An example of a baldfaced hornet nest.
Sometimes procrastination pays off. At least it did for me this week. I couldn’t come up with a good idea for an article this week, when I received an e-mail from a reader inquiring about a large hornet’s nest in a tree. He described the nest as being the size of a volleyball, and from the photo that was attached the description was certainly no understatement.
Based on the photo, the hornets residing in the tree are most likely baldfaced hornets. The baldfaced hornet is about 0.7 inches long and is black with whitish markings. Baldfaced hornets are not your typical hornet. While it is true this insect is closely related to the yellowjacket, the insect’s behavior is very different.
Baldfaced hornets are beneficial insects. They capture and consume insects, many of which are pests in our gardens. Since they tend to build their nests rather high up in trees and are not aggressive, unless threatened, I would recommend leaving most nests alone. Occasionally, the nest are built on the eaves of buildings or in close proximity to areas of high traffic (playground equipment, sports fields, etc.).
In these cases, any of several commercial bee and wasp sprays can be used. It is best to spray after dark and to direct the pressurized spray stream directly into the opening of the nest. Wait until the morning to check the nest for surviving insects. If there are any survivors, spray that evening and once again wait until the morning before removing the nest.
Some people have tried to remove these nests by suddenly covering them with a plastic trash bag, tying it tightly to the branch, and then sawing the branch off. I would not recommend trying this as baldfaced hornets can escape from trash bags with ease.
If you have a hornets nest on your property and you worry about it growing to extraordinary proportions over the years, there is nothing to fret about. Before winter arrives, the worker hornets naturally die off. The surviving queen finds a protected location to overwinter and rebuilds the colony the following spring in a different location. The remaining empty nest is usually destroyed over the winter by the snow and wind.
Anne Lenox Barlow is a professional horticulturist who enjoys gardening with her family in Plattsburgh. She also chronicles her gardening experiences at her blog www.northcountrygarden.wordpress.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.