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Controlling pesky yellow jackets challenging in late summer

Sat., Aug. 31, 2013

It’s hard to believe that Labor Day weekend is upon us. Where did the summer go?

This weekend will be filled with picnics and barbecues – unfortunately we will likely have some uninvited guests join us for the party.

Yellow jackets are considered social insects, meaning they live in colonies. Each spring a queen emerges from hibernation in late March to early April, depending on the weather, and sets out to find a new nest site. She will look for a cavity such as a protected space in a wall, tree or even an old mouse hole in the ground. The colony will develop through the early summer as adults forage for insects to get protein for developing larvae. This makes them a very beneficial insect in the garden early in the year.

As the nest matures into the late summer and grows to fill the available space, the colony stops producing larvae and instead switches into survival mode to get ready for winter. They will raise several queens before the colony dies out and the queens hibernate. During this phase, the yellow jackets require more sugar than protein. They start showing up at our late summer picnics attracted by the open cans of soda, fruit as well as the chicken, steak or burgers.

Controlling yellow jackets at this stage of season is challenging. There are lots of them and you usually have no idea where their nests are located unless you stumble onto or into one. Start by making sure there are no food sources available to them outdoors. Secure garbage can lids and bring in any pet food dishes. Pick up overripe fruit from under fruit trees. If you see a large number of yellow jackets in one area, observe where they are coming from to find the nest.

Lure traps attract yellow jackets with pheromones and other attractants. The yellow jacket crawls into the trap and can’t get out. These traps should be placed at the edges of the space you want to keep clear to reduce the contact between humans and the yellow jackets. A Spokane company makes the Rescue traps that use a state-of-the-art pheromone scent attractant as well as the chartreuse yellow color of the trap to attract yellow jackets.

Another method of attracting yellow jackets is to partially fill a narrowmouthed jar with fruit juice or old soda and then set it out away from where you are gathering. The yellow jackets find their way in but have a hard time finding their way out. Another trap is a 5-gallon plastic bucket partially filled with water with a piece of chicken, ham, fish or liver suspended on a string an inch or two above the water. The yellow jacket takes a bit of the bait, gets too heavy to fly and dips into the water.

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inland


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