Get out the can of wasp spray only if nest location is a problem

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

September 05, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld & Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld & Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

How do I get rid of yellow jackets? One group flies beneath the porch, another under a small shrub.

Yellow jackets are beneficial predators of pests such as flies and mosquitoes early in the season, so we do not recommend nest eradication unless it is in a problem location (e.g., by a walkway or where mowing disturbs them).

If they pose a danger, eliminate them with a can of hornet and wasp spray, readily available at a hardware or grocery store. There are many manufacturers, all satisfactory. Read and follow all label directions.

To spray the nest, scout out its entrance during daylight. Then spray at dusk, when the wasps will be in the nest and quiet for the night. For small nests, you can spray less than an entire can. Large nests will require at least one entire can. They shouldn't emerge. If one or two do, simply walk -- not run -- away.

Yellow jacket nests are not permanent. All wasps die with the first hard frost, except for the queen who overwinters elsewhere. She will not return to the nest and reuse it.

Yellow jackets are cavity dwellers, so you may want to fill in the empty space before another critter moves in.

Our butternut and acorn winter squash are ripening way ahead of schedule. I read somewhere that you should leave them on the vine until frost. Any ideas?

Winter squash are ripe when fully colored with a hardened rind that can't be cut easily with your fingernail. If you leave them on the vine, there's a chance they could become infected with a disease or nibbled on by voles and other critters. Better to cut them from the vine and wipe them down with a damp rag to remove soil particles. You could take the extra precaution of wiping the fruits with a mild bleach solution (1:10 bleach to water) to kill surface fungi or bacteria.

Then store in a cool, dry place, preferably off the floor. They should store well for 4-5 months.

A weed has taken over my mother's yard, and it kills the grass and anything else in its way. Her home is in the woods, and the soil is very acid. I have enclosed a picture of the weed [through the HGIC Web site].

Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie is a creeping perennial herb that forms dense patches in shade or sun. A member of the mint family, it has a strong minty odor and square stems. Its scalloped leaves and purple spring flowers can be observed each year in many Maryland lawns.

Thriving in difficult compacted or poorly draining soils, this is a challenging weed to control. In spring and early fall, use a broadleaf herbicide that contains Trimec (a combination of 2,4-D, MCPP and Dicamba.) A second application in the fall, about two weeks after the first, is very effective. Our fact sheet on weed control in lawns is free by phone or through the Web site.


1. This is the recommended time of year for lawn renovation projects. Consider testing your soil pH, aerating the soil and overseeding.

2. Buy and sow seeds of oats, winter rye, crimson clover or other cover crops to protect and improve your flower and vegetable garden soil through the fall and winter.

3. Prevent insects from moving into your home this fall by tightening screens, and caulking and putting weather stripping around door thresholds and vents.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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