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12 Natural Ways to Repel Wasps (Without Harming Them)

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As the sun shines brighter and we spend more time outdoors, one downside to rising temperatures is the surge of wasps. These insects have a notorious reputation, often seen as the bullies of the skies. With their daunting appearance and bold attitude, wasps can sting repeatedly, delivering a painful experience each time.

These critters don’t hesitate to dive into your meal while you’re still eating or buzz annoyingly close to your face without any apparent purpose. The mere sight of a wasp can trigger panic, especially when you stumble upon a nest tucked away in the nooks of your residence.

Despite their fearsome reputation, it’s crucial to recognize the significant role wasps play in our gardens and the broader environment.

Most wasps are relatively harmless unless provoked and can coexist peacefully with humans. If you’re dealing with a larger nest on your property, whether it’s under a deck or high in a tree, don’t worry—we’ll guide you through safely removing it.

Rather than resorting to extermination, many are now opting for more sustainable approaches to manage wasp populations.

Recognizing their role as pollinators and natural pest controllers, especially in how they manage aphids, we are moving away from immediate extermination to more thoughtful, cohabitative strategies. This shift reflects a broader change in how we address our environmental challenges.

About Wasps

Wasps, which belong to the same evolutionary lineage as ants and bees, are a diverse group within the Hymenoptera order, boasting around 100,000 known species.

You can distinguish wasps from bees by their pointed abdomens and slender waists, which distinctly segment their bodies. Unlike the fuzzier bees, wasps have less hair and are equipped with mandibles that help them cut and chew.

Wasps come in two main types: solitary and social. Solitary wasps prefer a quieter life, usually setting up their homes alone in underground burrows, plant stems, or tree cavities, where they store their hunted prey to feed their young. These wasps, which make up the bulk of the species, primarily use their stingers to immobilize food rather than for defense.

On the other hand, social wasps live in bustling colonies led by one or several queens, supported by male drones and female workers. Come spring, a queen starts the colony by laying eggs in a small nest, which the first batch of worker wasps will then expand, constructing it from chewed-up wood and plant fibers that form a paper-like substance.

Over the summer, the nest can grow to house over 5,000 members. When winter arrives, the colony dies out, except for a fertilized queen who survives to restart the cycle next spring.

Social wasps, belonging to the Vespidae family, are easy to spot with their striking yellow and black patterns and potent stings. These wasps can become aggressive when threatened, releasing a pheromone that signals danger to others and triggers a collective defense response.

It’s worth noting that only female wasps have the ability to sting, and they can do so multiple times.

Most Common Types of Wasps

Yellow Jacket Wasps

Yellow jackets, a type of wasp native to North America, are easily recognized by their striking yellow and black striped abdomens and petite size, generally no longer than half an inch. Unlike bees, yellow jackets have slimmer bodies and are known for their territorial nature and propensity to sting multiple times if they feel threatened.

Yellow Jacket Wasps
Credit: Axios

These wasps are not only common but also among the more aggressive varieties, particularly noticeable at outdoor events like barbecues and picnics due to their attraction to meats, fruits, and other sweet foods.

Their nests, which can be located underground, within tree hollows, or under building eaves, are constructed from a papery material and feature hexagonal cells inside.

Yellow jackets are frequently mistaken for bees, but their thinner bodies and aggressive behavior when foraging set them apart. This makes them a notable presence during outdoor activities, often leading to unpleasant encounters if their space is invaded.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps are easy to spot with their long legs and elongated bodies, typically colored black or brown with yellow or brown stripes.

Paper Wasps
Credit: Australian Museum

Unlike the more aggressive yellow jackets, these wasps are about an inch long and sport a less confrontational demeanor, making them less troublesome during outdoor meals. You’ll recognize them by their unique orange-tipped antennae and their nests, which resemble upside-down umbrellas made of a paper-like material.

These nests are usually visible, hanging from places like tree branches, porch ceilings, or building eaves. Despite their resemblance to yellow jackets, paper wasps are slimmer and more docile, choosing to interact primarily with nectar and other insects rather than aggressively pursuing human food sources.

While paper wasps will defend their nests if provoked, they generally do not seek out conflict.

They construct their homes openly in natural or man-made shelters, incorporating intricate hexagonal cells that are similar to those of yellow jackets but remain uncovered. These structures can often be found enhancing the natural beauty of meadows and gardens, where paper wasps are common residents.

