Did you know there are various types of worms in plants that can either be beneficial or harmful? This detailed guide will provide insights into the diverse types of worms in plants you might encounter in your garden. Ever spotted elongated, wriggling creatures amidst your plant leaves or within the soil?
While such sightings can be concerning, these critters are often harmless worms. When present in controlled numbers, the majority of these worms pose no threat to your plants. In fact, finding worms in plants can be a sign of a flourishing garden ecosystem.
These types of worms in plants play essential roles ranging from enhancing soil structure, enriching its nutrition, to facilitating improved aeration, promoting better plant growth. However, it’s crucial to recognize the various types of worms in plants to ensure your garden is home to only the advantageous ones.
Dive in to discover a comprehensive list of the common worms in plants, categorizing them as friends or foes!
Table of Contents
What Are the Types of Worms in Plants?
There are several types of worms in plants with common ones being earthworms, nematodes, pot worms, and several types of caterpillars (or larvae of beetles, moths, and butterflies), among others. Generally, worms will either be beneficial, bad, or both, depending on the circumstances.
For instance, earthworms are generally good while caterpillars or insect larvae tend to be harmful. On the other hand, nematodes can be both beneficial and harmful, depending on the circumstances.
Benefits of Worms in Plants
Beneficial worms offer several benefits to the plant and the overall garden bed or growing pot as a whole. In fact, a total lack of worms in your garden can be an indication of a not-so-healthy plant-growing environment. Like good microbes, beneficial worms play an important role in maintaining a healthy life cycle in the soil so plants can thrive better.
Here are common ways beneficial worms help plants thrive better;
Improving Nutrient Supply
Good worms can help provide plant and soil food due to their activity in the ground. Worms don’t feed on live plants. Instead, they feed on decomposing organic matter, such as dead roots, leaves, and some fertilizer components.
For example, soil-dwelling worms, such as earthworms, break down dead plant matter and harness organic matter that serves as food and nutrients for new plants. Moreover, after breaking the organic matter down, earthworms continue to travel across the ground, distributing the food. So, rather than just break down the matter to produce food and leave it there – worms go the extra mile to deliver it!
When dead, worms can also serve as plant food. A good example is worm castings commercially sold as fertilizer. You can also use dead worms in your garden for your plants. Since worms feed on decomposing organic matter, their digestive system is typically concentrated with these nutrients.
When they die, the organic matter along with their bodies is fed back into the soil in the form of worm castings. Worm castings are usually rich in minerals, like nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium which are vital for plant growth and development. These materials are usually fed into burrows that worms dig in the soil, making it easier for plant roots to access.
Tip: According to experts, soil enriched with worm castings offers five times a richer nitrogen supply than other soil conditions. Additionally, you can incorporate fertilizer into soil enriched with worms. The worms will help dissipate the fertilizer deep into the soil to make it easier for plant roots to access it. The best part? Beneficial worms are never a threat since they never feed on live plant roots!
Feeding of decaying organic matter by worms doesn’t just benefit plants. As they break down this material, bacteria and fungi in the soil can easily feed on the by-products. Now, these are beneficial bacteria and fungi that help fix and improve the soil environment. Soil with a rich worm population or worm castings also fosters a healthy beneficial bacteria population. This, in turn, helps you enjoy a healthier soil environment for plants to thrive.
A few types of worms, such as white worms, such as roundworms, also act as prey to various soil biomes. These include smaller insects, arthropods, and bigger nematodes. As a result, you get a soil environment with an enriched good bacterial population.
In some circumstances, some types of worms provide natural decomposing benefits to the soil. White worms, like pot worms and roundworms, decompose organic matter into simpler components, making it easier to release nutrients into the ground. This is partly why you may notice a darker topsoil appearance. On the other hand, other types of worms, like nematodes, decompose bacteria and fungi, releasing additional ammonium into the soil to boost plant growth.
As small as they may be, worms play a significant role in promoting biodiversity in your garden. They help to attract a wide range of beneficial predators, from small insects to larger birds in your garden, for instance, birds, like robins, typically feed on worms.
Moreover, since worms will attract these beneficial predators to the garden, they also help to control other unwanted pest populations as these predators will feed on them. You can use this advantage to control the worm population in your garden, too.
Even beneficial worms can be detrimental to your garden if the population is high, resulting in a worm infestation that damages plants. A constant predator visit to the garden can help control the population and keep it at just the right numbers.
