Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
August, 2008
Regional Report

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This earwig hides in the marigold flower to emerge at night and munch away.

Eeek! the Earwigs are Back

Summer is a wonderful time to relax in a garden amidst the blooming annuals, perennials, and container gardens. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewards of your earlier efforts. But wait -- something's not quite right. Those marigolds weren't shredded like that yesterday.

Ah, it's time for the wily earwigs. Earwigs are a well-known insect, both from folklore and from actual encounters in the landscape. They are the insects reputed in superstition to crawl into the ears of sleeping persons to deposit eggs in the brain. Of course, this is a myth, though earwigs may wander into the house and be found in kitchens, laundry rooms, bathrooms, and perhaps they could wander into our ear canal by accident ... well, it's dark in there!

Earwigs are easy to identify by their prominent pincers or forceps on the end of the abdomen. On female earwigs the pincers are fairly straight, while male pincers are more curved and caliper-like. These pincers are used primarily for defense and during courtship.

These insects are generally considered beneficial as they scavenge on dead insects and rotting plant material in the garden. Earwigs will also feed on pests such as mites and aphids. However, when populations explode, it is not uncommon to have them feed on live plants. And when it comes to them feasting on my marigolds, it's time to take action.

During the day earwigs rest in dark, moist areas underneath mulch, stones, boards, pots, patio furniture cushions, under loose tree bark, in tree cracks, weeds, and other debris. So with the right strategy, you can safely and effectively control these pests.

Keeping Earwigs Away From the House
When it comes to preventing earwigs from coming indoors, one must first control them outdoors near the house. Eliminate damp, moist conditions in crawl spaces, around faucets, around air conditioning units, and along the house foundation. Check entry points, door thresholds, windows, and screens for a tight fit. If needed, caulk cracks and crevices around doors, windows, the foundation itself. Make sure rain gutters and spouts carry water away from the foundation.

Reducing Earwigs Outdoors
Clean up around areas that provide refuge, such as overgrown ground covers, weeds, piles of leaves, and other debris. Among the most natural controls for earwigs are predators like toads and birds. They love to feast on these critters. One of my favorite ways of trapping earwigs is to place moistened rolled newspaper in areas where earwigs are known to thrive. In the morning, dispose of the papers and the insects-in-hiding.

Some other creative traps are made out of shallow empty tuna cans. Fill the cans with a quarter-inch of vegetable oil and set around plants. Empty the bounty and reset as needed. Pieces of old rubber or plastic hose with a little oatmeal in them will attract earwigs. Place these tube traps near plants at sunset. Empty the traps into a bucket of water each morning.

Send Indoor Earwigs Packing
Once inside the house, sweep up or use a vacuum cleaner to collect earwigs. If you don't get them all, don't worry; they will eventually die.

I don't mind a few earwigs, but when they start to shred my marigolds, it's time for me to set out the traps. Happy hunting!

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