THE BLOG
06/14/2016 09:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

6 Nontoxic Ways to Keep Wasps Away

by guest blogger Rebecca Straus, online assistant editor at Rodale's Organic Life

Aside from different nesting preferences, the main difference between bees and wasps is that bees feed their larvae pollen, while wasps--a category that includes yellow jackets and hornets--nourish theirs with insects. That means that wasps are actually great to have around the garden because they control nearly all types of insect pests. According to National Geographic, some farmers are even using them to protect crops. And contrary to popular belief, wasps pollinate plants, too, just not to the same extent that bees do.

Despite all the ways they can benefit your yard, wasps can still sting and give you an allergic reaction. And when they build a nest that's a little to close for comfort--under your porch roof or even sneak inside your home--it's time to do something. Before you turn to poisons to save your container garden, give these nontoxic, natural methods a go. Chances are they'll work just as well as that aerosol can of wasp-killer...maybe even better.

1. Clove-Geranium-Lemongrass Oil Blend

Research published in the Journal of Pest Management Science found that a combination of clove, geranium, and lemongrass essential oils repelled worker wasps completely. You can try applying these oils by mixing several drops of each with water and dish soap in a spray bottle and coating areas on the outside of your home where wasps like to build nests--under eaves, porch roofs, and other ledges and crevices. Since fully covering all of those areas with essential oils would be impractical, target spots where you've found old nests in the past, as paper wasps will build new nests in the same locations again and again, according to Clemson University's Department of Entomology, Soils, and Plant Sciences.

2. Plain Old Soap + Water

According to Chris Walker, an eco-friendly wasp removal expert in Southeastern Pennsylvania, you can tackle small hanging nests with a mixture of about two tablespoons of dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water. "The soap clogs their breathing pores (called spiracles) and they die almost instantly," says Walker. "It's actually a much more humane way to kill them than using pesticides, which can take hours to work."

3. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil may also be effective at repelling wasps, according to the same study from the Journal of Pest Management Science. You can try applying it as described above, or you can purchaseEcoSmart Organic Wasp and Hornet Killer, which is mint oil-based, to target established nests. Try adding a mint plant to your garden. While not as potent as mint oil, the plant will aid in ridding the area of wasps.

4. Wasp Traps

Wasp traps work by luring the insects inside a container with some tempting treat, like sugar water, and then preventing them from escaping. You can make one yourself in about five minutes by cutting the top off a two-liter bottle and inverting it inside the bottom, like this one designed by Prairie Story blogger Alison Zulyniak. If the DIY route isn't for you, you can also purchase a more heavy-duty trap online such as this one made by Rescue or this glass trap from Rodale's. However, Walker notes that traps probably won't fully solve your problem because you might end up capturing wasps that are passing through your yard, rather than just the ones that belong to the problem nest. If using a trap, your best bet is to try to locate the nest and place the trap close to its entrance.

5. Patch Up Cracks

If you want to keep wasps from invading your house, preventative measures are key, notes Walker. He recommends sealing up tiny cracks, like those around the edges of siding and where power lines enter the house, and patching up holes in window screens. The best time to do this is in late fall after most worker wasps have died off, or in early spring before nests become active. However, if you do discover wasps inside your house, don't try to seal the nest inside the wall, thinking they'll just die off. "They'll find their way out through vents or even chew through drywall," says Walker.

6. Seal Waste Bins

According to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, wasp problems are usually worse in yards that have lots of food sources in the form of exposed garbage and recycling bins and composting food matter. Make sure the lids to your garbage bins are always sealed on tight, and maybe even consider composting indoors if you find your compost pile is causing problems.

Adapted from an article originally published on RodalesOrganicLife.com

For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com