European Hornets

The European hornet, first brought to North America by early settlers in the 1800s, is the most frequently encountered hornet across the continent. Standing out at about 1.5 inches long, these hornets sport yellow and brown stripes and are distinctively fuzzy. They primarily sustain themselves on a diet of other insects, along with fallen fruit and nectar.

European Hornets
Credit: PestWorld

Though they are larger than yellow jackets, European hornets are generally not as aggressive unless provoked. Their nests, which they cleverly hide in protected locations like barns, attics, or even abandoned beehives, can house between 200 to 400 workers.

These nests are constructed with hexagonal cells and are enveloped in a paper-like material, often nestled within tree crevices or suspended from branches and eaves.

In essence, European hornets tend to avoid conflicts and only become defensive when their colonies are directly threatened. This makes them relatively less dangerous unless their space is invaded.

Mud Dauber Wasps

Mud daubers are easy to spot with their elongated bodies and predominantly black or brown coloring, sometimes accented with yellow stripes. Unlike other wasps, these creatures are known for their peaceful nature and rarely sting humans.

You might recognize their nests, which are typically constructed from hardened mud formed into tube-like structures, often found clinging to the sides of buildings.

Mud Dauber Wasps
Credit: Texas Standard

What sets mud daubers apart is their dietary preference for spiders, which makes them less interested in human activities and consequently less aggressive compared to other wasp species.

Their unique appearance, featuring either black and yellow or metallic blue and black hues and a notably slender waist, adds to their distinctiveness. So, if you spot these structured mud nests around your home, you’re likely in the company of one of the most benign wasps around.

Bald-faced Hornets

Bald-faced hornets stand out with their robust, rounded bodies and distinctive black and white markings. Known for their assertive behavior, especially during the fall when they’re on the hunt for sugary foods, these hornets take their nest defense seriously.

Typically, their nests, which are crafted from a papery substance, can be spotted in trees, shrubs, or hanging from overhangs.

Bald-faced Hornets
Credit: Modern Pest

As social insects, bald-faced hornets can be a concern in your garden. Their nests are usually constructed in the open, making them relatively easy to spot but also a hazard if disturbed. If you’re gardening or spending time near vegetation, keep an eye out for these striking, yet aggressive creatures and their unique, spherical nests.

Parasitic Wasps

Parasitic wasps differ significantly from the more commonly known social wasps in both behavior and appearance, often being solitary and typically lacking the ability to sting. These wasps vary greatly in size, from as large as an inch to nearly microscopic.

Parasitic Wasps
Credit: Agrio

In North America, some of the prevalent types include potter wasps, giant ichneumon wasps, braconid wasps, and trichogramma wasps. Unlike their social counterparts, parasitic wasps don’t build nests or live in colonies.

Instead, they play a fascinating role in nature by laying their eggs either on or inside other insects. As the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on their host until ready to pupate, eventually emerging as adult wasps by literally eating their way out.

The females possess what looks like a long stinger at their abdomen’s base, which is actually an ovipositor used for injecting eggs into host insects. When not engaged in reproduction, these wasps sustain themselves on nectar, making them frequent visitors to various flowers.

Unexpected Allies in Your Garden

Next time you spot a wasp buzzing around your flowers, think twice before shooing it away. These often-misunderstood insects can be surprisingly beneficial to your garden. Here’s why:

  • Nature’s Pest Control Experts

Wasps are skilled predators that have honed their hunting abilities over millions of years. They target a wide range of garden pests, including aphids, caterpillars, and grubs.

By constantly searching for food to feed their young, wasps provide free, organic pest control for your plants. While they can be annoying at times, their pest-management skills make them valuable garden helpers.

  • Underrated Pollinators

Though not as famous as bees for pollination, wasps still play a crucial role in this process. Adult wasps feed on nectar, moving from flower to flower in search of food. While their smoother bodies don’t pick up as much pollen as bees, they still contribute to plant reproduction.

Some wasps even have special relationships with certain plants like figs and orchids, highlighting their importance in maintaining biodiversity.

  • Keeping the Ecosystem in Check

Wasps help maintain ecological balance by controlling pest populations. But what keeps wasp numbers from getting out of hand? Nature has that covered too. Many birds, mammals, and amphibians eat wasps and their larvae. This natural predation ensures that wasp populations stay balanced, supporting a healthy ecosystem.

