How To: Get Rid of Hornets
While they aren’t as aggressive as some other stinging insects, hornets are still the bane of many a warm-weather picnic or barbecue. These steps will help you remove these unwanted guests.
Hornets are a vital part of any garden ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean you want them buzzing in and out of your pitcher of lemonade. Hornets are flying, stinging insects that are slightly larger than paper wasps or yellow jackets, and unlike bees, they can sting more than once. While their stings are generally not dangerous (unless you’re stung many times or have an allergy), they are painful—hornets release more venom per sting than any other stinging insect.
These insects provide some benefits to the garden: They are carnivores and eat aphids, flies, and other insects that can damage plants. However, they are generally aggressive when they feel threatened and are particularly attracted to locations where sweet-scented food, drinks, and trash may linger—in other words, they love your outdoor eating space. Taking steps to discourage the development of nests and killing or removing them when they take up residence too close to your home is the safest option.
Time required: 30 minutes, plus a recheck the next day
Estimated cost: $3 for a can of hornet spray, and between $100 and $1,300 for professional nest removal
Before You Begin…
Hornets do not want to be disturbed. They will become defensive and angry if they are threatened. Consider all the options before starting—don’t just grab a can of insecticide and begin spraying midday, because hornets will swarm. Especially if you have a large nest, don’t feel silly calling in professional help for nest removal. Professionals know precisely how to get rid of hornets in a safe manner.
Hornets, Yellow Jackets, Wasps, and Bees
Before choosing a course of action, identify which kind of stinging insect you have. Hornets and yellow jackets tend to be more aggressive, so take extra caution when dealing with them.
- Hornets are a type of wasp and have a smooth body, wings, and six legs. There are two main types in the U.S. The European hornet is 1 to 1.5 inches long with a reddish-brown body, yellow rings around the back end, and a yellow face. The bald-faced hornet is slightly smaller and has whitish circles around the eyes. You may recently have heard of “murder hornets,” which are Asian giant hornets. They are not native to the United States but are identifiable by their 2-inch size, cartoonish eyes on an orange head, and black-and-yellow-striped abdomen.
- Wasps include yellow jackets, hornets, and many other species, but the most common is the paper wasp, which has a smooth black-and-yellow striped body. Their waists are long and slender, giving the insect an elongated appearance. They are not aggressive unless directly threatened. More common in the southern United States, the red wasp is a more aggressive kind of paper wasp. Larger, orange-red in color, and ferocious, these wasps demand a professional for removal.
- Yellow jackets are small (about a half-inch long), vibrantly yellow-and-black striped, and angry. They are more likely to be aggressive than other types of wasps.
- Bees have furry bodies with broad yellow and black stripes, and the stinger, if present, is more rounded and blunt than those of hornets, wasps, or yellow jackets. They are nonaggressive unless directly threatened (and often not even then). They are critical pollinators who need protection.
Tips for How to Get Rid of Hornets
- Prevent nests from forming.
- Identify and remove nests before they get too large.
- If possible, work at night when the insects are less active.
- Use caution when spraying during the day, as the hornets may panic and swarm.
- Wasp and hornet spray is often oil-based to help it stick to the insects; try not to spray too much into shrubbery, and rinse siding or plants that you do hit with insecticide after the insects are gone.
- Don’t stand directly underneath a hornet’s nest when spraying. Their entrance and exit point is a single hole at the bottom of the nest, and you don’t want to be standing there should they all come pouring out.
- Stay off ladders: If you’re suddenly swarmed, you could fall off and sustain serious injury. Treat high-up nests with long-distance spray, or call in a professional.
STEP 1: Identify the hornets’ nest.
Hornets are social beings, so if you see several around your home, it’s likely there’s a nest nearby. Their nests are distinctive. Every wasp nest is papery, but the hornets’ nest is shaped like an upside-down teardrop and has a small circular opening at the bottom where the hornets enter and exit. Up to 1,000 hornets can share the space in a large nest, so it’s ideal to locate and remove nests when they’re small. Unlike other stinging insects, however, hornets prefer to tuck their nests into secure locations: deep in a tree or shrub, tucked into a crevice in a building, in a rotting tree stump, or protected by the eaves of a home or shed. Ground hornets, also known as cicada killers, even burrow into soil. Bees’ nests will have visible hexagonal cells, and yellow jackets’ nests have a swirly gray textured exterior and multiple entrances.
