Are Earwigs Bad for a Garden?

by | Earwigs, Insects

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Many people are afraid of earwigs. Despite the rather threatening pincers on their behinds that are designed to scare off predators, earwigs pose no threat to humans. But are they bad for your garden?

Earwigs can be bad for the garden because they eat leaves, petals, vegetables, and newly sprouted plants. But earwigs do a lot more good than bad because they eat many garden pests, such as aphids, that are much more harmful to your garden plants.

As with most insects, the only time earwigs really become a problem is when there are too many of them and the population is out of control. In this article we’ll take a look at what earwig damage looks like and how to control the number of earwigs in your garden.

The damage earwigs can cause

Photo of an earwig on a dead plant
An earwig has a long body, antennae on its head, and pincers on its behind.

Most of the damage that earwigs cause is due to their appetite. For such little guys they sure do eat a lot, and they eat just about anything. Earwigs are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. In this case, “animals” are usually other insects and mollusks, like slugs and snails.

We are happy when earwigs eat the insects and slugs that are destroying our garden, but what about when they eat our plants? Earwigs enjoy eating flowers, pollen, leaves, new shoots sprouting from the ground, vegetables, and even fruits.

In fact, earwigs’ favorite plants to eat are:

  • Berry bushes
  • Corn
  • Dahlias
  • Herbs
  • Marigolds
  • Roses
  • Zinnias

Earwigs seem to love eating the seedlings of these plants most. The young, tender plants are a frequent target for earwig meals.

Is an earwig eating your plants?

Earwig damage looks different based on what part of a plant they’ve been eating.

For example, if earwigs have fed on leaves or flower petals, these leaves or petals will have many holes in them. They may also look jagged around the edges.

It’s more difficult to determine if earwigs are eating newly sprouted plants. The only real way to be sure is to keep an eye on seedlings and check often to see if you can see any earwigs on them.

Earwigs are nocturnal, which means they are awake and eat at night. One of the signs you have earwigs is waking up to plant damage that wasn’t there the night before, though slugs and snails are also night feeders and may be the culprits.

Earwigs versus slugs and snails: How to tell the difference

The damage caused by earwigs looks very similar to the damage caused by garden slugs and snails. All of them bite holes in leaves, petals, vegetables, and fruits. And all of them love eating young seedlings.

Slugs and snails tend to eat jagged crescents in the sides of leaves and uneven holes in the middle of leaves. Young slugs and snails may strip long strands out of leaves. Earwigs tend to make many small holes in the center of a leaf, with some holes big enough to reach the edges.

If you want to get to the bottom of the mystery of what’s eating your plants at night, go out at night with a flashlight and look for earwigs, slugs or snails on the plants that are being eaten. Check the flowers, the tops and bottoms of leaves, and around the base of the stems.

Early in the morning, go out and look for tell-tale slime trails on or around your plants. If you see any, you know you’re likely dealing with slugs or snails. If instead, you see tiny black poop droppings left behind on your plants, then there’s a chance it’s earwigs instead.

How earwigs help your garden

Earwigs are very beneficial in a garden for three reasons:

Earwigs eat harmful pests

Just as the damage caused by earwigs is linked to their appetites, so, too, are the benefits earwigs bring to your garden. As I’ve mentioned, earwigs eat practically anything. That includes other insects, such as aphids that can kill your plants and mites, the larvae of other insects, such as mealybug larvae, and slugs and snails.

When earwigs eat these things in your garden, they help cut down the number of harmful, invasive pests there, especially if you have enough earwigs to eat these pests.

Earwigs clean up rotting matter in the garden

Earwig eating a dead flower

Earwigs also act as garden cleaners.

They eat dead things, such as dead plants, dead insects, and rotting leaves. Too much rot and decay in a garden can spread to healthy plants and damage them. Earwigs are there to eat rotting material before it has a chance to hurt your healthy plants.

Earwigs pollinate your flowers

At night, earwigs move from flower to flower to eat pollen. When they do this, they carry pollen from flower to flower and pollinate them, much like bees pollinate your flowers during the day.

Pollination is extremely important for plants – it’s how they produce seeds, grow fruits, and create more plants.

How to deal with earwigs in your garden

The best way to manage earwig damage is to keep the number of earwigs in your garden under control. There are a few ways to do this…

*All links to product selections below are affiliate links to Amazon. If you click on a link below, you will be taken directly to the product listing on Amazon for more information.

