BOULDER – In an annual emergence in spring, the queens are awakening, shrugging off a winter’s sleep with conquest on their minds. They’re strong, hungry, and looking for real estate in which to build a nest – probably under your porch, your patio, or in the rock walls of the raised garden.
Yellow jackets are beginning their year, and to keep your yard from the black and yellow bullies, these queens must die. In winter, yellow jacket colonies die, leaving only queens survive. They emerge when the weather warms in spring to begin colonization of our landscapes. Waking up eager to feed and alone, they’re the ones out foraging for food; by trapping her, you will prevent hundreds of her offspring from harassing your family in fall.
Put out your wasp traps now, filled with heptyl butyrate, or design your own with chunks of cantaloupe – all it takes is a 2-liter sized pop bottle. Cut the top off the bottle at the shoulders, turn it around and slide it into to the lower part of the bottle so the neck points inwards, and staple this together. Before you fit the top on, fill the bottle with a small amount of cantaloupe. Some wasps prefer protein, so make another trap and put a bit of lunch meat in it. Hang these away from your house.
Another wasp that’s becoming active is the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus. This builds open-faced nests up in the eaves, inside sheds, and in other spots located above ground. They aren’t aggressive unless you get too close to the nest; if you do, then they may sting.
Paper wasps look a lot like yellow jackets but aren’t attracted to traps at all. They’re predators, hunting the yard for soft-bodied insects. They, too, start the spring with a single queen per colony, so if they bother you, wallop them with a flyswatter.
As long as we’re on a painful topic in gardening, it’s time to talk ticks. Good health in gardening involves understanding potential risks and avoiding them where possible. Gardeners are familiar with mosquito avoidance, but ticks remain a bit less publicized, and perhaps less understood. Of the 30 species we have in Colorado, none are those known to carry Lyme disease, which is fairly serious in the eastern U.S.. However, ticks can carry other problems and gardeners should take steps to keep themselves free of them.
Ticks begin activity in early April when the young hatch from eggs and crawl to the top of tall objects to wait for an unsuspecting animal to walk by. Size is relative when you’re a newly hatched tick nymph, and a tall object to a tick is a grass stalk. There, at the top of the stalk, many ‘ticklets’ bivouac – a cheery term for describing a mass of the tiny creatures hoping for dinner to come to them.
Keeping ticks at bay involves simple precautions. If possible, stay away from areas that ticks like, such as animal trails through brushy areas, at the edges of fields, wooded or shrubby areas and grasslands. But if you want to enjoy the outdoors, a better approach would be to wear protective clothing that includes long pants with socks pulled up over the lower cuffs. Repellents may also be applied to clothing to help ward off ticks.
If you find yourself in tick country, don’t panic. Ticks take time to attach, usually several hours, so there is time to check yourself and remove them. If possible, have another person help you check – nothing quite says “I love you” like checking one another for parasites.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development.
By Carol O’meara, CSU Extension