Pest Identification

Learn More About the Pests Invading Your Home

Paper Wasp Control

No doubt about it- wasps can be frightening creatures. Their stings can be extremely painful and they just look so much scarier than honey bees. But paper wasps, members of the genus Polistes, are actually beneficial insects beloved by some gardeners. The wasps feed on nectar and pollinate flowers and they kill caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae and feed them to their young.

Paper wasps are much less aggressive than their cousins, yellow jackets and hornets. Unlike these predatory wasps, paper wasps will only sting when attacked or when their nests are threatened. The problem is, the wasps like to build their nests near people, specifically under eaves and outdoor ceilings of porches, garages, and outbuildings. For this reason, sometimes paper wasps need to be controlled.

Each paper wasp nest is constructed by an individual queen seeking a place to lay eggs. The queen chews up wood and plant fibers, mixes it with her saliva, and makes a water-resistant nest which resembles grey or brown paper. The queen lays eggs in the honeycombs of the nest and the first generation that hatches consists of workers, which work throughout the summer to expand the nest. When the weather turns cold in the fall, all the wasps die except the queen which hibernates until spring to begin the process again.

If you have paper wasps around your home, first you need to decide if they are a threat. If the nests are on the second story or above, you might want to leave the wasps alone and let them eat your garden pests. If you or a family member suffer from bee allergies you’ll want to remove the nest. Ditto, if the wasps are buzzing around a door, near the deck or pool, or by playing pets and children.

Obviously, caution is the watchword. Never approach a wasp nest during the day when wasps are active. The insects are lethargic, and at home in the nest, between sunset and sunrise. Use a ladder so you are positioned slightly above the nest and spray it well with commercial wasp spray. Some wasps may fall from the nest and they will take up to a minute to die, so do not approach them. After about 10 minutes spray the nest again, then knock it down with a garden spade or short stick.

While the wasps won’t return to the same spot, they might decide to build nests elsewhere. If you carefully spray a mixture of ammonia and water under the eaves, it will remain off-limits to wasps. (Wear a respirator and make sure not to inhale any of the spray.)

The best way to control paper wasps without chemicals is to tackle the problem early. Patrol the perimeter of your house in spring, checking the eaves and other problem areas for nascent wasp activity. If you see a queen building a small nest, and no workers are present, you can wait until dark and knock down the nest with a broom. The queen will find greener pastures to build her home and you can go read the paper.