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Will earwigs be 'The Pest of the Year'?

The munching insects appear out in force this spring

Earwig on an apricot
Earwigs won't kill mature plants, but they'll destroy
seedlings and damage soft fruit and berries. (Photo
courtesy UC Integrated Pest Management)

One insect apparently liked our roller-coaster spring: Earwigs.

“We’ve gotten a lot of questions about earwigs,” says Kevin Marini, community education specialist for the UCCE  Master Gardeners of Placer County. “There’s always a pest every year that rears its head and becomes ‘The Pest of the Year.’ We’re still waiting, but by all appearances, maybe it’s earwigs.”

Earwigs eat holes – especially inside rose flowers or through heads of lettuce. They usually won’t kill a mature plant, but they can be death to seedlings.

“Earwigs are very, very challenging for emerging plants,” Marini says. “Direct seedlings or little transplants; they just get munched.”

With their pinchers, earwigs are very distinctive among common garden insects. Their little forceps-like hooks are used for defense (although they rarely bite people).

About an inch long when mature, earwigs can do serious damage to soft fruit and berries (such as apricots, strawberries, raspberries or blackberries) and corn.

But they also are a major predator of aphids; that makes earwigs a garden good guy, too.

Anecdotally, the earwigs may be tied to late spring showers.

“We got sporadic rain; not much, but just enough,” Marini observes. “Late rain can cause outbreaks of earwigs.”

The moisture cups inside roses, lettuce heads and other places that earwigs like to hide – and eat.

On the other hand, early spikes in heat may have held down aphid invasions, Marini observes. “We’ve had hardly any calls on aphids – but that can change in a week.”

Maybe all those earwigs were hungry?

For more about earwigs: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74102.html

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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