Earwigs are a common pest in the garden. A long-time myth about this 6-legged bug is that they crawl into people's ears while they are sleeping, eventually tunneling into the brain. That is not true. It may be that earwigs get their name from their propensity for crawling into ears of corn to nibble on the silk. Although they can cause great damage to corn crops, earwigs are a beneficial insect because they eat aphids and other garden pests. Gardeners can use natural methods to keep earwigs out of corn and other plants they dine on.
Other insects may cause the same type of damage to garden plants as earwigs. Snails and slugs also eat the leaves of newly emerging plants, as do caterpillars. Identify caterpillar infestation by the silky trail they leave behind. Snails and slugs leave a trail of slime. If neither of these signs are present, earwigs may be the problem. Earwig damaged seedlings are usually missing all or part of the stems and leaves. Older plants will have irregular holes in the leaves. Earwigs eat corn silk. The damage results in fewer kernels forming on the ear. Take action to protect growing corn stalks if there are signs of earwigs in the garden.
Earwigs prefer moist, dark living conditions. They will live under piles of leaves, grass clippings, mulch and compost. Mulch and compost are part of a healthy garden, so eliminating these are not practical. You can, however, remove any unnecessary piles of debris they may be hiding under. Ivy and weeds are favored hiding places of earwigs as well. Keep your garden weeded and remove ivy growing near the garden as a preventive measure. A strip of dry sand or gravel surrounding the garden may also be enough deterrent to keep them from reaching the garden and your corn. Earwigs cannot travel very far in dry conditions.
Trap and dispose of earwigs without causing harm to the environment. Use rolled up newspaper, cardboard tubes and hoses as traps. Place them throughout the yard. The earwigs will crawl into them at night. Shake the earwigs out of the traps in the morning and reset them. Bury low-sided cans or dishes in the ground with the opening at ground level. Cat food or tuna cans are often used. Fill them with one-half inch of vegetable oil, honey or some peanut butter to trap earwigs. Place them throughout the yard at night. Empty the traps in the morning, refill them and put them out again. Continue using traps every night until earwigs are no longer being captured.
Natural enemies, such as birds and toads help keep earwigs under control without destroying the natural balance in your garden. Plant flowers and flowering shrubs near the garden to attract birds. Introduce toads into your garden and provide them with a safe place to live. Overturned pots with the sides cut out or plenty of rocks and plants for them to find shelter under will give them places to escape predators and hibernate during the winter. They will also appreciate a garden pond.