Fighting Off Unwanted Pests
Different types of worms in plants may also offer pest-repelling qualities. For instance, while nematodes, especially in large numbers, fight off parasites and disease-causing pests that may infest the soil. This, in turn, makes the soil perfect for plants to grow and thrive.
Improving the Soil Structure
Earthworms improve the soil structure by building small burrows that create air pockets underground to aerate the soil. As they create these air pockets, worms also breathe oxygen through their skin. This helps to keep the soil environment underground with air.
Moreover, the air pockets help with moisture retention which also keeps the soil cool in hot temperatures. Further, the aeration of the soil prevents compaction, creating a more accommodating environment for roots to comfortably grow and push through. Ultimately, this aerated soil structure is the best for root development and healthy growing plants.
Interesting facts: The small burrows worms create, provide a reliable route for water and soluble nutrients to easily travel underground for easy plant root access. Worms also travel through these burrows while hauling some of the nutrients and fertilizer, ensuring even the deepest plant roots get their fair share of sustenance. Plus, these burrows aerate the soil for the perfect space for roots to grow and develop.
Drawbacks of Worms in Plants
Worms come in two main categories, i.e. beneficial and harmful worms. Earthworms are great plants and the soil as they offer many benefits, including releasing nutrients and improving the soil structure. Typically, worms such as parasitic nematodes and caterpillars (or larvae) of beetles, moths, and butterflies are among bad worms. Grub and cutworms (beetle larvae), and hornworms (moth larvae) commonly feed on live plant roots and leaves instead of dead organic matter.
Most worms don’t feed on live plants and only feed on dead organic matter. Because they spend most of their time underground, it may be too late to notice they feed on roots as the damage will be significant by then. But, many worms can also be both beneficial and harmful, depending on the circumstances. For example, in extremely large quantities, all beneficial worms can be dangerous in the garden.
Worms in plants don’t feed on plants as they prefer to feed on decaying organic matter. However, with no food to feed on, worms can turn to plant roots of live plants. Whether beneficial or harmful, all worms will do this in the absence of adequate organic matter to feed on.
Some harmful worms can actually be toxic to plants. A few types of white worms, like grubworms, can be toxic to plants as they affect plant health. They do so by draining plants of their nutrients to feed on themselves, leading to poor or stunted plant growth. Other types of white worms can even damage plants by attacking their roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. This leads to plant chlorosis, wilting, and even death.
How to Encourage Worms in Plants
In most cases, you should expect to see worms in your garden. However, if you are preparing to add new plants to your garden, you can always cultivate worms to ensure you have a good supply. While some people may choose to buy worm castings, you can also naturally populate them for a more budget-friendly alternative.
Here’s how you encourage worms in your garden;
Ensure Consistent Food Supply
As previously mentioned, worms, even beneficial ones, will turn to live plant root systems and leaves if there’s not enough food. So, the best way to ensure a healthy growing environment for your plants is by providing adequate food sources for worms.
Doing so also creates a better environment for worms to thrive and execute their functions efficiently. Worms don’t require much – mulch, such as leaf litter and grass clippings, and compost mixes are all they need. Moreover, you can use the roots of recently uprooted off-season vegetables or annuals. Simply leave the roots in while you remove the shoot systems of these plants.
Keep in mind that worms feed on organic matter and digest it. Therefore, using commercial compost that has already been pre-digested at a facility will prove your efforts futile since it won’t be of any use to the worms. You also want to avoid toxic chemicals that worms can easily ingest – these include commercial fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides.
Create the Right Soil Conditions
Among the benefits of good worms is creating the right soil conditions for plants to thrive. But, these worms also need the right soil conditions for them to thrive and be effective. Worms don’t stay in one place – they always move around whether under the soil or topsoil.
This means that the best environment for them is less compacted soil with some moisture. So, always ensure your soil is loose, aerated, and wet if you want to encourage worms. Wet and loose soil makes it easier for worms to navigate underground.
You also want to avoid frequent tilling and digging of the ground since this leads to soil compaction. Further, loose soil prevents high temperatures in the soil that are typically observed when the soil is compact and can’t hold moisture for long. To harness these conditions in your garden, you can integrate cover crops.
