Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: How do I get rid of wasps, yellow jackets?

While paper wasps (shown) and yellow jackets actually help gardeners by preying on garden pests, most people don’t like them buzzing around. Getting rid of them takes vigilance.
While paper wasps (shown) and yellow jackets actually help gardeners by preying on garden pests, most people don’t like them buzzing around. Getting rid of them takes vigilance. The Bellingham Herald

Question: We’ve been bedeviled by wasps and yellow jackets in our yard. What’s the best way to get rid of them?

Answer: Here’s a little known fact: wasps and yellow jackets prey on garden pests. They help gardeners!

Still, no one really likes having them in close vicinity; they’re well-armed and not hesitant to respond to perceived threats.

Keeping them at bay requires vigilance. Leave no food for them to eat. Cover trash cans tightly, and clean up any ripe, fallen fruit.

With lots of overhangs around our house — perfect places for wasps to build their nests — we’ve found that regular monitoring, and dislodging of nests while they’re still small, goes far in limiting the problem. Try to do it when the wasps are out hunting, and use a VERY long pole to keep a safe distance.

To get rid of a large nest, buy a can of aerosol spray designed specifically for wasps and yellow jackets. And spray the nest at dusk, when the most insects will be it. The spray on these products is quite strong, so you can keep your distance as you spray.

Q: Some of the potatoes that I have been harvesting are a lovely green shade in places. What happened? Are they safe to eat?

A: Potatoes will turn green when exposed to sunlight. However, all your hard work isn’t wasted. You can safely eat the potatoes as long as you cut off the green parts. Compost the greens cuttings and you’ve completed the circle!

Q: What is the best time to spray dormant oil on my fruit trees?

A: In the late winter you can spray.

A light covering of dormant oil on fruit trees will cover and protect against many problems, including aphids, thrips, mealybugs, whitefly, scale, and spider mites that cling to the bark. It suffocates them. It also will destroy the eggs of codling moths, a real problem in our area.

There are several reasons to spray in late winter. First, this is when insects and their eggs are coming out of dormancy. They are softer and thus more vulnerable to the spray. Second, the oil and water mixture should not freeze, so the temperature needs to be 40 degrees or higher. Don’t spray if freezing night temperatures are predicted. Don’t spray on a windy day.

Spray each tree at one time, making sure to cover the trunk and all large branches. If you have had a major insect problem, you might do another spray a few days later.

And for those unlucky few who wonder if anything will help bring their fruit trees into a healthier state, you can spray in the fall, after all the leaves have fallen. NEVER spray when either fruit or foliage is present.

Alert to Gardeners: There’s a great class coming up — The Gardening Green: Sustainable Landscaping Class sponsored by Whatcom County and taught by Sue Taylor. Topic will include reducing the maintenance of your garden; managing pest and diseases; attracting wildlife; choosing the right plants; and water conservation.

You will learn to do a site analysis, create conceptual design plans, and develop a planting plan for the areas you are renovating. You get a class manual and the opportunity to purchase native plants at wholesale prices. Sue will visit your property to help with your plan.

Participants are always pleased with the newfound confidence that they can create a sustainable landscape that is safe and healthy for their families, pets and the environment.

And did I mention the class is free? But hurry, they always fill up.

What: Gardening Green: Sustainable Landscaping Class

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 22-Oct. 8, 2015

Registration or information:; 360-671-3891

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to