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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:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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