Plant them during winter so they can appear in spring when it’s planting time. This will help fix the soil structure, prevent moisture loss, regulate soil temperatures, and even boost the nutrient content of the soil. In addition to loose and moist soil, worms thrive in pH levels of 6 to 7.
But, make sure pools of water don’t form when the ground is wet as this may indicate poor drainage and compacted soil. This explains why you see worms crawling above ground during rain. This is because the increased rainfall leads to water settling in pools.
During this time, worms can easily drown underground. Outside rainy days, if you notice pools of water hours after watering your plants, you may need to fix your drainage. To do this, add amendments and compost. Further, worms do better in balanced loamy soils that do great at moisture retention and aeration than clay or dry sandy soils.
How to Discourage Parasitic Worms
While it’s good to encourage beneficial worms in your garden, a large population becomes an infestation and not-so-good for the garden. Similarly, you don’t want a population of parasitic or harmful worms in the garden.
For many worm types, physical removal from the garden may not be effective. For example, flatworms easily regenerate and grow into brand new worms when you dig them out and cut them in half. The good news is that you can still solve the infestation problem.
Here’s how to discourage parasitic worms in the garden;
- Change the compost composition
- Dry out the soil by holding water for at least a week
- Change the pH balance by adding lime, phosphorus, or wood ash
- Remove the topsoil and add natural neem oil which serves as a repellent
- Increase the soil temperature by pouring scalding hot water into the soil to kill the worms and their eggs
- Adding salt, vinegar, citrus oil, hydrogen peroxide, or biological insecticides directly into the soil can do the trick – the worms become lazy and eventually die off.
- Not all worms will die off from the measure above. For example, jumping worms can easily withstand most chemical measures. But, you can use natural methods like combining mustard seeds and water and pouring the mixture into the soil. Preventative measures also work – these include using commercial mulch and compost, using potting mix instead of regular soil, and adding plants to fresh soil to reduce the risks of contamination. Avoid moving plants from soil infested with jumping worms – simply start afresh!
Note: Earthworms are underground dwelling worms. Apart from rainy seasons, these worms rarely move to the topsoil. If you notice many earthworms on the surface, worm castings on the surface, or if your soil is wet and slimy, you may have a worm infestation problem.
11 Types of Worms in Plants
Here are common worms you will find in plants;
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Diplopoda
Appearance: Small and segmented bodies with two pairs of multiple legs – either flat or cylindrical
Millipedes aren’t truly worms. In fact, they don’t even fall under the Annelida phylum. Nonetheless, they are typically grouped when it comes to the “worm” context due to their appearance and functions.
Unlike traditional worms, millipedes have legs. Millipedes have small and segmented bodies with two pairs of joint legs – hence, their class Diplopoda. Further, their bodies are other cylindrical or flattened with 20 segments. Garden millipedes are usually brownish-black in color.
Millipedes in Plants
Millipedes are safe for plants, although their moist-loving nature means they prefer to live under a container plant instead of in dry and cool environments. Millipedes don’t feed on plants. They only feed on dead organic matter, fungi, and plant fluids.
Millipedes are pretty useful in breaking down organic matter and providing the soil with nutrients. Most people simply don’t like millipedes for their annoying pest-like appearance. They can also invade the interior of your home or yard – although they don’t bite or sting.
- Phylum: Annelida
- Class: Clitellata
- Order: Haplotaxida
- Appearance: About 1 to 60 inches long, slender, cylindrical, and thin body with moist, pale pink to reddish brown color skin
Also known as red wigglers or scientifically, earthworms are among the most common types of earthworms in plants. In fact, seeing earthworms in the garden is a good indicator of their thriving health. Earthworms are also the most common beneficial worms and promote various benefits to the plants.
Originating from Europe, earthworms have managed to spread across the world. They boast long, slender, and cylindrical bodies and vary in size. Earthworms also have thin and moist skin, in pale pink to reddish brown color, and move by crawling– which gives them their other name – red wigglers.
Earthworms help to boost soil quality by decomposing organic matter to release nutrients in the soil. They also create small burrows that they can penetrate through. These burrows help to aerate the soil, transport nutrients and water, and even create the perfect vessels through which plant roots grow and develop.
Earthworms in Plants
Earthworms are present both in the garden and in potted plants. They also love to exist deep in the soil. Earthworms are mostly beneficial. But, in non-ideal conditions, they can be destructive. For instance, in the absence of adequate dead organic matter or compact and dry soil, they can easily nibble on plant roots to escape these conditions.
