Earwigs are part of the Forficulidae family and have long, flat bodies with forceps-like pinchers. Often times, you might just find one of these crawling insects snacking on plants in your garden!
Earwigs search out moist places for shelter and food. Mulched gardens are attractive for earwigs, and they commonly eat flowers, vegetables, fruits, corn, and herbs. Flowers like marigolds, roses, zinnias, dahlias, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, hostas, and carnations are the most susceptible to earwig damage.
While earwigs often go after decaying plants, they will also eat living ones. So it’s crucial to address an earwig infestation in your yard because they can eventually find their way inside, particularly in basements.
What Are Earwigs?
You likely have seen earwigs and didn’t realize it. The omnivores often hide in dark, moist places and venture out at night. Their pinchers may look intimidating, but they rarely bite humans.
The United States is home to ten native species of earwigs; however, there are over 2,000 types worldwide. Although, the non-native species of the European earwig is what you will probably find in your backyard.
Earwigs usually eat plant debris or decaying matter on your garden’s floor. However, they will climb upwards if they can’t find anything on the ground.
There is debate on whether earwigs are beneficial to gardens, as they eat other pests like aphids, which can cause worse damage. However, if enough earwigs have taken over your yard, it’s time to take action.
Mother earwigs may be the most maternal of any other insect. After a female lays eggs, she hangs around to prevent them from being eliminated by mold. The mother will eat the mold off the eggs to ensure they are clean.
Earwigs also regurgitate food for their young or nymphs, making parental care imperative for growth.
While we respect what mother earwigs do for their eggs, we also don’t want them destroying our plants. Once you know what plants they are most attracted to, you can work on preventing earwigs from causing significant damage.
There are five primary plants earwigs eat, and it’s vital to protect them from damage.
5 Plants Earwigs Love To Eat
Earwigs Will Eat And Destroy Flowers
Earwigs can significantly damage flowers in your garden. Susceptible flowers include marigolds, roses, zinnias, dahlias, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, hostas, and carnations.
Zinnias, for example, are prone to severe damage because earwigs will go after the entire flower, as opposed to others.
Earwigs actively go after seedlings and young foliage, and you will often find small holes throughout the leaves. In addition, earwigs enjoy eating the pollen left on flowers.
If you plan on treating with pesticides, ensure you don’t spray the flowers directly as you can harm their pollinators.
Consider treating your garden for earwigs before planting if you’ve had a prior infestation. Pre-treatment will help protect new growth.
If you think earwigs may be the culprit to your flowers’ demise, ensure you check the flowers nightly. You are much more likely to catch the insects in the act as the sun goes down.
Earwigs Enjoy Eating Berries And Other Soft Fruits
Earwigs prefer softer fruits, like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, plums, and apricots, but they will attempt to eat through harder fruit like apples.
You may also find them snacking on peaches, and if you’re unlucky enough, you will find one still inside, eating away at your prized beauty.
Strawberry leaves, for example, may have holes chewed through as earwigs make their way through your garden.
Mature fruit trees aren’t susceptible to long-term damage from earwigs; however, damage to young seedlings can prevent future growth.
As a note, earwig damage looks very similar to snails; however, snails will leave behind slime trails. In addition, earwigs leave behind excrement in small, black pellets.
Finally, if earwigs make their way up a fruit tree, you might find them snacking on honey in a beehive. Earwigs have wings, but since they fly poorly, they have to resort to climbing up a tree.
Earwigs Like Lettuce And Other Vegetables
You likely have earwigs if you have discovered irregular holes in your lettuce. Earwigs leave jagged leaves in their tracks.
Lettuce also serves as an excellent hiding place, and Earwigs use the lettuce layers as a shelter during the day.
In addition to lettuce, earwigs eat celery, beets, swiss chard, radishes, cauliflower, carrots, and cucumbers. Earwigs primarily feed on seedlings of vegetables but will nibble on leaves.
While earwigs feed on other insects, their preference is vegetable matter, specifically green vegetation.
Earwigs can make their way into greenhouses, so it’s crucial to check all areas of your yard for evidence.
Finally, loose-fitting well caps allow earwigs to hide before snacking on your vegetable garden. The dark, damp spot is perfect during the day.
