Margaret Lauterbach

Pesky earwigs are eating leaves and corn silks. What can be done?

Earwigs can become a pesky nuisance for anyone who gardens.
Earwigs can become a pesky nuisance for anyone who gardens. AP file

This is a terrible year for gardeners because of a proliferation of earwigs. They’ve turned potato leaves to lace in my gardens, and several readers have complained about them. Friend Pat Roloff, in Eagle, said they had pretty well destroyed her garden. A new housing development is tearing up land in her area, and one person thought a tree had a bole or gall but was told it wasn’t. He struck it with a sledgehammer and it broke apart, releasing millions of earwigs.

What can we do about them? There are lots of commercial baits and poisons available for them from garden stores, but if you have pets, be sure to read instructions whether a selection is safe to be around pets. There are many home remedies available, too.

Entomologists say they’re an important predator of aphids, but at this time of year, there are many beneficial insects out eating aphids. Earwigs are eating leaves and corn silks. If you find no extruding corn silks, chances are your corn was already pollinated before earwigs chowed down. Each silk creates one kernel, as near as I can determine. Earwigs look more hazardous to humans than they really are, nipping only when sat upon, brushed against or trapped in clothing.

Their lifestyle is that they mainly feed at night (preferring darkness to light) and prefer moist locations, so they hide during daytime under boards, thick growth of vines, mulch (unfortunately), or even inside plums, apricots or peaches.

Details of any insect’s lifestyle give us clues about how to control them. Since they like dark places, loosely roll up a newspaper and lay it on a garden bed, or place cut sections of old hose on the garden bed, either a temporary dark place for earwigs to hide. In the morning, pick up these rolls of newspaper or hose and tap them so that the contents (earwigs, we hope) fall into a bucket of hot soapy water. You may use detergent.

In addition, use traps for earwigs. Use cottage cheese cartons or small cans such as tuna or cat food cans, buried to the brim, then pour a half-inch of cooking oil in each trap. This will be even more attractive if you add a drop of tuna fish oil or a bit of bacon grease. If you use outdoor lighting, use yellow or sodium vapor lights, both less attractive to earwigs.

There are commercial pesticides that are effective in killing earwigs, those containing spinosad being the most effective. Some are mixed with baits, but if there’s a lot of foliage to consume (other food), the baits may not be very effective. Baits really work only with famished creatures. If you use pesticides, apply at night to protect against killing bees, and follow label directions precisely.

Or use a “chicken tractor,” a moveable chicken pen for chickens or ducks, and let them clean out your earwig invasion. We have weed-clearing goats for rent, so why doesn’t someone have chicken tractors and chickens or ducks to rent? Take them home at night, where the owner can secure them against raccoon slaughter.

Tomatoes

Many folks new to gardening find brown papery bottoms on tomatoes and panic. This condition is common, and known as Blossom End Rot (BER). Some tomatoes such as plum tomatoes are especially prone to it. The cause is that your plant is not taking up the calcium it needs for fruit cell walls. It can take up calcium only from moist soil – not sopping wet and not dry. Deeply water tomatoes once or twice each week, and mulch around them, but take care not to pull mulch tightly around the stalk.

If you see cracks radiating out from the stem end or appearing in concentric circles around the stem end, that’s just characteristic of that variety of tomato. You can cut away the parts affected. Tomatoes that are ripe and ready to be picked, and are then rained upon or otherwise “refreshed with water,” often split their sides, a split in the skin from stem to blossom end. Just a little extra growth spurt.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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