An Effective and Non-Toxic Solution for Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets’ Ground Nests

yellowjackets-groundnestI’m not someone who delights in killing pests, and I don’t often advocate for their demise. In fact, I usually do my best to avoid killing them (e.g., if an indoor spider gets too close for comfort, I usually capture it in a jar and release it outside). However, I recently had to make an exception to my pacifist policy, when I noticed that yellow jackets had built a nest right next to the front door of our house. It was an underground nest in a flower bed. There were so many yellow jackets coming and going from the nest throughout the day that we were scared to keep our front door open for very long, and I worried that our dog would inadvertently step on the entry to the nest and get swarmed and attacked. Furthermore, I learned that yellow jackets sometimes raid honeybee hives to steal their honey, and they kill honeybees in the process. This is a sufficiently good reason to get rid of the jackets, in my opinion. One of our neighbors has a honeybee hive, so it felt like killing these yellow jackets was a just and neighborly thing to do.

(Honeybees are suffering from a Colony Collapse Disorder. For info about it, click here. Note: If you have a problem with a swarm, nest, or hive, check out online photos of bees, yellow jackets, hornets, etc. to make sure you know which of these you’re dealing with. Honeybees and other pollinators are extremely important, and they almost never sting; please don’t kill them.)

I didn’t want to use toxic insecticides, which could kill the flowers in our garden and poison our dog and the honeybees, along with the soil and groundwater around our house. So, thinking we were being clever, my husband and I tried putting the garden hose down the nest entry hole and flushing out the nest with water. This scheme did not work. We tried it a few evenings in a row, and the tenacious buggers would shoot out of the nest alive (seemingly unfazed by the water) and quickly rebuild a new entry hole. One evening, they went into attack mode and my husband got stung. They won these battles, but we were determined to outsmart them and win the war — without resorting to the use of Raid, professional chemical insecticides, gasoline, or any of the other toxic and hazardous substances that are commonly suggested.

drbronnersSo I started researching other non-insecticide solutions. Through my reading, I learned that mint oil can kill almost any insect, and that yellow jackets also don’t like soapy or boiling water… We happened to have a quart-size container of Dr. Bronner’s “magic” organic peppermint castile liquid soap in the house. The bottle was only half full, so we filled the rest of it up with water to make it a 50% diluted quart. Then we waited ‘til it was almost dark outside (this is the only time you should ever deal with yellow jackets, as they’re all inside the nest and inactive at night). We poured the quart down the nest’s entry hole (it’s best to do this with an extension device, like a hose or a gas can or watering can, to keep your body further from the nest opening — and you should also wear protective clothing). We immediately followed that up by pouring in a kettle full of boiling hot water, which washed the mint oil further down into the nest. We didn’t see a single yellow jacket emerge from the nest that night, and we haven’t seen any around here since. It worked!

RECIPE
1/2 quart (2 cups) Dr. Bronner’s organic peppermint castile soap, diluted/mixed with
1/2 quart (2 cups) water [poured into the nest via a hose or watering can with a long nozzle, at dusk or at night]
Followed by 1 tea-kettle full (approx. 1 quart or 4 cups) of boiling water

[NOTE: While this solution worked for this ground nest, it probably is NOT appropriate—and could be a dangerous method to try—for other scenarios, e.g., nests in the walls of your house, where you cannot find the exact entry spot. For those types of situations, try using Rescue traps or making a homemade soda-bottle trap instead.]

Dr. Bronner’s entertaining, pontificating text-filled label (I recommend reading all of the fine print if you haven’t before) states that the soap is good for 18 different uses: from washing pets and babies to washing dentures and cars. Yellow jacket / insect eradication isn’t one of the listed uses, but it seems that it should be. Soon I’m going to experiment with using the stuff to repel mosquitos, get rid of ants, and keep fleas and other bugs off of the dog.