So, the next time you see a wasp in your garden, remember that it’s more of a friend than a foe, playing key roles in pest control, pollination, and maintaining nature’s delicate balance.

Dealing with Problematic Wasps

While wasps are beneficial, they can sometimes become a nuisance. Here are some tips for safely managing wasps when they cause problems:

Create a Simple Wasp Trap

If yellow jackets are crashing your outdoor meals, try this clever trick: offer them an alternative sweet treat nearby. Yellow jackets love sweets, so you can use this to your advantage. Here’s how to make an easy, humane wasp trap:

You’ll need:

  • An almost empty jam jar
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  • A drill
  • A small hammer

Steps:

  • Choose a jam jar with a little bit of sweetness left inside.
  • Remove the lid and carefully drill a hole in it, big enough for wasps to enter but small enough to make exiting difficult.
  • Gently flatten any sharp edges around the hole with a small hammer.
  • Screw the lid back on and add a dab of extra jam on top to attract wasps.
  • Place the jar away from your dining area to redirect the wasps.
Wasp Trap
Credit: future

This method doesn’t kill the wasps but keeps them away from your gathering. Be cautious around the jar, as trapped wasps may be agitated.

Hang a Fake Wasp Nest

Wasps are territorial and usually avoid building nests near other colonies. You can use this behavior to your advantage by hanging fake nests in your yard, especially in areas where you spend a lot of time.

Try this simple DIY trick: Make a decoy nest by inflating a paper lunch bag, sealing it, and hanging it under your eaves. This looks like a bald-faced hornet nest and can fool wasps into thinking the area is already claimed.

Fake Wasp Nest
Credit amazon

Some people also find that hanging dryer sheets around their patio or tucking them in their mailbox helps deter wasps. While results vary, it’s an easy solution worth trying.

Wait Until Winter to Remove Nests

Understanding wasp life cycles can help you manage nests more effectively and humanely:

  • Most social wasp species have only one queen that survives the winter.
  • Aerial wasp nests usually last just one season.
  • Wasps are most bothersome late in the season when colonies are at their peak.
  • If you spot a nest early, consider hanging a net curtain as a barrier.
  • Some nests may be hidden in cavities in your home and might require professional removal.

For safety reasons, removing an active wasp nest is best left to professionals. If you prefer a non-lethal approach, focus on deterrents rather than destruction. This allows wasps to continue their beneficial role in the ecosystem while minimizing disturbances to your activities.

Remember, patience can be your ally when dealing with wasps. By understanding their behavior and life cycle, you can coexist more peacefully with these important insects in your garden.

Add Wasp-Repellent Plants

Wasps are drawn to our gatherings by their keen sense of smell, using it to zero in on food. However, this same trait can be used to our advantage. Introducing certain plants with strong scents can help keep these uninvited guests at bay.

Consider incorporating plants like lemongrass, peppermint, thyme, eucalyptus, and citronella into your garden. Not only do they repel wasps, but they also add a pleasant aroma to the air.

Additionally, certain flowering plants such as marigolds, geraniums, and pennyroyals are also effective in deterring wasps. Planting these near your home, particularly around windows and doors, can create a natural barrier against these pests.

It’s also helpful to know which plants might attract wasps, such as sweet fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and yarrow, so you can avoid planting them in areas where you frequently relax or entertain.

Incorporating plants like mint, basil, and wormwood not only deters wasps but also provides fresh herbs for your kitchen. Imagine garnishing your dishes or cocktails with herbs grown right in your wasp-free garden! Plant these aromatic varieties in strategic spots like containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets near dining areas to keep wasps away.

Adding plants like eucalyptus can double as a visual and olfactory treat—their striking silvery leaves are beautiful to look at while their scent keeps the wasps at a distance. By choosing the right plants, you can enjoy outdoor activities without the buzz and bother of wasps.

Check 26+ Plants that Keep Mosquitos Away

Homemade wasp repellent

In addition to planting natural deterrents, another effective way to keep wasps at bay is by using essential oils. Creating a blend of clove, lemongrass, and geranium oils mixed with water can be a potent repellent.

