing some ivy vines around the hostas. What I thought were flies started hovering the ground. They were very interested in what I doing... And then I realized no, they weren't flies, they were yellowjacket wasps, and they were getting agitated. I was pulling up weeds less than three feet from a very active yellowjacket nest that was built into the roots of one of the hostas! I backed away calmly and then ran like mad for the house. They didn't follow me, and I didn't get stung, but my weeding project was definitely on hold.
At this point it would have made sense to abandon the project and leave the wasps alone. But I knew that the nest would get larger, and every time we had people over the bees would come looking for some of their food. Inevitably, someone would get stung.
Yellowjackets (also often spelled Yellow Jacket; both are acceptable) are predatory wasps that build their nests in the ground. They are yellow and black, and behave differently from paper wasps and honeybees -- they are aggressive, and will hover in your face threateningly. and sting with little provocation. Yellowjackets are those wasps that harass your picnic and congregate in outdoor garbage cans, and they increase in numbers as the summer goes on.
The worst part about yellowjackets is their sting. It's described by the Schmidt Pain Index as "hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”
Yellowjackets are predators and scavengers; they do not pollinate flowers, but they do help control caterpillars and other insects. Overall, they are more trouble than they're worth when it comes to having a nest in your backyard.
Getting Stung by a Yellowjacket Wasp
I have been stung twice by yellowjackets, and many times by assorted bees and wasps and ants, and I'm here to tell you that the yellowjacket sting is by far the worst. The initial pain is bearable, but then it gets worse and worse over the next few hours. The sting site is uncomfortable for days, and then becomes an unbearably itchy welt that bothers me for weeks.
So I had all kinds of reasons to get rid of the nest in my back yard.
Some people are very allergic to stings of any kind. For these people, a sting from yellowjacket wasp can be fatal. If you or anyone in the vicinity of the nest are allergic, DO NOT TRY THIS METHOD. There's a chance you could get stung!
Ground Wasp Nests Are Not Paper Wasp Nests – They're Worse
The distinction in important, because paper wasps (genus Polistes and others) make their nests in trees and under eaves, while yellowjackets (genus Vespula or Dolichovespula) make their nests in the ground. It's a lot harder to get rid of a nest in the ground than one under the eaves, since you can't just spray it with Raid and run. You need to get under the ground to kill the wasps and the nest.
Poison the Ground? No Thank You!
The most obvious way to clear out yellowjacket nests is by inserting poison into the ground; in the old days, you would just pour gasoline down the hole. This certainly kills the wasps, but it also kills everything it touches, and poisons the ground for years. There are less toxic options, but they all compromise the soil.
Professional Assistance to Kill Yellowjacket Nests
My first thought was to call someone to come out and get rid of the wasps. But MAN are they expensive -- and they were all going to use toxins of one kind or another to clear out the nest. I really wanted to avoid putting anything into the soil, even detergent as some people suggested, and i REALLY wanted to avoid paying someone $200 to do it.
I got busy on the internet, and after a while using various keywords, I had my answer.
The Electric Flyswatter Comes to the Rescue!
Finally I found this awesome YouTube tutorial from a guy who had a non-toxic, affordable, and very interesting method for getting rid of a yellowjacket nest in his yard. It uses a very simple and affordable tool: this electric flyswatter. I got one and used it myself, and it worked!
As I like to say, "it's easier to show you than to tell you." So here's the dude with the electric flyswatter method of eradicating a yellowjacket wasp nest in the ground:
I Decided to Try This Method Myself, and It Worked!
Once again -- if you or anyone in your household are allergic to bee or wasp stings, DO NOT TRY THIS METHOD. There's a chance you could get stung!
That said, I did use this method, and I did not get stung. I made sure to do everything possible after sunset, when the wasps are much less active, and I never came closer to the nest than I absolutely had to.
What I Learned When I Used the Electric Flyswatter Method to Get Rid of a Yellowjacket Nest
- You have to find a way to hold down the button on the flyswatter "racket." I used a rubber band to press a coin on the button, which worked beautifully.
- You need to use an old t-shirt or towel to make a "skirt" around the racket that will keep the wasps from avoiding the electric part of the racket. I got busy with the scissors and used masking tape to make a very effective fabric skirt around the racket.
- It's scary to lay the racket over the nest hole. You will want to get in and out as fast as possible, but be accurate when you place the racket.
- Use a long stick or rake handle to adjust the skirt around the racket as best as possible.
- You'll know if it's working because you will hear a steady stream of ZAPS from the electric flyswatter racket as the wasps land on it. They hit it on their way in and out, and they all get zapped in both directions.
- It's a little like making popcorn -- when you stop hearing the ZAPS, you're pretty sure it's over.
- You will need to change or recharge the batteries after awhile. WAIT UNTIL DARK and then flip the racket off with a rake or shovel. Flip it as far away from the nest as possible, and retrieve it when you're sure it's safe.
- It takes a few days! I actually went through two different electronic flyswatters, because one conked out after awhile. As a result I know which flyswatter to recommend!
- Mopping up: I pushed a garden hose up to the hole and turned on the water and let it run for a few hours. By now there were no wasps in evidence. The next day, still no wasps, I got my shovel, put it into the ground right next to the nest, and RAN. No wasps. I came back and did it again, and took out a big shovelfull of dirt. Still no wasps. I then dug all around the nest, until I was sure it was safe.
- I never found the actual nest! Despite digging all around, I never found the comb or the immatures, which I later learned is not surprising -- the nest can be up to FOUR FEET under the ground. I'm not digging down that far!
After several days and a good amount of effort and attention, I had won the Battle of the Ground Wasps. I moved the hostas, and more importantly protected my family and guests from being stung.
Cheap, Effective, and No Poison!
I felt good about this method, because I spent a fraction of what I would have given to an exterminator. Even better, I avoided putting any substances into the ground. Wasps eradicated, yard safe, bank account fat. A win all around!
Resources Used in This Guide
- How to know when you need to call the exterminator | Better Homes and Gardens
No one likes thinking that their home is infested with creepy crawlies or other unpleasant critters, but the unfortunate truth of it is that where there’s one, there’s usually more. This is how to know when it is time to call the pest exterminator.
- How Deep in the Ground Can Yellow Jackets Be Found? | Animals - mom.me
Pesky yellow jackets can ruin the joy of being outdoors on a summer's day if a nest is nearby, not to mention how it affects your ability to do yard chores. While yellow jackets will make their papery nests in rotting logs or hollow logs, their favor
- Schmidt pain scale
- Backyard Gardener - Wasps and Yellow Jackets - June 21, 2006
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County, Backyard Gardener
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Liz Westwood from UK on July 29, 2020:
This is a very helpful article. Well done for finding such a cost effective solution to the problem and thanks for sharing it in such a well-presented and easily accessible way.