I recently planted a basil plant in a pot on my front porch, and it seems some kind of bug is chewing the leaves down to the stem. I also had this problem when I planted the basil in my garden. There don't seem to be bite marks, more like it has melted away. Any tips would be wonderful.

— Katie

I'm pretty sure earwigs are the problem. For years we didn't consider them a plant pest, but it seems that in the past few years we're seeing a lot more plant damage from them.

Earwigs like cool and moist conditions so they usually spend the day hiding out in the soil or under mulch where they get the environment they like.

They come out at night to feed so people often don't see them on their plants.

Earwigs have fairly weak mouthparts so their feeding damage is usually limited to seedlings, flowers or the new, softer growth of plants. In heavy infestations, they eat the leaf tissue, usually leaving a fine network of veins.

The ironic thing is that all of the good things we do to improve our garden soil and the plants growing in them tend to encourage these little guys. Amending the soil with decomposed organic matter and good mulching provides just the environment they want.

I'm not saying to stop doing those good things for the soil — the benefits far outweigh any problems with earwigs.

Earwigs also benefit us by eating lots of destructive insects such as aphids, so they are kind of a mixed blessing.

Controlling them isn't that hard. Giving your plants a thorough spray with an insecticide called Bifenthrin does a great job. You also will need to spray the ground around your plants to try to get them where they hide out.

An alternative method involves making homemade earwig traps. Take some empty butter tubs and cut some small holes in the lid just big enough for the earwigs to get in. Put several tablespoons of soy sauce in the tub and just enough vegetable oil to make a small floating puddle in the soy sauce.

Put the lid on and bury the tub in the ground with the lid level with the soil level. The smell of the soy sauce lures them into the trap. They can't escape, and they die.

Be prepared to be astounded (or grossed out!) by how many you will catch in a night.

Clean out the tub as needed, but continue using until you've reduced their numbers to where they're not bothering your plants.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, 81506; or email info@bookcliffgardens.com.

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