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How to ensure the gardening benefits of this creepy critter outweigh the drawbacks.

A slender brown insect with antenna and pincers sits on a green leaf.
Ines Carrara
Earwigs come with a rather creepy - and thankfully, untrue - backstory. The insect can actually be helpful in your garden by ridding it of other pests that do more damage to your crops.

The insect known as an earwig - the pincer-bearing bug in the dermaptera order - has a rather ominous backstory. An ancient superstition purports that earwigs crawl into your ear canal while you sleep, lay their eggs in your brain then burrow out the other side.

Thankfully, this tale is untrue. Though they do prefer moist and dark places, they'd rather hang out under an old log in your garden than your ear.

Earwigs are slender brown and black bugs that are just under an inch long.The types of earwigs we see most often in gardens in Vermont and New Hampshire are the European species instead of one of the 18 types found in North America.

If they are in your gardens and plants, you'll recognize them mostly from their fierce-looking pincers. The male's pincers are curved, while the female's are straight.

And despite their intimidating forceps, earwigs are not harmful to humans. In fact, earwigs are social bugs that even nurture their young.

Earwigs actually have strong maternal instincts that resembles some birds' nurturing traits. They make a nest, lay eggs in it and even sit on the nest until the eggs hatch. Mother earwig will feed the babies and even move the nest if it senses danger from predators.

This earwig social behavior does not mean they are totally innocent when it comes to your garden, though. If the earwig population in your gardens is high, they can do a number on your flowers and veggies.

Earwigs especially love to feast on young growth on vegetables, flowers and herbs.

The plus side is they also eat aphids and other garden pests' eggs that can hatch and do a lot more damage to plants than a few earwigs would.

So the key to healthy gardens is striking the right balance. You want to aim for having just enough earwig activity in your gardens.

First, determine how many earwigs call your garden "home." Just watching out for earwig activity as you garden is tricky, because earwigs are nocturnal; you may never witness them feasting on your garden plants.

Instead, create an ideal hiding place that can act as a good barometer to test the numbers. This simple method is one that you can do a few times each season.

To make an easy trap to get an idea of earwig population, take a few sheets of newspaper and pour a bit of vegetable oil on them. Next, dampen the paper with water, then roll it up. Place the rolled-up paper in a shady and damp area of your garden and leave it there overnight.

In the morning, carefully unfold the newspaper. You'll likely find lots and lots of earwigs inside. Simply move the earwigs away from your garden and deposit them elsewhere in your yard.

Use the rolled-up paper method a couple of times throughout the season to reduce the earwig population in your garden and keep just enough earwigs there to keep other pests' numbers in control.

Q: For years, I've been fighting an invasive root system in my garden. Their main fibers are really tough, and the thickness is like a pencil or less. But they lead to these large thick clusters of really fine root hairs all near the surface of my raised beds. I'm thinking it might be from a large hemlock tree. It's almost impossible to grow anything in the garden beds. - Morgan, via email

A: If you're gardening near trees, roots will often get into your raised beds. It's such great soil in the raised beds and the roots will compete with anything you plant.

To combat this rivalry, try to cut the roots all around the outside of your raised beds. Go down into the soil and sever those smaller roots so that they're less likely to get into the bottom of the garden bed.

If it seems like a losing battle, start over. And when you put the raised bed down, first lay some hardware cloth underneath. That will prevent roots from getting into the bed itself and into the soil.

Building elevated raised beds? Learn more from All Things Gardening: Raise Your Gardening Game With Raised Beds.

You can also grow things in elevated raised beds. You can grow vegetables, flowers and herbs in them. And if you're off the ground, the tree roots hopefully won't find you!

Q: Why would some of my peony plants have nice healthy stalks with beautiful blooms, while others that are located in the same garden with lots of sun have thin stems and tiny buds that barely form any flowers? - Ashley, via email

A: This could be due to a couple of different things. One reason could be fertilizer. If you've been using any fertilizer, it may have accumulated around some stems and not others, creating that imbalance.

The uneven stems and flowers could also have been caused by the freeze we had in May. For now, just make sure the peonies have full sun and you should be good next year.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.