[July 2011 Update: For helpful advice on a bunch of yellow jacket (and other insect control) solutions that have worked for other people, take a look at the Comments on the newer version of this post, which is on MotherEarthNews.com.]

P.S. Check out the Dr. Bronner company’s good work on social and environmental issues (e.g., fair trade, truly organic ingredients, employee salaries and benefits, charitable donations, etc.). And if you’re curious about the eccentric Dr. Bronner’s life, rent the fascinating documentary Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.

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July 6, 2009

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

BugBarb August 11, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I have a yellow jacket nest 15 feet behind my back door, three feet away from the back walkway, in a retaining wall. The wall is “dog bone” style, long block of cement, with a space of dirt and rocks, another long block of cement…etc. I can’t pour anything down the hole as it is in a wall. I put one of those disposable $5 yellowjacket traps and it was working. I think I needed about ten of them. I almost bought the reusable $15 trap. I’m glad I didn’t. A bear came and ruined the trap last night. I don’t want my husband to use poison, as we live in the national forest and risk killing beneficial species. After reading about how to invert the top of a 2 liter soda bottle and fill it with sugar/soapy water for a trap, I may try that. I think I would take a 1×12 plank and set it in front of the nest with about six traps (or as many as I can make). Every night I will have to take the traps inside the garage to avoid pillage by the bears.

We have a second nest in the log type steps leading away from our front yard. I like the idea of pouring non-toxic liquid down the hole. Mint oil was mentioned as being toxic to many insects. I wonder if a combination of eucalyptus oil (have a bit on hand), orange oil (heard of that being used on termites), etc would work….? Next time I’m out shopping, I’ll check to see if I can find PURE orange oil.

I’ve been stung once, minding my own business, standing in the parking lot. I’ve seen one of these critters down a honeybee in flight, cut it in two and fly off with the meaty half. They are mean, nasty and are occurring in numbers too large to be beneficial to the environment. I don’t feel bad at all about killing them.

mlandman August 25, 2009 at 11:32 am

I just heard from a friend who successfully killed all the hornets in a huge hornet nest with just hot soapy water (and these hornets had actually developed a resistance to a chemical insecticide spray!). So…it’s quite possible that hot/boiling soapy water alone will work on most yellow jackets’ nests, too; perhaps the mint oil additive is not necessary. I’d be interested in hearing what’s worked for others.

mlandman August 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Hi. When I poured this solution into the nest, the mint oil didn’t seem to kill any of the flowers in the area (but boiling water does). I haven’t tried spraying the solution over a broader area, so I can’t say whether or not that would be OK for the flowers or whether it would scare off the yellow jackets. You might want to give it a try with a more diluted version of the solution. Or try to prune back some of the overgrowth at dusk and see if you can find the nest entry/exit holes. Or put up some of the non-toxic Rescue traps (or use bottles of sugar water as traps — as suggested on many other sites). I hope one of those things will do the trick!

christina speer August 2, 2009 at 8:35 am

This sounds great, but what if you can’t see the nest. Mine is in an overgrown flowerbed. I know that they are in there. Not only can we see them fly out, but we can hear them. Can I use the same solution and spray the heck out of my flowerbed?

Craig Miller July 26, 2009 at 11:00 am

Interesting. One caveat: Yellow jackets like to make nests inside exterior walls, and often the point of entry is up in the eaves, where introducing the soap to the nest might be difficult and more dangerous (but the inside of your walls would be minty fresh). I’ve had pretty good luck with the Rescue commercial traps, which are non-toxic, reusable and pretty effective if you get them up early in the season.
http://www.rescue.com/products/yellowjacket.asp?gclid=CIbhyoD8zZsCFShRagodC2GKKQ
I hang one in a tree, near to where I think the nest is. This way there’s no direct confrontation with the nest. Of course, they have to find the trap so it does take longer to get the job done. You bait them with a sweet syrup (included) early in the season and can switch to bits of grilled meat (not included) in the fall. Hail Miriam! Protector of the bees!

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