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Earwigs are a common pest of fruit trees, but they’re also a handy predator. So, are they your friends or your foes?

Should you hate them, or love them?

On the one hand, we appreciate all creatures as having a rightful place in the thriving ecosystem of our garden. On the other hand, they can do an awful lot of damage to your precious fruit!

Where do earwigs come from?

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). It’s a great reminder that they are probably already in your trees. If not, there’s a good chance there’s an earwig nest in the soil beneath your trees.

Earwigs don’t migrate very far. If you’ve seen them in your garden, you’ll likely see them again. And that means you’ll need to take steps to prevent these apparently insignificant creatures from wreaking havoc on your fruit.

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

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.

The alternative is trying to get rid of the pest. In our experience, this 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, the first thing to do is to 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 earwigs hatch out and start moving. They will often head up into your fruit trees as soon as there are buds or fresh new leaves to munch on. This is way before there’s any evidence of fruit.

Protecting your fruit from damage

The key to controlling them (as with all pests of fruit trees) is understanding a few things about them:

  • When are they likely to start getting into your trees? (Answer: in late winter/early spring).
  • How do they get where they’re going? (Answer: they walk up the trunk).
  • What do 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. Some just take up residence and stay in the tree, making it hard to get rid of them once they’re there.

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

What other insects are in this category?

There are lots of insects that can walk into your fruit tree and make a mess. You may have experienced Harlequin bugs or some type of weevils.

A common insect that causes problems for a lot of stone fruit growers is garden weevils.

If you notice that something is eating the fruit or the leaves in your tree, it’s worth taking some time to observe what’s actually happening. With persistence (for example, checking at different times of day and night), you’ll usually be able to track down the culprit.

Getting to know the pest and its life cycle is the approach we use with all our organic pest control.

Taking action in your garden

Once you know a bit about the pest, figuring out how to prevent damage becomes relatively easy. With walking insects like earwigs, 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. However, you can achieve the same result with anything sticky such as horticultural glue. You can even use a layer of grease, but be sure to put a physical barrier such as plastic wrap around the trunk of your tree first to protect the tree.

If insect numbers build up enough, they can be as devastating to your crop as birds. They really need to be taken seriously.

Having said that, you may lose a smaller proportion of fruit over time as trees get larger and bear bigger crops. The damage is often confined to the lower branches. However, it’s still a pest worth preventing.

An earwig inside an apricot
An earwig inside an apricot

Is there anything to like about earwigs?

So, having established that earwigs and garden weevils are most definitely a pest, why ask the question about whether they are friends or foes? Surely you should just hate them, right?

It’s never that simple.

Turns out that earwigs are also a wonderful predator of aphids. They particularly love to munch on the very messy white Woolly Aphids that you may find in your apple trees.

This is a great example of why it’s never a good idea to kill insects. Instead, just encourage them to hang out where they can do the most good and the least damage in your garden.

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