Be sure to shake the mixture well before applying it, and remember, this solution needs to be reapplied regularly to maintain its effectiveness, especially in areas prone to wasp nests.

For personal protection while gardening or spending time outdoors, a little peppermint oil mixed with a carrier oil like olive or coconut oil can be applied directly to your skin. This not only smells great but also helps deter wasps.

You can also create a multi-purpose repellent spray using peppermint, clove, lemongrass, and geranium oils with a dash of dish soap. This mixture can be sprayed on outdoor surfaces, including tabletops, to keep wasps away from your living areas.

For a broader application, consider using a peppermint oil diffuser or simply spritzing the area with a peppermint oil solution. Peppermint is particularly effective and is known to repel a variety of insects without harming them.

A DIY repellent spray can be made by mixing a tablespoon of peppermint oil with four cups of water in a spray bottle. Spray this solution around your dining or seating area before any outdoor activity to keep wasps at a distance.

Besides their use as repellents, natural oils are excellent for eco-friendly cleaning solutions, adding a pleasant scent to your home while you tidy up. This approach offers a dual benefit—keeping your spaces clean and wasp-free naturally.

Use plain water

Wasps tend to construct their nests in areas that are dry and shielded from harsh weather. If you’re looking to discourage them without causing harm, one effective method is to use a garden hose to spray the nest.

Make sure to keep your distance, adjust the hose to a mild, rain-like spray, and thoroughly douse the nest. It’s best to repeat this process for several days to ensure the wasps choose to relocate.

Ideally, you should undertake this task early in the wasp season when there are fewer wasps present in the nest. This reduces the risk of aggravating a large number of wasps and makes the process safer and more manageable.

Nest relocation

If you’re feeling brave and compassionate, moving a wasp nest to another part of your yard is a viable option. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that such tasks are best left to professionals who are equipped to handle them safely.

For those who decide to proceed on their own, timing and preparation are key. Carry out the relocation at night when wasps are less active and likely to be inside the nest. Before you start, choose a new location for the nest carefully.

To move the nest, you’ll need a large plastic bowl and a sturdy piece of plastic for the lid. Place the bowl over the nest and then slide the plastic underneath to detach it from its original position.

Transport the contained nest carefully to the preselected spot. Once there, set it down gently with the lid still secured. Leave the lid on for about an hour to allow the wasps to calm down, then cautiously remove the lid to let them acclimate to their new environment.

Keep Food and Sugary Drinks Covered

Keeping wasps at bay during outdoor gatherings is simpler than you might think. It’s all about removing their access to food, whether you’re hosting a backyard BBQ or enjoying a picnic in the park. Here’s how to do it effectively:

Firstly, make it a rule to cover your food. Wasps are drawn to protein-rich meals and sugary drinks, which they bring back to their nest. By keeping food covered, you significantly reduce their ability to detect it.

For picnics, consider packing meals in sealed containers like Tupperware, and only open them when you’re ready to eat. This minimizes the time food is exposed and vulnerable to wasps.

At outdoor events, always cover dishes once everyone has served themselves. A simple mesh cloth over the food can discourage wasps; they tend to give up if they can’t reach their target.

After dining, be diligent about cleaning. This includes wiping down grill tops post-cooking and ensuring no scraps or crumbs linger in your outdoor areas. Since wasps feast on leftovers, particularly proteins and sweets, thorough cleaning helps keep them away.

Don’t forget about drinks—sugary sodas and alcoholic beverages are wasp magnets. Keep these drinks covered too. A fun and effective method is to create drink covers from cupcake or muffin liners. Just make a small hole for a straw, and you’ve got a protective “hat” for your drink, preventing any wasps from sneaking in while you sip.

Adopting these simple habits can dramatically reduce the presence of wasps at your outdoor gatherings, letting you enjoy your meal in peace.

Surround Yourself With Strong Scents

Did you know certain household items can keep wasps at bay? Coffee and cloves, for instance, are not just pantry staples but effective wasp repellents. Here’s how you can use them to enjoy wasp-free outdoor spaces.

Wasps, known for their keen sense of smell, really can’t stand the strong scents of some foods. Items like fresh mint, ground coffee, cloves, and even tomato stems are natural wasp deterrents. Keeping these items around your picnic or patio area can help keep those buzzing pests away.

