Earwigs – love them or hate them?

This week we’re talking about earwigs – should we hate them, or love them?

A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree
A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree

There’s nothing like finding a writhing nest of earwigs in a crack in a peach tree when you’re pruning (watch the video¬†here) to reminder you that it’s time to take some steps to prevent these apparently insignificant creatures from wreaking havoc in your stone fruit trees.

What other insects are in this category? The other main one that causes an issue for a lot of stone fruit growers is garden weevils, but there are lots of insects that can walk into your fruit tree and make a mess, such as harlequin bugs and many different types of weevils.

As we’ve mentioned in other blogs, the key to effective pest and disease management is to figure out how to protect your trees (or fruit, depending on the pest) from the pest, rather than trying to get rid of the pest (which is expensive, ineffective and may even be damaging to your ecosystem).

So, how to prevent them?

Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree
Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree

Using our first principles of pest control, first look at their life cycle. These pests overwinter in cracks in the bark in your tree, or in the soil or litter under the tree.

They also love fence lines, bits of wood, or in fact anything lying around on the ground that provides them with darkness and shelter.

In late winter/early spring, young hatch and they start moving and will often head up into your fruit trees as soon as there are buds or fresh new leaves to munch on, even before there’s any evidence of fruit.

The key to controlling them is understanding when they’re likely to be moving (Answer: in late winter/early spring), how they get where they’re going (Answer: they walk up the trunk) and what they do when they get there (Answer: hide in a dark place during the day and come out at night to eat your fruit! Some individuals may leave the tree to return to a nest elsewhere, but they may also just take up residence and stay in the tree, making it hard to get rid off them once they’re there.).

This is the approach we use with all our organic pest control, and the basis of our short course Protect Fruit Trees from Pesky Pests which not only covers earwigs, but also bugs, weevils and all the other common pests.

Once you know all that, figuring out how to prevent them becomes relatively easy – you just have to provide a barrier they can’t walk over, and you have to do it earlier rather than later.

On the farm we do this with double-sided barrier tape, but you can achieve the same result with anything sticky – horticultural glue, or even a layer of grease (but put a physical barrier such as plastic wrap around the trunk of your tree first so you don’t hurt the tree).

If you haven’t experienced earwig damage in your fruit before, here’s just one example (below) of what they can do.

Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach
Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach

If numbers build up enough, they can be as devastating to your crop as birds, and really need to be taken seriously. Having said that, as trees get older and larger and bear bigger crops, you may lose a smaller proportion of fruit and the damage is often confined to the lower branches, but it’s still a pest worth preventing.

An earwig inside an apricot
An earwig inside an apricot

So, having decided that earwigs and garden weevils are most definitely a pest, why ask the question about whether to love them or hate them? Surely we just hate them, right?

It’s never that simple! Turns out that earwigs are also a wonderful predator of aphids (particularly the very messy white Woolly Aphids that can appear in your apple trees), which is a great example of why it’s never a good idea to kill insects – just encourage them to hang out where they can do the most good and the least damage in your garden!

7 thoughts on “Earwigs – love them or hate them?”

  1. Great information…earwigs are the bane of my garden! They seem to particularly like the peach/nectarine family and anything that resembles a zucchini or pumpkin seedling!

    1. Hi Anna, it’s often sold as insect trapping tape in short lengths, or you can buy rolls of it from some garden centres.

  2. Chickens love earwigs! If you have fruit trees big enough to cope with chickens for a rotation, they will do a lot to reduce insect pests and their eggs. Maybe put them in before budburst. If you have cows, you could then tractor chooks after them to break up and spread the pats; feeding on insects and maggots as they go. Maybe put electric netting around dormant trees and let the chickens free range around one group of trees at a time to eat insects and their eggs, scratching up around the tree base to find those most concentrated. Then tempt them back into their tractor coop late afternoon with sprouted seed for an evening feed or leave the coop in there. They will also eat windfall fruit and create yet another income stream or saving of meat, eggs and high-quality manure. Yes, even children’s books depict chickens and geese in orchards, which most orchardists don’t use. Windfall to pigs is another income stream, but may require manual pickup. Has anyone had experience of briefly putting pigs in long enough to pick up windfall fruit only. I would imagine it would be difficult to get them back out!

    1. Thanks Ari, that’s some great suggestions. We have a few buddies who have tried pigs in the orchard, they’re awesome but they need to be moved very quickly to keep the benefits outweighing the digging!

    1. It sure does Bozena! We only use the tape when we want to stop insects crawling into the trees that might damage our fruit, and there’s no major insects that attack apples that get into the trees by crawling – they fly, so no need to put on the sticky tape. It is sometimes used in spring if you have a bad Codling moth problem, as a very few of the moths that emerge from the soil in spring may flutter up the trunk and be caught by the sticky trap, but only a very small percentage, most of them fly, so it’s not usually worth the effort. This is different to the other type of band we use on the trunks to prevent Codling moth though, which is a corrugated cardboard, hessian or similar in late summer/autumn, which is intended to provide a pupation site.

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