Earwigs Can Prevent Corn From Growing
Earwigs eat the silk strands found on corn. Unfortunately, this will stall pollination from occurring and can prevent growth, since earwigs will eat the silk before pollination occurs.
Corn is appealing to earwigs because they can hide in the dark, moist husks. Since it takes time for corn to grow, ensure you prepare your crop to prevent damage from earwigs.
If earwigs have attacked your corn, you will find undeveloped kernels inside the stalks.
You can spray an essential oil, like peppermint or clove, around the base of your corn to keep earwigs away.
Finally, if you suspect earwigs in your corn, try shaking the stalk to remove the insects. Be prepared with a bucket of soapy water to catch the falling earwigs. Earwigs can withstand cold temperatures, so merely using water is not practical.
Earwigs Eat Through Herbs In Your Garden
Herbs, like basil, can fall victim to the hungry appetites of an earwig colony. As with other plants, you will find small to medium-sized holes throughout your herbs.
If mulch or bark surrounds your herbs, you will want to remove them immediately. Wood piles make excellent hiding places for earwigs and allow them to access your herbs easily.
You also want to consider planting your herbs in planters and keeping them elevated so the earwigs have difficulty accessing them. This Raised Garden Bed allows you to keep your herbs up high and away from earwigs.
The handy garden bed allows for plenty of drainage and sturdy all-wood construction. Having a garden bed will enable you to choose exactly where you want to plant your herbs.
Finally, you can also place pieces of wood under a standard pot to prevent earwigs from gaining easy access to your herbs. Anything that provides a challenge will aid in keeping earwigs away.
What To Do If Earwigs Are Eating Your Plants
Even though earwigs provide some benefits like helping to control other insects, you don’t want them damaging your crops and vegetation.
While a handful of earwigs won’t ruin your prized garden, take action if it’s clear you have an infestation. If you notice severe damage, the following steps can help control your issue!
As a tip, earwigs often come out after the rain, so preparing before the rainy season is crucial. You can do several things to help eliminate earwigs so they don’t continue to harm your vegetation.
Eliminate Earwigs On Contact
It’s vital to understand that earwigs are nocturnal, and if you decide to use chemicals, wait until the sun goes down. If you see earwigs during sunlight, they will hurry to find a new hiding place.
First, you can buy an insecticide like Harris Diatomaceous Earth to treat the problem. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on infested areas and can eliminate the issue within 48 hours.
Make sure to check the product labels before applying and rinse off your garden veggies and use a food grade diatomaceous earth product as that ensures it’s edible incase you don’t happen to rinse it all off!
If you’d like some more options, you can check out our piece on the best earwig sprays here! Please note that most of these options are for INDOOR use.
Use Traps To Stop Earwigs
Traps can be very effective at stopping earwigs. If you are treating earwigs outside, you will probably catch other insects.
You can lay the Catchmaster Pest Trap around your garden in areas where you have seen earwigs. You can lay the trap flat or keep it folded to catch the earwigs.
You will want to monitor the trap and replace it as it gets full. Consider placing the trap out before sundown, so you can catch them as they come out for the evening.
In addition, check on the traps after a rainstorm, as they could be damaged and no longer effective.
Finally, you can make your earwig trap using a low-sided can filled with vegetable oil and a small amount of bacon grease. Place the trap near suspected infestation areas to catch earwigs. You can also use yeast to catch earwigs, and you’ll likely also catch snails and slugs.
Contact A Professional
As with any pest problem, sometimes it’s best to contact a professional. A minor issue can lead to an infestation in no time, so it’s wise to have a professional look at the situation if the earwigs are very prevalent around your property and home.
While earwigs aren’t usually a cause for alarm, if pests are still finding their way to your yard and home, you want to see the root cause.
A professional can help understand why you continually find earwigs and help figure out the best action plan. They can also help implement ways to keep earwigs away permanently.
How To Prevent Earwigs From Eating Your Plants
Earwigs mainly feed at night, so if you are going to treat them directly, you will want to do so during the day. You will find them hiding in dark, moist places during the day. Since earwigs are nocturnal, you can easily find them attacking your plants once the sun goes down.
