Pussy willow attracting hornets (no nest!). What's my recourse?
October 6, 2017 5:36 AM   Subscribe

We have a pussy willow bush in our front yard that's attracting swarms of yellow jackets (irritating) and bald-faced hornets (terrifying!). Exterminator found no nest and was generally unhelpful. What to do now?

Normally we'd just wait for winter, but this is the warmest October ever and who knows when we'll even get a frost? :( The bush is close to our front door and walk, we have a two year old, AND our house is half a block from an elementary school AND in the biggest trick or treating neighborhood in town. I'm worried about kids getting stung, and I'm afraid to mow our front yard.

Things we have tried:
- exterminator (found no nest, did nothing)
- homemade hornet trap baited with cider and soda (caught a few but no dent; the bush is more attractive)

I've looked at pesticides but most of them seem to require a nest! There's no nest that we can find! I'm not necessarily against chemicals, but I want them to work.

What else can we do to get rid of these things?! Do I need to buy a beekeeping suit and chop down the tree?! Flamethrower?!! :)

Help!
posted by Knicke to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
 
I think you're going to have to cut or move the bush. At night, when there's nobody eating from it.
Maybe just remove the flower heads for now, then, after a few days when the food seekers give up, you can address the bush more thoroughly and during daylight.

You might want to put some sugar water or fruit out nearby, but not close to you or the house, so that the hornets aren't looking other places (i.e., in the house, in your car, on your clothes). Also, avoid red clothing for a few weeks.

Hornets have a useful niche (you don't want mosquito-borne illness or other out-of-control insects), but not near your front door.
posted by amtho at 6:03 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


I agree removing the flower heads/buds at night is a good plan, but I don't think you necessarily have to remove the whole plant, it might not even be a problem next year, for any number of reasons (nest destroyed by disease or someone else). Was it a problem last year? Things change, if you like the bush/tree you don't have to jump straight to killing it or moving it.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:24 AM on October 6


A good trap for hornets and yellow-jackets should be baited with a protein. They nearly universally prefer meats to sugars. If you are going to use sweet to bait the traps, use honey or very thick sugar water. I have no idea why people recommend vinegar as a bait for hornets and wasps, it doesn't work. I would say use one of the reusable traps that are sold, and bait them with a small bit of (this will be gross) raw beef.

As far as finding the nests, yellow-jackets tend to fly straight back to their nests from where they forage, so if you are brave, you can follow the line of them back to the nest fairly easily. It will be in the ground, but may be inside a wall. Look for holes in brickwork, or near the base of buildings. Bald face hornets make big paper nests, and these are fairly easy to find. Look in bushes and shrubbery at least 3 feet off the ground and in trees as high as 60 feet +. Sometimes they can be under the eaves of buildings, or even in attics (had one of those recently in my apt building, which was FUN). If you have a hand held thermometer (air temp or surface temp gun), you can use it to find "warm" spots that may be the location of either nest. They will be much warmer than the air temp.
posted by strixus at 6:29 AM on October 6 [4 favorites]


Wait until night, when the yellow jackets (bald faced hornets are also a kind of yellow jacket) are less active. Take a flashlight and look for aphids or scale insects on the pussy willow. If you find them, the wasps are probably there for the sweet honeydew produced by the scale. (They could also eat the actual scale insects.) Proceed to the classic aphid control techniques.

By reducing the wasps’s food source, you can hopefully reduce their numbers to the point where you can live and let live—yellow jackets are indeed aggressive, but not nearly as dangerous in smaller numbers and away from their nest.
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:45 AM on October 6


I'm coming out against killing the nests if they are far enough away from your home. If they live far enough away, and you remove the food source they're after, then they shouldn't bother you.
posted by amtho at 6:46 AM on October 6


Thanks guys. Some decent ideas here. There are no flowers on the bush, so I suspect aphids. Taking down the bush at night is not very feasible...they are hanging around at night too(!). I think we'll start with different bait and soap in a hose end sprayer. More options welcome in case those have no effect!
posted by Knicke at 6:58 AM on October 6


I second the honey recommendation. Lace it with poison, they'll eat it and bring it back to their hive.
posted by ball00000ns at 7:02 AM on October 6


If you put poison honey out you risk killing honeybees, as well. This time of year honeybees will be after any honey they can get.
posted by os tuberoes at 7:15 AM on October 6 [5 favorites]


Are you in a spot that is getting cold now and did this just happen? Fall is the time that hornets get kicked out of the nest and wander around, only the queens will hibernate and survive. Please don't use poison, these are beneficial insects. You could try insecticidal soap to get rid of aphids if they are the prey they are going after.
posted by 445supermag at 8:01 AM on October 6


I have no idea why people recommend vinegar as a bait for hornets and wasps, it doesn't work.

I had a lot of wasps eating holes in my apples a year ago and put out a trap made from a large soda bottle where the top was cut off and inverted into the bottom. It was baited with a sugar solution and cider vinegar. The vinegar has one important role, to keep out the bees. My traps were VERY effective, by the end of a week or so I had a few inches of dead wasps in the bottle.

Supposedly the wasps only go after protein early in the season when they are going to be laying eggs. Once they're hive is at size and the laying has stopped they switch over to a sweet diet to provide energy.

I would make a few more traps and give them time to work. It would be best if you could actually put them in the tree. Once a few wasps have died then the hive will stop sending out more gatherers to that location.
posted by koolkat at 8:29 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Maybe hire a professional pest control company. They can come out in beekeeping suits or whatever's needed and do the needful, without causing collateral damage.
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on October 6


« Older Heli-Skiing in Canada: What's New?   |   Two cats, one (not litter-scattering) box Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments