Earwigs are unwelcome guests in almost every garden or home. These ¾” long, reddish brown insects look particularly formidable, with their rear pinchers and quick movements.
Earwigs can damage your plants, but they rarely bite people. Their name comes from an old European superstition that these nocturnal insects will crawl into the ears, and then into the brains, of people while they sleep. (Remember the chilling scene from the movie “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”? Creepy, but pure fiction!) They are native to Europe and were accidentally introduced to the US in the early part of the 20th Century. Since then, the population has spread quickly across the country.
Earwigs overwinter and lay their eggs in the soil. They hide during the day and come out at night to feed on insects and plants. Earwigs will eat aphids, mites, fleas and the eggs of other insects. But for most folks, their bad habits outweigh their good habits. They’ll also feed on a variety of flowering plants and hostas, along with some garden vegetables. They’ll hide under well caps, inside electrical outlets and any other dark place they can crawl into.
To control earwigs, some experts suggest removing possible hiding places from your yard to create a dry, sunny environment that they will avoid. But if a dry, sunny yard is not your cup of tea, there are chemical and organic methods for controlling the nasty beasties.
Sevin and some other chemical insecticides will kill them. Ask your local garden center what they have available for earwig control, and follow the directions on the package. Insecticidal soaps kill earwigs on contact, and should be sprayed in the evening when they are active.
You can also trap them by placing damp, rolled up newspapers overnight in the areas they frequent. Gather the newspapers in the morning and shake out any earwigs into a bucket of soapy water. If earwigs get inside your house, just vacuum them up. They come inside to find a hiding place, but they do not breed indoors.
Mike McGroarty is a Garden & Greenhouse contributing editor, the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at Freeplants.com and read his blog at Mikesbackyardnursery.com.