It’s vital to put practices in place to prevent earwigs from returning to your yard. Prevention is key to saving your beautiful garden.
Remember to contact a professional if your prevention methods aren’t proving fruitful. While earwigs aren’t the worst pest to have, you want to help control any problems they cause.
Use Essential Oils And Strong Smells To Keep Earwigs Away
There are scents earwigs dislike, including peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, and clove oils. Essential oils are a natural way to treat the problem without the risk of using pesticides on your plants.
It’s vital to reapply the essential oils, especially after a rainstorm, until you no longer observe any earwigs.
You can also sprinkle coffee grounds as a deterrent. Coffee grounds are a fantastic way to deter most pests that find their way into your garden.
Finally, since all pests are different, you may have to experiment some when figuring how which essential oil works best. So, while you should give it time, don’t be afraid to try a variety of scents to keep earwigs away.
If you’d like, take a look at our full guide on the scents that earwigs hate!
Stay On Top of Yard Maintenance
Earwigs are attracted to moist areas and will hide in stacks of wood and leaves in your yard, so you want to keep them at a minimum. Any overgrown vegetation or abundance of leaves allows earwigs to stay hidden.
In addition, keep all vegetation at least six to twelve inches away from your home. Spreading out your plants will help prevent earwigs from coming inside.
Earwigs are attracted to light, yet another reason to keep vegetation away from your home! Vegetation + a well lit home at night can lead to earwigs crawling into your home.
Earwigs often find their way into your home by accident or if they are seeking shelter from inclement weather.
Your yard should be free of standing water, leading to mold and fungus. Earwigs aren’t too particular when eating and will gladly eat the fungus growing in your yard.
In addition, you want to clear out any decaying plants or vegetation in your yard. Also, check compost piles or bins for signs of earwigs.
Finally, you want to keep your outdoor grill clean. While it seems unusual, earwigs will snack on leftover grease. Inside your home, they will seek greasy areas as well.
Put Petroleum Jelly At The Base Of Your Plants
Since earwigs are crawlers, petroleum jelly will stop them in their tracks. By applying the jelly at the base of your plants, you will prevent them from crawling up the stalks and snacking on your plants.
To prevent earwigs from climbing up your thicker plants, you can also add a sticky trap, like Tanglefoot Tangleguard Banding Material with Insect Barrier. The product is easy to use and can last through nearly all weather conditions.
First, lay the banding material around your plants and then spread the insect barrier on the entire band. Then, as a bonus, you’ll probably catch other pests trying to get to your garden—plan on keeping the trap until the end of the season!
If earwigs are attacking your fruit trees, adding an insect barrier is highly effective in preventing them from reaching your fruit. Earwigs aren’t strong enough to crawl past the sticky traps.
That’s A Wrap!
Earwigs can unfortunately wreak havoc on your garden. Their nocturnal habits make it difficult to eliminate earwigs directly, but protecting your plants can help save your vegetation.
Now for a quick recap!
Here are the 5 common plants that earwigs eat:
While earwigs can help eliminate other pests, like aphids and maggots, they can be natural pests themselves. If you find significant damage to your vegetation, treat affected areas directly or set up traps to catch earwigs.
Keeping a clean yard and preventing hiding places can help keep earwigs away. While earwigs mostly go for decaying matter, they will eat away at growing plants, especially young seedlings.
Happy earwig repelling!
Crumb, Samuel Ebb, Alfred Eric Bonn, and Paul M. Eide. The european earwig. No. 766. The Department, 1941.
Fulton, B. B. “Some Habits of Earwigs.” Annals of the entomological Society of America 17.4 (1924): 357-367.
Pellitteri, Phillip J. Controlling earwigs. University of Wisconsin–Extension, 1995.
Romeu-Dalmau, Carla, Josep Piñol, and Xavier Espadaler. “Friend or foe? The role of earwigs in a Mediterranean organic citrus orchard.” Biological Control 63.2 (2012): 143-149.
Staerkle, Michael, and Mathias Kölliker. “Maternal food regurgitation to nymphs in earwigs (Forficula auricularia).” Ethology 114.9 (2008): 844-850.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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