A wildlife-friendly garden needs wasps. Nature needs wasps. They are a vital part of the natural ecosystem. However, they don’t have a cosy, fluffy image that bumblebees have. It doesn’t help that UK tabloid newspapers love to find dramatic stories of any animals that have stung, bitten, or attacked a single gardener or holidaymaker. At the time of writing (September 2021), a quick look online at the tabloid headlines and there’s already a flurry of stories about a relative of wasps, the hornet. A foreign hornet has been sighted and straight away, The Daily Mail uses the monikers ‘ultra-aggressive murder’ hornets, The Sun opts for ‘deadly’; even The Guardian has got carried away, calling them ‘murder’ hornets. The negative coverage of any insects in the media affects the public image of all other insects, particularly related ones. Here are some tips for managing wasps in a wildlife-friendly way.
This article covers:
- Wasp-friendly gardening
- Planning ahead for wasps
- Dealing with potential problems relating to wasps
Wasps are a gardener’s friend. Without them, the gardener has a much tougher job protecting favourite plants. See my post How Wasps Help Gardeners for more information about their role in a garden.
A wildlife-friendly garden that caters for wasps features much the same sort of design as one that caters for bees. It will have a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers, a bird bath or other water receptacle, some shrubs, some untouched soil/wild area if possible, and a place for them to shelter.
Like bees, wasps are numerous in species and behaviour. Some wasps nest in the ground, some in hollow logs or trees, while others might choose a wall cavity, an empty nest box, or a corner of a shed.
Look for plants that are pollinator-friendly, flower in the day, easy to access.
or the Wildlife Trusts’ examples.
Wasps need insects for their young, so if they’re attracted to your garden in spring and summer, it’s likely because it has a larder of insects for them to feed to their kids. In late summer, they love fruit, as the adults search for sugar to feed themselves.
Planning Ahead for Wasps
In gardens, the main issues with wasps are their attraction to food and their choice of nesting site. If you plan ahead, you can design your green space in a way that helps them and you with minimal conflicts.
Avoid Awkward Nest Sites
First, it is important to point out that not all wasp species form a nest, as only a small number of UK wasp species are colony species. Some are social wasps while others are solitary. Social wasps look for somewhere dry, secure, and solid that will last them the summer. Help yourself out by sealing any places where it might be an issue. Have you got any:
- Holes in your house walls (EG where pipes used to be)
- Ventilation bricks
- Cavities near open windows
- Holes in your shed, or
- …Plastic/solid compost bins that have any gaps where a wasp could pop in?
If these holey places are a bit close to where you spend time in the garden, seal them in winter, before the wasp/pollinator season. For ventilation bricks etc, where you cannot seal them, put a breathable netting over them, so air gets in but nowt else!
Give Wasps a Nest Site
Many gardeners have already added insect hotels and bee boxes – why not cater for wasps? However, place wasp nesting options and bee hotels away from the areas of your garden that receive the most human or pet traffic. Wasps naturally want to defend their home and get stressed if predators, like humans, are walking past their front door every day.
Try a nest box or purpose-built cavity high up in a tree or on a building – Ive seen wasps frequent a nest box that was designed for sparrows. High up is best, so they have their space and you have yours.
Leave a wild space around trees with hollows or cavities.
Create a hotel in an unused corner, with hollow logs and boxes. Plant pollinating plants here and leave the hotel for wildlife.
Does an artificial nest deter them? TV gardener David Domoney suggests making a nest from papier maché to persuade wasps to move elsewhere. Does this work? Has anyone tried it? I’m intrigued.
Think About Where You Put Plants
Certain plants attract wasps and bees, so you can train them into different areas of your garden. Around outdoor eating spaces or along narrow walking areas, avoid putting all the attractive wasp-friendly plants. Plant strong-smelling herbs like mint, thyme, or eucalyptus around barbecue areas and see if this deters pollinator presence around food.
Be Smart With Food
Wasps look for insects or meat in spring and early summer, then sugar from late July through to September. During outdoor dining, cover food with cloches and tubs. Avoid waving your hands about if a wasp appears – they are just looking for food, not for you, but you waving your hands at them suggests you’re attacking them, which turns on their defences.
In late summer, when wasps are looking for sugar around your outdoor food and drinks, try distracting them by placing fallen fruit, apple cores, or sugar water at the other end of your garden. In other words: train them away from you, into their own space where the pollinator-friendly flowers are.
Dealing with Potential Problems
“They’re nesting in our wall/composter/shed!“
First of all, assess how unhelpful it is. If you want a wildlife-friendly garden, trust me, the wildlife won’t all go where you want it to go and eat what you chose for it. Their site won’t be forever – they die off towards winter and in a social colony the new queens go looking for a hibernatory home. Can you wait till then? Get another composter, move your main shed tools. Can you put a curtain up to separate their space from yours?
Secondly, do not remove it yourself. Do not damage it. Fire will damage property, as will water. Shining torches, spraying sprays – all will cause them to be alert and defensive, and will not necessarily move them from the site.
If you do need to move it somewhere safer, talk to your local beekeepers and to pest controllers, specifically asking for help to remove the nest without killing the wasps. You need someone who has protective clothing and knows how to keep wasps calm.
If they have stung you, they are defending themselves. Many UK wasps are more interested in flowers and food. They are more likely to sting if you are too close to their nest or you waved your arms at them and scared them. If near their nest, one sting can encourage the others as theyre signalling an intruder. Leave them in peace and design your garden to give them and you some space. Let them help eat your pests and pollinate your plants!