Winged Helpers or Garden Pests? Are Yellow Jackets Pollinators?

Are Yellow Jackets Pollinators

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Yesterday I went on a day out and we stopped at a lovely little cafe in the countryside. Since the weather was so good, we decided to eat in the courtyard among the flowers but we soon regretted that decision when the food arrived. We were plagued by yellow jackets!

I’m very keen on the idea of protecting pollinators because, while they can be a pest, they’re still an important player in the ecosystem. While most people know that bees are pollinators they are still sure of the answer to the question: Are yellow jackets pollinators?

Yellow jackets are indeed capable of pollination but they’re not as beneficial as bees since pollination isn’t their main job. However, they are beneficial since they feed on garden pests like grubs.

Still, with this in mind, most expert pest controllers will tell you that there’s no need to take special measures to protect yellow jackets if they are a danger or nuisance. That’s because their role as minor pollinators wouldn’t be missed in the same way as bees. So, if you’ve been having problems with yellow jackets, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.

What Are Yellow Jackets?

The yellow jacket is a very common species of wasp that has a distinct black and yellow pattern. Unlike bees, yellow jackets do not have hairy bodies and their wings are more elongated and, when resting, fold along the body. When fully grown, an adult yellow jacket can measure up to ⅝ inch.

You’ll notice that they have long antennae and six legs, which is similar to the appearance of a honey bee and the reason that a lot of people have trouble telling them apart.

The problem with yellow jackets is that they seem to be everywhere! They’re often found in the same areas as humans and will inhabit nests both above and below ground. When hunting, yellow jackets can travel up to 1000 feet from their homes, of which they’re incredibly protective.

This means that yellow jackets have a naturally aggressive nature and this is one of the reasons that they’re so feared by humans, despite their small size.

Yellow jackets are pollinators but they’re not considered among the most important pollinators. Unlike bees, yellow jackets do not pollinate as a matter of course but instead, pollination is incidental as they travel between flowering plants. Where bees feed primarily on a diet of nectar and pollen, yellow jackets have a more protein-based diet.

Are Yellow Jackets Dangerous?

As I have mentioned, yellow jackets have a naturally aggressive disposition whereas bees tend to be much more docile unless they’re under threat. It would seem as though yellow jackets are always on high alert and this is largely to do with protecting their nest. In the case that the nest is disturbed, these insects will take no nonsense.

You may be aware that honey bees lose their stinger when they attack and this causes death almost immediately. However, yellow jackets do not have this problem and can sting repeatedly. So, once they’re fired up, they’ll keep attacking until they’re happy that the threat has backed off.

Much like honey bees, it’s the female yellow jackets that deliver a nasty sting but sometimes, they’ll start their attack with a bite. This allows them to take hold of their victim’s skin in order to more easily deliver their sting.

When it comes to humans, yellow jackets are dangerous in the sense of being able to do much harm. Yes, their sting is painful and can cause some mild symptoms, but in most people, it’s nothing serious. However, there are some people that will suffer an allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting and in these cases, it could be fatal.

Not only do yellow jackets sting but they can also be a huge nuisance. They’ll often be attracted by things like food and can ruin an outdoor meal with their mere presence. But I should warn you that if your picnic is disrupted by yellow jackets, it’s really important not to swat at them. Since they release an alarm pheromone that can attract other wasps to come to their aid, you’ll only make the problem worse.

Why Are Yellow Jackets Coming To My Yard?

There is nothing worse than trying to enjoy some time outdoors but being constantly pestered by yellow jackets. I mentioned earlier that I had my own experience with this just yesterday and what could have been a lovely outdoor meal turned into the stuff of nightmares.

If you’ve noticed that you’re getting a lot of yellow jackets in your garden, there could be a number of reasons for this. Primarily, they’re attracted to food sources, especially those with a high protein content. So, if you’re planning to eat outdoors, it’s vital that you keep food covered as much as possible.

In the fall, when natural protein sources like bugs become more sparse, yellow jackets will start to get a sweet tooth. This means that they’ll become attracted to sugary foods and drinks like soda so it’s vital to keep these indoors or covered. What’s more, if you have a bee or hummingbird feeder in your garden, those yellow jackets will be in their element during fall.

It’s also worth noting that incorrectly stored garbage can be attractive to yellow jackets so always make sure that your trash cans are properly sealed. If you’re dining outdoors, you may find that more yellow jackets will arrive if you don’t clear up immediately after eating.

Another reason that yellow jackets might be attracted to your yard and home is cracks. They will see these as a potential nest and it’s very common for them to settle in so it’s vital to make sure that any cracks are sealed and the yard is kept tidy.

If you have had a previous infestation of yellow jackets and managed to get rid of them, you may find that they come back. This is because these insects will use landmarks and leftover scents to make their way back to previous nesting grounds. So, after you’ve eliminated the problem, it’s really important to change things up so they’re unable to make their way back.

How Can I Get Rid Of Yellow Jackets?

Yellow jackets can be a real problem and I can’t think of many people that want to share their outdoor space with them. As I have discussed, while they are capable of pollination, they’re not a main player in this so there’s no concern over harming them or eradicating them completely, which would not be the case with bees.

