Earwigs, I’ve learned, have their place in the natural order of things. Just not in my backyard, Thank You Very Much! These nocturnal little pests live in cool, damp garden spaces, scavenging smaller insects, plants and flowers. They love to slurp rotting fruit and decaying animal matter. Yuck! But that’s not all. They also love to eat the tender new growth of your vegetable seedlings. All five of the North American species have two sets of wings, but they don’t like to use them. They would rather scamper and scurry around your garden while you sleep, wreaking havoc on your seedlings and vegetable stems. There’s just not much to love about these nasty little critters, unless of course you are another earwig (wink, wink). Even then, there are those pointy abdominal pincers to contend with.
Each year, as I get ready to plant my new garden, I also reconcile the fact that I will also be doing battle with earwigs, yet again. Ridding my garden of snails and slugs is child’s play, compared with the effort I put forth to make my soil inhospitable to Euborellia annulipes. While not impossible, getting rid of them is a process, not an event. Here are some battle-tested methods to send earwigs on to the next-best garden space- somewhere, anywhere, just not in my backyard.
THE GARDEN PLAN
Earwigs spend the daylight hours, hunkered down in natural, organic, shady, moist garden spaces. Mulch, large leaves, downed branches and bark are favorite habitats of the pest. As rapid runners, they scurry from place-to-place when their shelter is disturbed. They even burrow into loose soil, to escape the heat of day. They’re not exclusive to organic natural material. They are just as at-home in your gutters, downspouts, hose and sprinkler openings, and anywhere else they can find cool, damp refuge. Make a garden plan that includes rock walkways and stone borders, instead of mulch and bark. Remove organic material from your garden where it isn’t necessary. Be diligent about leaf and grass removal. If you like to use natural materials, such as old tree stumps, as stools, and dead branches as stakes or trellises, remove the bark and leaf matter from them first. Keep the clutter down in your outdoor spaces, or at least keep moving it from place-to-place so earwigs can’t set up shop. Kids toys, garden equipment, corrugated cardboard and overturned tubs, cans and containers are all prime real estate for earwigs. Remove the habitat and they won’t consider establishing themselves in your garden.
NATURAL AND ORGANIC SOLUTIONS
If you find that you already have an infestation of earwigs, or you see signs that they are establishing themselves, you can make your garden so unappealing to them, that they will simply move on to the next best space, which is anywhere else. Here are some easy solutions that don’t include poisoning your space.
Stale Beer as an attractant- Open a can of cheap beer (don’t waste the good stuff) and bury it on a 45-degree angle, keeping the opening at soil level in your garden where you see evidence of earwigs. They’re closet alcoholics. They’ll climb right in and drown their sorrows away.
Soaked Newspaper as an attractant- Roll up the business section (it’s too depressing to read anyway) and soak it in water. Place it near their habitat. Get up at dawn and simply throw the newspaper away with the trapped earwigs inside.
Tuna Cans as an attractant- Empty the contents of a tuna can and don’t wash it out. Instead, fill it with vegetable oil. Bury it up to the rim in the garden. The tuna odor will attract the earwigs and the vegetable oil makes it impossible for them to escape.
Diatomaceous Earth as a deterrent- Lightly dust your plant stems and surrounding soil with natural diatomaceous earth. The earwigs don’t like the texture and it throws off the plant scent. DE is known to kill any insect that dare to crawl through it, but it is completely harmless to humans and pets.
Homemade Garlic Sprays as a deterrent- Mix 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 Tbsp of soy sauce, 1 Tbsp of cayenne pepper or chili powder, 1 tsp of vegetable oil, and a few drops of ordinary liquid dish soap with about two cups of water and mix it all up. Pour it into a spray bottle and let it stand for 12 hours. Overnight, it becomes an obnoxious concoction that makes the garden soil and plants a virtually uninhabitable and entirely unattractive domain for the earwigs, once you spray it on the soil and plant stems. They will simply move on to a more earwig-friendly environment, like your neighbor’s garden. It’s organic, and safe for humans and pets, but be warned; it will stink for a few hours.
NOTE: Not for the faint of heart, but battle-tested and true, you can add one more ingredient to the homemade garlic spray for extra pungency: ground up earwigs. Yes, really. Take a few tablespoons of the little critters and grind them up with a couple tablespoons of water and the back side of a spoon or the bottom of a jar. Add it to your spray bottle and let it steep with the rest of the ingredients.
I am not a proponent of poisoning the garden with commercially available chemical pesticides. But, they are fast-acting and effective and should be considered as a last resort to other more earth-friendly solutions.
Pyrethrin Spray- Marketed as an organic botanical pesticide, pyrethrin spray is an effective pesticide that is made from the chrysanthemum seeds in the flower head.
Ortho Home Defense– Let’s agree to consider this as the last of the last of the last solutions to use. It’s expensive, volatile, short-lived (you have to apply it every few days), and toxic. It will kill your earwigs where they stand. And it will decimate your beneficial lady bugs, praying mantis and nematodes. All-in-all, a pretty bad solution.
So, pick your poison (or lack thereof) and don’t let earwigs get the best of your new garden! Go get ’em.
Editors Note: photo, courtesy Drees, Creative Commons