Protect your seedlings

Because earwigs (and slugs and snails) love eating young, tender seedlings, take measures to protect your seedlings until they’re bigger and stronger. Cover seedlings with a cloche, garden netting, or anything else at night that will stop earwigs from getting to them.

Or start seedlings in a seedling starter tray inside the house or in a small greenhouse, then transplant them outdoors when they get bigger.

Attract natural predators

Just as earwigs keep harmful pests under control in your garden by eating them, you can attract animals that eat earwigs to your garden. These predators will keep the earwig population under control naturally, without any chemicals or pesticides.

The following animals love eating earwigs:

  • Birds, especially Chickadees and Nuthatches
  • Centipedes
  • Frogs
  • Lizards
  • Spiders
  • Tachinid flies
  • Toads
  • Wasps <- click the link to read my full article on what garden pests wasps eat

Don’t give earwigs damp, dark places to sleep

Earwigs don’t like heat or the sun. They prefer dark, moist areas and usually spend their days in piles of damp leaves or rotting vegetation. To stop earwigs from taking over, keep your garden free of fallen leaves, mulch, and dead plants, and any other things that earwigs might move in for.

If earwigs have no cool, damp places to hide during the day, they’ll either move to a new location or they’ll die.

If you live in a dry area and have to water your plants regularly, avoid doing so for a couple of days. When the soil starts to dry out, the earwigs should move on, and you can start watering your plants again.

Create portable shelters

Because earwigs don’t like the sun, you can often catch them by giving them “dens.” Use old cereal boxes, paper towel roll inserts, or any other small, dense item that’ll keep out the sun. Place these items in your garden near the earwigs’ favorite plants.

After eating at night, the earwigs will move into your den for shelter before the sun comes up. The following day, remove the dens with the earwigs inside.

You might be even luckier if you bait the traps by adding bran flakes or oatmeal to them, but this could attract other critters from your garden too.

Build a compost bin or compost heaps

If you don’t mind earwigs in your garden but want to keep them away from your plants, start a compost bin for them to live in. You can make your own following the video below or get this simple and neat compost bin from Amazon.

This video shows you how to start a compost bin for less than $20:

A compost heap is an earwig’s dream home. Compost heaps are cool, moist, dark, and have plenty of rotting food and leaves to eat. To control where your local earwigs live, make compost heaps on the outskirts of your yard, away from your precious plants.

Use Diatomaceous Earth

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants being eaten, but know that this will kill earwigs, ants, beetles, other crawling insects, and mollusks.

Diatomaceous earth is a natural product made of fossils that’s 100% chemical-free. It has sharp edges that cut through insects’ hard exoskeletons and dries them out, later killing them.

You can purchase diatomaceous earth specifically for pest control. Safer Brand is one company that sells this powder on Amazon.

Make your own Dawn dish soap spray

The blue Original Scent Dawn dish soap (available on Amazon) can be used to make an insecticide spray that kills earwigs. You can read how it works and what steps to take in my blog post HERE. (I also give you an organic alternative to Dawn that you can use.)

Simply mix 2 tablespoons of Dawn dish soap in a gallon of warm water and put the solution into a clean spray bottle. Spray your affected plants and any areas where you know the earwigs live. Wait for the spray to dry and wash it off your plants.

The soap spray must be wet and come into contact with the earwigs to be effective.

** If you live in the UK, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, try this dish soap instead of Dawn dish soap. It’s made by the same company (Procter & Gamble) but is sold under another brand name

Use pesticide as a last resort

If your earwig problem is getting out of hand and you have no other option, you may want to use pesticide. I’m not a huge fan of pesticides because I prefer more natural methods of pest control.

There are some pesticides on the market that should be safe for your plants (but always keep animals and children away from pesticides and poisons), such as this earwig pesticide from Amazon.  

Final thoughts

Despite how scary they may look, earwigs don’t pose any threat to humans or animals. They can do a little damage to your plants’ leaves, flowers, and seedlings, but they do a lot more good than harm.

Earwigs eat harmful insects, snails, and slugs, and they eat rotting and decaying leaves and mulch that could spread rot to your plants.

It’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of having earwigs in your garden and decide whether they should stay or go. But simple earwig population control is a great, easy, and natural option too.

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