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!