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Common Earwig “Fir0002/Flagstaffotos”

There was a time I was about to give up on gardening. Everything I planted was getting chomped on in a big way by little earwigs. At first I did not believe all the damage was from earwigs. I had never experienced earwig damage on this scale.

The damage was extensive and widespread. My strawberries and raspberries were ruined. Earwigs would nibble on the flowers and then proceed to eating the actual berries. On the strawberries they would eat around the base of the green berries so that they began to dry out and shrivel instead of ripening. Earwigs sucked the juice out of individual seeds on the raspberries leaving each berry desiccated.

Earwig damage on bean seedling

Earwig damage on bean seedling

 

In addition to the berries, they gnawed down any veggie starts I planted out. They were particularly fond of petunia and zinnia seedlings. I would come out the next morning and there would be nothing but a few remnants of shredded leaves on a nibbled stem. I would plant carrot seeds and religiously keep them moist and just when the seeds germinated my carrot seedlings would be mowed down in the night be voracious earwigs. This was not my gardening dream!

 

Earwig damage on kale seedling

Earwig damage on kale seedling

I had not known the earwig could be a garden pest. I grew up on the Oregon Coast with extensive vegetation and moisture year around earwigs had been a small nuisance, but not a gardening plague! I was experiencing the European (common) earwig (Forficula auricularia). This earwig was brought into North America sometime after 1900 and has become widespread. The female lays 20 to 80 eggs in late winter or early spring. The nymphs that hatch out look similar to adults and will go through 4-6 molts. Fortunately earwigs are harmless to humans. Their pincers can only give a very light pinch, and they do not intentionally seek out ears.

What should I do about the earwigs? I started by going out with a headlamp and squishing earwigs like crazy, but for every one I squished there seemed to be 100 more.  I applied diatomaceous earth with no obvious impact. Next, I set up vegetable oil traps in small plastic tubs. The earwigs are attracted to the oil and then drown in it. I had tubs set out all over, and they became so full of dead earwigs that no more could drown. Even though I was killing earwigs by the 1,000’s I still had a major earwig problem.

I decided I needed some help. I employed four fine fowl. My new chickens did adore eating earwigs, but I could not allow my hens full access to every vulnerable plant. In addition, earwigs are active at night when chickens are roosting. Chickens were not a solution to my problem, but I do love the eggs!

Now for the really good news. A gardening friend of mine heard of my plight and suggested I try a product called Sluggo Plus. Sluggo (as the name suggests) controls slugs with an active ingredient iron phosphate, but Sluggo Plus has another ingredient called Spinosad. Spinosad is based on a compound found in bacteria, and it over-excites an insect’s nervous system leading to death.

Sluggo Plus is approved for organic gardening and comes in small pellets which are scattered in the area you need to control pests. Spinosad could also kill honey bees and other beneficials, however they are not attracted to the pellets on the ground. Sluggo Plus works best when the pellets are moist, but not soaking wet. The pellets needs to be reapplied every couple weeks to control for earwigs. I have my garden back again!

Sluggo Plus is not cheap, but if you have a significant earwig problem, it is an effective solution and well worth the price in my opinion. I will continue to use Sluggo Plus as I know there are hordes of earwigs on neighboring properties just waiting to cross over to my garden.

You can purchase Sluggo Plus at most farm and garden supply stores, but you most likely will not find it in-stock at the big box stores. You can buy the 2.5 pound  Sluggo Plus through Amazon here Monterey LG 6570 Sluggo Plus Jug, Two and One Half Pounds or the ten pound jug here. Monterey NLG6585 Sluggo Plus Jug, 10-Pound

I would love to hear your earwig stories or questions. Leave a comment or question, and keep Digging The Garden!

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