This may lead to leaf discoloration, stunted growth, and in the worst cases, death of the plant. It’s worth noting that this problem can be more common in potted plants. Remember worms don’t stay in one place, they move around.
As they move around, they continuously feed on decaying organic matter and release nutrients to the plant. But, once they run out of their food, they start to feed on plant roots. You can solve this problem by using worm castings instead, or ensuring you provide the worms with enough feed consistently.
Earthworms come in three key groups.
Epigeic earthworms: These earthworms don’t build burrows. Instead, they live among dead organic matter on the surface of the soil. Also known as surface-dwelling or compost earthworms, epigeic earthworms are darker in color, measure about 1 to 7 inches long, and can camouflage themselves among the organic matter, like grass clippings, allowing them to live on the ground.
The darker shade also protects them from UV rays. These earthworms also bear strong muscles to move faster than other worms and protect themselves from predators. As their name suggests, these compost earthworms are the most effective at releasing nutrients into the ground.
This is because they rapidly consume and excrete composting components or by-products (nutrients) of organic matter. They are also fast reproducers, ensuring your garden enjoys a consistent supply of nutrient fixers.
The most common type of composting earthworms is the tiger worm or Eisenia fetida. Tiger worms have segmented and striped bodies with a reddish-brown hue and grow to about 4 to 6 inches long. You want to be extra cautious with tiger worms, however. If left to multiply over long periods, they can easily damage plant roots.
Endogeic earthworms: Endogeic earthworms form burros although they still reside on the top layers of the soil. Nonetheless, Endogeic earthworms rarely come to the topmost soil layer and tend to confine themselves within the earth.
They create semi-permanent horizontal burrows in the soil or even live under rocks or logs. You will only find them on the surface during heavy rainfall or if the soil is extremely dry and inhabitable for them.
Endogeic earthworms measure about 1 to 12 inches long and have paler to translucent bodies. They also move slower due to their weaker muscles. They do a better job of mixing nutrients (minerals) and air within the soil. They are also effective at soil aeration as they also feed on it.
Anecic earthworms: Anecic live below ground but they frequently come up to soil level to feed. They create permanent vertical burrows in mineral soil layers as deep as six feet under that extend to as big as an inch in diameter.
Anecic earthworms feed on ground organic matter, such as grass and fallen dead leaves, and then drag them down to their burrows. They also feed on soil and litter. Anecic worms are the slowest-moving earthworms due to their weak muscles.
They also measure about 1 to 60 inches, making them the largest, and bear a milky shade – unlike the usual pale pink to red earthworm color. In addition to fixing the soil, anecic earthworms are commonly used as fishing bait.
Today, there are various species of earthworms in different countries. For instance, the US has over 100 while the UK only has 27. Most of these species are introduced (and not native), usually as fishing bait. Unfortunately, this has made some of the earthworm species not so beneficial. Instead, they can be quite threatening to natural ecosystems.
3. Pot Worms
- Phylum: Annelida
- Class: Clitellata
- Order: Haplotaxida
- Family: Enchytraeidae
- Appearance: About 1 inch long, small, slender, and thin body in white color
Pot worms are part of the larger group of white worms, characterized by their typical white bodies. Also known as Enchytraeidae, pot worms resemble earthworms. These worms are usually found in potting and organic mixes as they prefer either highly organic terrestrial or marine environments. A small sub-type of pot worms, also known as ice worms, live within glaciers and come to the ground during the summer season. Another subtype is the grindal worm, which is commercially sold as aquarium fish food.
They can be identified through their characteristic white inch long body and their distinctive movement through the soil.
Pot worms in Plants
They play a significant role in releasing nutrients to the soil and promoting plant growth. But, like most worms, they become a problem in large numbers and begin to feed on plant roots. Unfortunately, a pot worm infestation shows very little signs and can be detected when it’s too late.
Pot worm infestation can lead to the wilting or stunted growth of the plants. In severe cases, you may even begin to notice the worms appear from crawl holes they created by feeding on the roots. You can easily solve this problem by drying out the soil since pot worms thrive better in moist soil.
