How do you get rid of wasps? Can you discourage them?
—Albert, via e-mail
For the sake of the ecosystem, you wouldn’t want to get rid of wasps completely: They eat other annoying insects, such as flies and slugs; they’re prey for small mammals and birds; plus, they act as pollinators. But you can discourage them, and hopefully keep the population from getting so out of control that they torment your dog, terrify your kids, and ruin every single barbecue of the summer.
In spring, check around your cottage for signs of wasp activity or any nests taking shape (the queen begins building the nest early in the season). An incomplete nest is easier and safer to remove than one that’s established. (Still, be careful, and do it at night, when wasps are less active.) Wasps would prefer to build nests in areas that are sheltered, dark, and secluded, such as under eavestroughs or beams, or in the corners of sheds and garages, so try to make these places less attractive (or unavaible) by lighting them, or blocking them with mesh wire. And this tip is probably obvious: Avoid leaving out anything that will attract the wasps to your property, especially sweet-smelling food, meat, or garbage. You can also buy commercial wasp traps, sprays, repellents, or decoy nests.
Towards the end of summer, some wasps, such as the German yellow jacket, run low on insect food sources. That means they’re more likely to crash your dock parties, cookouts, and picnics, looking to mooch. One strategy is to lure them away from the action by filling a few narrow-necked bottles with a syrup-water solution. The wasps fly in and drown. Meanwhile, you get a few minutes alone to enjoy your burger and beer.