Do you have potted plants? If yes, you must be considering different ways to make sure your plants stay healthy and grow strong. There are various ways you can care for your plants.
A popular method of caring for plants is by adding earthworms to the soil or potting mix. Is it safe? What kind of earthworms can be found in potted plants? Should you add extra worms? Read this article to learn about worms in potted plants.
Adding earthworms to your potted plants can be beneficial for the plant. Worms aid in aerating the soil which can help it grow faster. Care should be taken to ensure the right types of worms are added and that the soil is monitored for worm overpopulation.
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Types of Worms Found in Potted Plants
It is common to find some worms or worm-like organisms in your pots. While some are beneficial, others are detrimental to your plant. How can you identify a beneficial or a detrimental worm in your potted plants? Here are examples of common worms found in potted plants and their effects on the plant.
Who does not know earthworms? They are found everywhere and are referred to as a farmer’s best friend. There are different types of earthworms and they have different roles. Two examples are:
- Composting Worms: These worms eat decomposing matter, therefore hastening the process of decomposition. They are beneficial to your plants because they eat dead leaves, roots, etc. and excrete casting which is nutritious for your plants. An example of composting worms is the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida)
- Topsoil or Subsoil Dwelling Worms: They are mostly found in gardens and close to plants. They burrow in the soil and eat bacteria, fungi, humus, etc. They are beneficial to plants because their burrowing activity aerates the soil (which gives the root of your plant access to oxygen). In addition to aerating the soil, they also help by consuming decomposing matter in the soil (although, they are not as effective as composting worms). An example of topsoil worms is the potworm (Enchytraeidae family).
You can add earthworms in your potted plants. If you did not add earthworms in your pots but can find them, it could be an indication that the soil is full of nutrients.
Nematodes are not commonly found in potted plants. While most nematodes are free-living and aid in nutrient cycling, the ones that are a concern to farmers are the plant-parasitic nematodes.
Plant-parasitic nematodes dwell in the root of plants. Plant-parasitic nematodes can kill your plant if it is heavily infested.
As root-dwelling worms, plant-parasitic nematodes the root tissues, therefore making it difficult for your plant to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. Examples of plant-parasitic nematodes are root-knot nematodes, pratylenchus, soybean cyst nematodes, etc.
Cutworms and Grubworms
Cutworms are larvae of insects like butterflies and moths. They can be found on plant leaves and stems. They are also called caterpillars.
These insects are very disastrous to your plants as all they do is eat. When they molt and become adults, they will reproduce then the females will fly to another plant and lay her eggs. They can kill your plants.
Grubworms are the larvae of beetles. They eat leaves, stem, roots, and any soft tissue they can find. They are more disastrous than cutworms because they grow slowly, so they will be found on your plants for a long time (except you remove them).
Where Did the Harmful Worms Come From?
Where did worms like nematodes, grubworms, etc. come from? If you want to avoid worms in your potted plants, you need to know where they came from. Some of their sources include:
- The worms got into your potted plants from other infested plants.
- Your soil is infested with plant-parasitic nematodes and you planted in it.
- You took your plants outside during the summer, so insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, etc. found it and laid their eggs on it.
Will Too Many Worms Affect Plants?
Yes. Too much of everything is bad. If your plant is infected with harmful worms, too many of them will kill it because it will not be able to replace old tissues as fast as the worms are consuming them.
Too many earthworms in your pot is an indicator that the soil is too rich or filled with microbes such as bacteria, fungi, etc. When earthworms are too much in your pot, the competition will be too much and they may eat up soft parts of your plant’s root.
A few people are complaining that earthworms are damaging their plants. Earthworms only damage plants when their population is too large for the soil they live in.
In a natural environment, the worms have room to spread as their population grows and nature tends to keep things in check. In a potted plant, though, their numbers could grow too large for the health of the plant.
Should You Leave Worms You Found in Your Potted Plants?
It depends. If they are beneficial worms, you should leave them. Otherwise, remove the worms so that they do not kill your plants.
Here are safe methods of preventing and controlling harmful worm infestation:
Prevention of Harmful Worm Infestation
- Use a purchased potting mix instead of soil. It is easier to prevent worm infestation when you don’t use soil (In which they can be found). Purchased potting mix ingredients are free from worms and will remain worm-free unless you expose the plant to sources of worms.
- If you must use natural soil in a pot, bake it first. Some experienced gardeners who live in places with plant-parasitic nematode infestation will sterilize their soil before using it for potted plants. To sterilize your soil, place and cover the soil on a metal pan then place the pan on a stove. After about 30 minutes (or when it reaches 180°F (82.2°C), remove it from the heat source. You can plant on the soil when it becomes cool.
- Plant Indoors: Planting indoors or in a greenhouse reduces the number of insects that can fly to your plants. Indoor planting is also advantageous since you can control conditions like temperature, humidity, etc.
- Before taking your plants indoors before winter, make sure that the potting soil is free from harmful worms. If you can find worms in the pot and you do not want to keep the, repot the plant.
Control of Harmful Worms
There are many different ways to control harmful worm populations in your plants. Here are a few of the most common.
- Pick them out with your hands.
- Use insecticides or nematocides.
- Isolate the infected plant to stop the spread.
- Introduce praying mantises into the potted plants.
- Employ birds like chickens, ducks, etc. to eat the worms.
Should You Add Earthworms to Your Potted Plants?
As earlier stated, the right amount of earthworms is beneficial to your plants. Some benefits of earthworms are aerating the soil for the root of your plants, provision of nutritious castings, etc. Here are some reasons why you should add earthworms to your potted plants:
- Earthworms make a soggy soil to become well-drained.
- If you are looking for a cheap source of nutrients for your plants.
- If your plant is showing the signs of oxygen-deficiency in their roots.
How to Keep Earthworms in Your Potted Plants
Earthworms in your potted plants will stay there if the conditions are right. Earthworms love a nutritious and damp (but not a soggy) soil. According to NC State University, here are some ways you can make the worms stay in the pot:
- Water the plant regularly.
- Prevent the overpopulation of worms.
- Leave the dead leaves of the plant on the pot.
- Perforate the pot so that it does not retain excess water.
- Earthworms hate hot temperatures, so the pot should be located in a cool place.
- Do not use too much inorganic fertilizer as it can burn your crop and the worms.
- Earthworms prefer slightly acidic soil (pH 7.2) just like some plants like tomatoes, pepper, etc.
Worms can be beneficial or detrimental to the health of your plants depending on the type of worm. To get a good yield, add the right amount of beneficial worms into your potted plants. Examples of beneficial worms include red wigglers, pot worms, etc.
Detrimental worms include plant-parasitic nematodes, cutworms, grubworms, etc. Detrimental worms can kill your plant because they feed on delicate plant tissues.