As bad as earwigs look, many people wonder whether they are actually 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 cause shouldn’t present a major problem in most gardens.
In their favor, earwigs eat aphids, snails, slugs, and some types of larvae, so you might actually want them around. However, as with all uninvited creatures in a garden, there are times when earwigs can be considered a pest. When that happens, be patient, and learn why earwigs are attracted to your garden in order to change their habits.
What Are Earwigs?
It’s easy to recognize an earwig when you see its long, reddish brown body with the two large pinchers at the tail end. But don’t be alarmed; they don't bite with those pinchers. They use them 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 areas under potted plants. These 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.
Plants Earwigs Like
Earwigs commonly eat plant debris they find on a garden floor and under containers. They also feed on a wide range of garden plants and 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, apricots, and peaches. Unfortunately, if none of their favorites are available, earwigs may feed on whatever plants they can find.
How to Control Earwigs Near Plants
The first step to controlling earwigs is to clear the mulch from the area where they are congregating and to let the soil get a bit dry. You only have to do this temporarily, until the earwigs move on. Additional techniques include:
- Place damp, rolled-up newspapers or small cardboard boxes (such as 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. The Cooperative Extension System recommends baiting these traps with oatmeal or bran if you are having trouble attracting them into the trap.
- Sett out traps made with shallow cat food or tuna cans filled with a shallow layer of vegetable oil.
- Apply a sticky barrier, such as Tanglefoot, sticky tape, or even petroleum jelly, at the base of woody plants. Earwigs are crawlers and will get stuck in the sticky mess before they can get up the tree or shrub to cause damage.
- Apply diatomaceous earth to the soil to deter earwigs; reapply in one week, if necessary.
- Use insecticides labeled for crawling insects can be used. Follow the manufacturer's direction carefully. Typically, it's best to apply treatments 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.