Let’s talk about coffee grounds—your morning coffee ritual could be a game changer for managing wasps. Once you’ve brewed your coffee, don’t toss out the grounds. Instead, place them in a bowl in your outdoor areas. The scent that wafts from the grounds is unpleasant to wasps but quite delightful to many of us.

Additionally, those coffee grounds double as an excellent fertilizer for your garden plants. It’s a fantastic way to practice sustainable living while protecting your outdoor gatherings from unwanted wasp guests.

So next time you brew a pot, think twice before throwing out the grounds. Your garden—and your peace of mind during outdoor activities—will thank you!

Secure Your Trash and Compost Bins

Leftovers and discarded fruit in your trash and compost bins are like a dinner invitation for wasps. Ensuring these bins are tightly sealed cuts off this food source and reduces the likelihood of wasps nesting nearby. Don’t forget to secure your recycling bins too, as residues from cans and bottles can also attract these pests.

Block Entry Points

Wasps can sniff out food from afar and might try to enter your home if they catch a whiff of your meals. To keep them out, close doors and windows promptly. Check for and repair any gaps in window screens, vents, and other potential entryways. This will help keep the inside of your home wasp-free.

Seal Cracks and Openings

Take a walk around your property and inspect for any cracks or openings near your patio, deck, or the eaves of your roof. Sealing these can deter wasps from nesting in these protected areas.

Pay special attention to the foundation and lower levels of your home, as yellow jackets and similar species often build underground nests in abandoned burrows. Filling these holes can prevent a wasp takeover.

What Not To Do When Trying To Get Rid Of Wasps

When it comes to deterring wasps, it’s crucial to approach the situation with caution to avoid aggravating these stinging insects. Here’s what you should avoid doing:

  • Avoid Swatting at Wasps

It might be your first instinct to wave your arms around or swat at a wasp that comes too close. However, this can actually provoke the wasp, increasing your chances of getting stung. Instead, try to remain calm and still until the wasp moves away.

  • Don’t Kill Wasps Indiscriminately

While it might be tempting to squash a wasp, doing so can backfire. Wasps that are injured or dying release chemicals that can attract more wasps to the area, potentially making your problem even worse.

  • Leave Nest Removal to the Experts

If you discover a wasp nest on your property, especially if it’s large or in a tricky spot, don’t attempt to handle it on your own. Removing a nest without the right equipment and training can be dangerous. Disturbing a nest might provoke an entire swarm to defend their home, putting you at risk of multiple stings.

Additionally, methods like smoking out a nest can be hazardous and might even start a fire.

Frequently Asked Questions on Repelling Wasps Naturally

  • Does vinegar repel wasps?

Yes, vinegar can be a handy tool for keeping wasps at bay. This common household item, when mixed with water, creates a spray that disrupts the wasps’ keen sense of smell. Spritzing a solution of vinegar and water around your garden or patio can help keep these pests away effectively and safely.

  • What is a good home remedy to deter wasps?

For a DIY solution, mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. This simple remedy can be applied to outdoor areas to temporarily repel wasps. If you find the smell of vinegar strong, it’s best to apply it to items like tablecloths or outdoor fabrics that can be easily washed after your outdoor activities.

  • Which scents do wasps dislike?

Wasps have a very sensitive sense of smell and there are certain scents they can’t stand. Natural repellents include peppermint, spearmint, basil, and eucalyptus. Additionally, cloves, geranium, thyme, citronella, bay leaves, and lemongrass are also effective. Keeping these scents nearby can help keep your outdoor spaces wasp-free.

  • How can I prevent wasps from approaching me?

The clothes you wear can influence wasp behavior. Wasps are attracted to bright colors, so it’s wise to opt for subdued shades when spending time outdoors. Colors like white, tan, cream, or gray are less likely to attract these insects, compared to vibrant colors like yellow, orange, or red.

  • What are other effective ways to keep wasps away?

To discourage wasps from returning, ensure that your home environment is unappealing to them. Keep windows and doors closed, avoid leaving food outside, and make sure garbage cans are securely sealed.

Setting up wasp traps and removing nests during early morning or dusk can also prevent their return. Additionally, filling in any ground holes can deter yellowjackets, which often nest underground.

  • When are wasps most active?

Wasps are typically most active in July but can appear from spring through late fall. Being aware of their active periods can help you take preventive measures at the right time.

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