STEP 2: Spray the nest with insecticide.
Ideally, spray at night when the hornets are all “at home” and less active. After donning protective gear (including long pants, long-sleeved shirt, socks, gloves, and goggles), arm yourself with a commercially prepared insecticide. Often labeled as long-distance or flying insect spray, it should be capable of propelling itself for some distance, so you don’t need to get too close. Be aware of the wind when you use this method: stand where the wind will not blow the spray into your face. Using a flashlight to help aim, spray the hive thoroughly according to the directions on the can. Watch closely for swarming hornets, and leave the area if necessary.
STEP 3: Wait a few hours and spray again if any hornets remain.
It’s not safe to remove the nest unless you are reasonably sure that you have killed all the hornets. Wait at least several hours (overnight is better) and observe the nest to see if any hornets are coming and going. If they are, spray again, and continue this process until no more hornets remain.
STEP 4: Remove and dispose of the nest.
Once there is no more hornet activity, use a pole or broom to dislodge the nest from its location, preferably directing it immediately into a trash bag. Remember that it is soaked in insecticide, so dispose of it properly to avoid risking the health of other beneficial insects.
STEP 5: For a nonchemical option, make a trap using a 2-liter soda bottle.
If you’d prefer not to use commercial insecticides, there are more natural options. One is to purchase a hornet or wasp trap, but you can easily make your own. Take a plastic 2-liter soda bottle and cut the top off just above the label using scissors or a utility knife. Place bait in the bottom part of the bottle: ripe or overripe fruit, juice, canned cat food, or soda will all work. Then flip the top part of the bottle over so it looks like a funnel and place it back inside the bottle; this will funnel the hornets down into the bottle when they come looking for the scent source, but it makes it very difficult for the hornets to get out. Tape the top edges together for security and place the trap near the nest. Remember that the goal of this trap is to attract the hornets, so don’t put it right on your patio. When the trap is full of hornets, seal it carefully in a bag or tape over the top and dispose of it in an outdoor trash receptacle or place it in the freezer overnight. The cold will quickly kill the hornets, and then you can add them to your compost pile.
STEP 6: Close off entry points in the foundation or walls.
Hornets are crafty. They can get in through tiny cracks looking for food or a new place to nest, and foundation cracks are particularly attractive. Fill and seal cracks or gaps in exterior walls, around windows, and along the foundation to reduce nesting opportunities and prevent hornets from getting inside.
STEP 7: Keep garbage cans clean and contained.
The sweet smell of garbage on a hot summer’s day is an irresistible draw for hornets. On the one hand, they may be so focused on getting to the source of the scent that they ignore you. On the other, one particularly ripe trash can will draw hornets from neighbors’ nests as well. Rinse out the trash can at least weekly and any time you note its odor. In addition, keep the can covered or closed to reduce access to it.
STEP 8: Maintain neat landscaping and keep flowers away from high-traffic areas.
Your flowers smell much sweeter to your nose than your trash does, but to a hornet, sweet is sweet. An overgrown garden full of aphids and other small flies is like a buffet for hornets. Keep grasses trimmed back and shrubs aerated, and don’t place heavily scented flowers near a dining area or frequently used pathway.
STEP 9: Call in a professional to remove hornets and keep them away for good, especially if you are allergic.
If you’re allergic to insect stings of any kind, do not take this task on yourself. Spraying or trapping can release hornets unexpectedly, and if their venom is poison to you, you shouldn’t take the chance. If you’re not allergic and spraying hasn’t worked, or if the nest is too high to reach with spray (using a ladder to assist with hornet removal is never a good idea), call in the professionals. They’ll have better tools to use for spraying and removal and full protective gear. They’ll also have a clear plan for how to get rid of wasps, hornets, or whatever stinging insects you have nearby. In addition, if you find that the hornets keep returning, a professional will have suggestions and treatments to encourage the hornets to find a new home.
Whether you decide to handle the removal yourself or call in a professional for assistance, use caution as you would around any insect that can cause injury. After the nest is removed, consider some additional prevention. Some homeowners have found it helpful to hang a fake hornet’s nest in the space where the real one previously hung to show that the spot is taken and discourage others from setting up a home.
Hornets are beneficial insects when they’re not in your living space, but they’re not safe to allow near areas where you relax and spend time outdoors. Taking these steps will keep your barbecues and afternoon naps sting-free without too much expense or hassle.