Are Earwigs Garden Pests?
While earwigs (Forficula auricularia) do feed on tender shoots and can occasionally make a holey mess of leaves and even flowers, the amount of damage they do shouldn’t present a major problem in most gardens. In fact, earwigs even eat aphids, snails and slugs and some types of larvae, so it might be a plus that they are there. However, as with all uninvited creatures in a garden, there are times when earwigs can be considered a pest.
When that happens, it’s going to take some patience and a little knowledge of why earwigs are attracted to your garden, to change their habits.
What are Earwigs?
Take a look at the picture above. It’s hard not to recognize an earwig when you see the sharp pinchers at the tail end. Don’t be alarmed, they won’t hurt you. They use these pinchers to capture insect prey and for mating. Some species of earwigs have wings, but you’ll rarely see one flying.
Why are Earwigs in the Garden?
Earwigs like damp, sheltered places, like mulched garden beds or under potted plants. Those conditions, along with a supply of food, will tempt earwigs into your garden. However, since they are considered beneficial insects, they are only treated as pests when their damage becomes excessive.
What Types of Plants Do Earwigs Like?
Earwigs eat the plant debris they find on the garden floor and under containers. However they will also feed on a wide range of garden plants.
They seem to be especially fond of herbs and corn tassels as well as dahlias, marigolds, roses and zinnias. They can also be a pest of fruits like berries and apricots and peaches. Unfortunately, if none of their favorites are available, they may feed on whatever plants they can find.
What Can I Do to Control Earwigs in Near My Plants?
Start by clearing the mulch from the area where they are congregating and letting the soil get a bit dry.
You only have to do this temporarily, until the earwigs move on.
Some other earwig control techniques recommended are:
- Place damp, rolled up newspapers or small cardboard boxes (like a cereal box) in the garden area in the evening. Earwigs feed at night and look for a damp, sheltered spot to spend the day. You can pick up quite a few in the newspaper the next morning. Cooperative Extension recommends baiting these traps with oatmeal or bran, if you are having trouble attracting them into the trap.
- Place shallow cat food or tuna cans with a little bit of vegetable oil as traps.
- Place a sticky barrier, such as Tanglefoot, sticky tape, or even petroleum jelly, at the base of woody plants. Earwigs are crawlers and they’ll get stuck in the sticky mess before they can get up the tree or shrub to cause damage.
- Diatomaceous earth seems to deter them. Apply it to the soil and reapply in 1 week, if necessary.
- If absolutely necessary, insecticides labeled for crawling insects can be used. Apply in the evening, before feeding begins.
Since earwigs are considered beneficial insects, don't panic if you only see a few. They can be allies in the garden. These control measures are meant to be used when the damage they do outweighs their benefits.