How to Kill Wasps, Hornets & Yellowjackets
Stinging insects can ruin a lot of outdoor fun. Here’s what to do if you find a nest on your property.
Flying pests that buzz in your ear are bad enough, but those that deliver a mean sting take it to a whole new level. While most of us accept that wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets have their place in the world, many of us believe that place shouldn't be in the highly trafficked areas of our own backyards—and certainly never inside our homes. Unfortunately, these insects sometimes take up residence in the yard, under the eaves of buildings, or even in the attic. To combat them, it's helpful to know how to identify their nests, understand their basic behaviors, and (of course) get rid of them.
Identifying Wasp, Hornet, & Yellow Jacket Nests
Social wasps like yellow jackets and hornets build nests. If you begin to see several in your area, there is most likely a nest nearby. At the height of summer, a mature wasps' nest can contain as many as 1,000 wasps. Different wasp species tend to build different types of nests.
Paper wasps prefer to build their nests in exposed areas above ground. The nests are constructed from a paper-like material that wasps create by chewing wood. You can identify a paper wasp nest by its unique shape and combs.
Queens build nests that are connected to a structure with a single stalk at the top and continue building downward in an upside-down dome shape - this is why their nests commonly look like an upside-down umbrella. Unlike yellow jacket and hornet nests, paper wasp nests have exposed hexagonal combs. These combs are where paper wasp larvae develop.
Yellow Jacket Nests
Yellow jacket nests can be found above or below ground. To build underground, they'll take advantage of any holes in your lawn or take over an abandoned rodent burrow. Above ground, they’ll create nests in garages, sheds, and gaps inside walls. If yellow jackets can’t find a burrow or entry point to a building, they’ll also settle for low-hanging tree branches or shrubs.
Yellow jacket nests are wrapped in a paper-like material and commonly have a spherical shape that can reach the size of a basketball or larger. Mature nests can house upwards of 4,000 yellow jackets.
Hornets coat their nests in a papery material, but they prefer to build them in natural cavities like rotting tree stumps or within the cavities of buildings. It is common to find hornet nests under the eaves of homes, in treetops, or even underground burrows. Most above-ground hornet nests will have an upside-down teardrop shape with a single entrance near the bottom. If hornets can find an entry point, then you may also find them inside your garage, shed, or attic rafters.
What Are the Differences Between Yellow Jackets, Hornets, and Wasps?
Arguably the most recognizable stinging insect on this list, yellow jackets are easily identifiable by their small size and signature black and yellow bodies. They have skinnier bodies than bees but are thicker than paper wasps. With workers being about ½ inch in length, yellow jackets are shorter than hornets and paper wasps. Yellow jacket queens are approximately 25% longer than workers.
When it comes to food, yellow jackets are scavengers that prey on other insects, but they’re also notorious for crashing picnics and barbecues to feast on sugary foods and meats.
Some species of hornets share the same color appearance as yellow jackets, but others can have a brown or reddish-brown appearance. The European hornet, for example, has a reddish-brown thorax and legs with a striped yellow abdomen.
If you encounter a black and yellow hornet, you can tell it apart from a yellow jacket by its size. Hornets range from 1-1.5 inches long – nearly 2-3 times larger than yellow jackets. Even though hornets are the largest stinging insect on this list, they are not aggressive.
While yellow jackets and hornets are technically wasps, we’re referring specifically to paper wasps here. Paper wasps can be easily identified from the others thanks to their long, slender bodies – most adults are about ¾ inch long.
Depending on the species of paper wasp, they can appear black and yellow, dark brown, or reddish-brown and yellow. Black and yellow paper wasps are often mistaken for yellow jackets, but take note of their skinny waist and long legs to tell them apart.
What Should You Do If You Find a Wasp, Hornet, or Yellow Jacket Nest?
If you notice a nest anywhere on your property, inside or outside, it's best to do nothing until you are ready to tackle the problem. Disturbing a nest is dangerous business. Moreover, if you have a known sensitivity, you should avoid tackling this problem and ask a family member, good friend, or professional to kill the insects and dispose of the nest for you. If you have children or pets, it's important to keep them far from the nest. Some wasps will become aggressive even if the disturbance is many feet away from the nest. If you suspect that the nest is on a neighbor's property, it's important to alert them so they can take steps to remove it.
Be especially careful after big storms such as hurricanes. The wind and flooding from powerful storms can destroy nests, displacing thousands of wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets from their hives. Homeless and in search of shelter, these stinging insects will be looking for a new place to live right when post-storm clean-up may be happening, so wear protective clothing and gloves and stay aware, especially when removing debris.
How to Get Rid of Wasp, Hornet, & Yellow Jacket Nests
- Wait until dawn or dusk to deal with a nest and its occupants. This is when yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps are the least active and most concentrated in the nest.
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves to protect your body. If you have one available, consider wearing a mask to protect your face.
- Kill wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets in above-ground nests with Ortho® Home Defense® Hornet & Wasp Killer7. The jet spray reaches 20 feet above the ground, and the foaming spray traps stinging pests in their nest. Always read and follow the label directions for use.
- Keep in mind that you should not spray on a windy day, and you should not stand directly underneath the nest in case it falls.
- If possible, recruit a friend, family member, or neighbor so you’re not tackling a nest on your own. In the event you are swarmed or have a severe reaction to a sting, they can call for help.
After you spray, leave the nest alone for 24 hours. Return the following day and check to see if there is any activity. If you see active wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets, you'll want to spray a second time. Once you are confident that the nest is inactive, use a long stick to dislodge it from its location and dispose of it in an outside trash receptacle. Continuous removal of wasp nests will reduce the likelihood of wasps returning to the area to overwinter or rebuild.
Get rid of underground nests.
Follow the same safety precautions as above and wait until evening to spray the nest opening. To kill yellow jackets and hornets underground, use Ortho® Bugclear™ Insect Killer For Lawns & Landscapes Concentrate. It can be used in a tank sprayer or with the Ortho® Dial N Spray® Hose End Sprayer to kill on contact and keep stinging insects from coming back to their nest for 6 months. Be sure to follow all label directions.
Tips for Wasp, Hornet, & Yellow Jacket Prevention
There are several things you can do to help prevent wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets from returning to your property.
Inspect your property.
Do a thorough inspection of your home’s exterior, garage, and any other structures (like sheds) for signs of wear. Holes, broken siding, and crevices can be inviting to many wasp species. By inspecting your property in early spring, you can address any problems that require repairs. If you see holes in your front or backyard, be sure to fill them in with dirt to prevent underground nesting. Look for old cardboard, wood, and other cellulose-containing materials and discard when possible. Wasps can use these materials for nest construction.
Remove easy food sources.
Yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps love an easy meal. To prevent them from creating hives near your house, make sure food scraps are disposed of in sealed plastic bags and trash can lids are closed.
If you have fruit trees on your property, it’s good to move fallen fruit away from where people might gather. A warm, rotting apple or pear on the ground is practically a magnet for yellow jackets.