Choosing The Right Treatment

Careful planning is vital when dealing with a yellow jacket nest so the first thing you’ll need to do is choose a method of attack. The great news is that there are lots of insecticides designed to handle yellow jackets and they come in various forms. These include sprays, foams, dusting powders, traps, and even bait.

Where the nest is located has a lot of influence on your choice. For example, if the yellow jacket nest is in a hard-to-reach spot then you’ll find that it’s much easier to use bait or a trap. This will lure them out and reduce the risk of you getting a nasty sting.

On the other hand, you may find that the yellow jackets nest in a tree and this is much easier to get access to so a foam or spray will be the best choice.

Staying Safe

Since yellow jackets can deliver a painful sting it’s really important to put your safety first, even if you don’t have an allergy. In fact, if you’re allergic to wasp stings then I would strongly urge you to hire a professional or get another member of your household to deal with the problem. It’s just not worth the risk to your health.

One of the best ways to prevent stings is to wear appropriate clothing which might include things like gloves, long pants, a long-sleeved top and full-cover shoes. I would also recommend using clothing with elasticated cuffs as this will stop any wasps from flying inside.

Assess The Nest

Before you start applying any insecticides, you’ll need to assess the nest as part of your plan. Of course, the first thing you’ll need to do is locate it and then you’re going to want to find the main point of entry.

It’s worth noting that many yellow jacket nests have more than one entrance but there’s usually a main one. This is where you’ll want to start but I would make a mental note of the other entrances in case you need to make a second insecticide application.

Use Your Pesticide Treatment

Now that you’re familiar with the nest, it’s time to employ your method of attack. Regardless of which type of product you’ve decided to use, it is vital that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions so the product is used safely. What’s more, I would recommend performing this task either before sunrise or in the late evening as this is when the wasps will be least active and this reduces the chances of getting stung.

If the nest appears to be inactive then a dust powder is a great solution, you’ll only need to apply a few puffs but make sure that you do this as close to the entrance as possible so that the maximum amount gets inside. What’s more, it’s also important to dust around the general area.

On the other hand, sprays and foams need to be applied much more generously. It’s best to use a sprayer that allows you to stand as far back from the nest as possible but make sure that you apply the product to all entrance points.

If you notice any individual yellow jackets then it’s a good idea to directly spray them as well for maximum effectiveness.

Allow Time For The Solution To Work

When the treatment has been applied, it’s going to need time to work properly. Generally speaking, you should leave it for around 24 hours before checking the nest to make sure that all wasps have died.

If they haven’t, then you’ll need to reapply the treatment and wait for another 24 hours before checking again. In the most severe cases, several applications may be required. But once all of the yellow jackets are dead, you’ll be able to seal them in a trash bag and dispose of it.

Are There Any Natural Ways To Get Rid Of Yellow Jackets?

Now, it is important to remember that yellow jackets do perform some incidental pollination. What’s more, they feed on other garden pests so some people don’t want to harm them, and that’s great. If we can learn to live alongside wildlife then it keeps the balance and the good news is that, if you’re looking for ways to naturally repel yellow jackets, there are a few things you can do.

For starters, peppermint oil is known to be a very effective way of keeping yellow jackets away because they can’t stand the smell. You can buy peppermint essential oil online and in stores and you’ll simply need to apply it around problem areas.

For an even more natural approach, you could try planting mint in pots around your yard as this will have the same effect. What’s more, you can even harvest the mint and use it in drinks and recipes.

Eucalyptus oil is another essential oil that wasps hate the smell of and it’s also possible to buy the plants and again, place these in your garden. However, it’s worth noting that these plants can get very large. I once had one in my yard and it grew from just 12 inches to almost as tall as the house in just a few years!

Another great way to naturally get rid of yellow jackets from your garden is to make a DIY wasp trap. You can do this using a container filled with something sweet and place this as far away from your property as possible. Choose a container that, once the yellow jackets are inside, they’ll struggle to get back out.

However, this trick usually only works in fall when the diet of the yellow jacket changes so in summer, I’d recommend catering to their carnivorous nature. You can do this by taking a soda bottle and cutting it in half. Then flip the top part over and place it inside the bottom to act as a funnel.

Take a piece of meat and pop this into the base of the bottle along with a sugary liquid to lure the wasps inside. This may also serve as an attraction to bees but you can ensure they won’t be interested by adding a small amount of vinegar because bees hate the smell of it.

It’s also really important to make sure that your home is protected from yellow jackets if they’re plaguing your garden. You can do this by simply keeping your doors and windows closed to prevent them from getting inside.

Of course, I realize that many of you reading this will want to aerate the house so keeping doors and windows closed isn’t an option. In this case, it may be worth installing insect screens.

As I mentioned earlier, if there are any cracks in your home then these should be sealed using a caulk. The problem with yellow jackets is that they’re also partial to nesting in gutters so installing some insect mesh along your rainwater system is a great way to keep them out.

Final Thoughts

Yellow jackets can be a constant nuisance in the garden so a lot of people wonder how to get rid of them. The problem is that homeowners often find themselves worried that by eradicating yellow jackets, they’ll be interrupting the pollination cycle.

The good news is that while yellow jackets do sometimes pollinate, they’re not considered to be important pollinators as this only usually happens incidentally. So, if they’re causing a problem, you don’t need to feel guilty about getting rid of them.