The Q&A Archives: Earwigs Invade

Question: I have earwigs everywhere! I see some damage on my flowers and herbs, but I don't know if they are the culprit. Are the earwigs a true pest, and if so, what can I do to control them?

Answer: Earwigs are one of those semi-good guys that sometimes become a nuisance. Although they occasionally chomp on our flowers, they also have the habit of chomping on aphids and certain pest larvae.

It's helpful to understand the pest's habits and life cycle. In fall, the adults build nests in the top few inches of the soil and overwinter. They lay eggs in April and the young stay close to the nest and are fed by the adults until June, when they go off to fend for themselves. The population booms again in late August, when a second generation of adults emerges. Earwigs feed at night on just about any dead or living material they can find. They prefer heavily mulched soil amended with organic matter, dark places and cool, wet weather.

You can trap the earwigs moving from the ground to the plants in the evening by placing rolled newspaper or cardboard tubes, baited with vegetable oil mixed with moistened bread crumbs, at the base of the corn plants. The earwigs seek out dark, cool hiding places during the day, and the bait will help keep them there. Check the traps in the early morning, killing any earwigs found there by shaking them into soapy water.

If you don't have time for these procedures, diatomaceous earth sprinkled sparsely on and liberally around the seedlings and other plants will discourage them as well, as the particles are razor-sharp to insects.

For long-term control, amend your soil annually with organic matter -- earwigs tend not to bother plants as much when they have an abundant source of decaying organic matter to feed on in the soil. Earwigs build nests in the soil, so fall tilling may be a way to destroy those that overwinter, thus lowering the population.

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