Bad and Parasitic Worms
4. Parasitic Nematodes
- Phylum: Nematoda
- Class: Chromadorea or enoplea
- Appearance: Thin and thread-like and about 0.1 to 2.5 mm long – shades vary from clear to brown.
Parasitic nematodes, also known as roundworms or simply nematodes are the most common types of bad worms. These worm-like creatures love to invade flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees, and shrubs. They do so by attacking the root system, stems, or leaves.
Nematodes are roundworms and not part of the flatworm family. Unlike flatworms, nematodes have tubular digestive systems with openings on both ends and are significantly smaller in size. Parasitic nematodes are usually invisible to the naked eye.
They are small, thin, and thread-like and measure a few millimeters long. Their colors also vary based on the species, ranging from clear and white to yellow or brown. Their bodies can also have ridges, rings, or bristles.
Parasitic Worms in Plants
Even their minuscule size can do massive damage to plants. These worms can invade your potted or garden plants via contaminated soil, plant material, used pots, gardening equipment, and even your infected footwear.
You can easily know your plants are infested with these worms through leaf wilting, yellowing or root deformity. Thankfully, you can confirm this infestation by submitting a sample to your local agricultural authority. After confirming, you can then decide on the treatment solution.
While parasitic nematodes are generally bad, they also come with a few perks. Nematodes and pot worms are known to boost soil quality. This is because they are pretty effective at decomposing organic matter and releasing nutrients into the soil.
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Coleoptera
- Appearance: 8 to 40mm long milky body with reddish brown head
Grubworms are caterpillars or larvae of Phyllophaga – a genus of Japanese beetles, May beetles, June bugs, or July beetles. They are also known as white grubs. Unlike other worms, these bad worms feed on live plant roots and stems instead of dead organic matter. So, even with the right soil conditions for worms, grubworms will still feed on live plants.
These larvae emerge about 18 days after they hatch. They measure about 8 to 40 mm long as they grow through the days and boast a C-shaped whitish milky body with brownish-black heads. You will also notice conspicuous brown spirals along the body sides. These larvae then pupate after 9 months.
Grubworms in Plants
Grubworms reside in the soil and can do massive damage to plant roots. Since grubworms remain below the surface, you will not see them unless you dig around the roots. Their particular favorite plants include grass, cereal, lettuce, berries, potatoes, and young ornamental trees.
You may notice their infestation through the wilting or stunted growth of the mentioned plants. Grubworms can also attract unwanted pests and predators, like moles, skunks, and birds. While some of these predators feed on the worms, they can further damage the plants.
Areas with white grub infestation can also attract birds, like crows, as they tend to peel back on the grass or leaves to get to the worms. If the infestation has lasted long, you may even see adult beetles flying around affected plants. You can tackle the problem by taking advantage of predators, like nematodes or birds – although these may still damage your garden. Alternatively, you can opt for insecticides.
6. Tomato Hornworms
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Appearance: 3.9 inches long green body with eight V-shaped white markings and dark blue or black horns.
Hornworms or tomato hornworms are caterpillars or larvae of brown, gray, or five-spotted hawkmoth. Tomato hornworm is one of the most popular and major garden pests. They get their name tomato hornworms as they commonly use tomatoes as their host plants
Tomato hornworms are large green caterpillars and measure about 3.9 inches when fully grown. They also have a dark and pointed projection on their rear end – attributed to the name hornworm. Tomato hornworms can also be easily identified by their eight V-shaped white markings with dark blue or black horns.
Tomato Hornworms in Plants
Tomato hornworms love to feed on the foliage of various plants, especially the Solanaceae family. These include plants, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and chili peppers. Unlike other pests, hornworms survive by living on their host plants, particularly on the foliage they feed on. So, you will find them on different parts of the leaves throughout the day.
7. Tobacco Hornworms
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Appearance: 100mm long bright green body with seven white diagonal lines with a black border and red horns.
Hornworms, tobacco hornworms, or goliath worms are caterpillars or larvae of Carolina sphinx or tobacco hawkmoth. These hornworms are closely related and sometimes confused with tomato hornworms. Like tomato hornworms, they live and feed on the foliage of plants, especially Solanaceae. But, like tomato hornworms, they prefer their namesake hosts, tobacco.
Tobacco hornworms are distinguished from tomato hornworms through their seven white diagonal lines with a black border and red horns. The worms feature a bright green body that grows to about 100mm long.
Tobacco Hornworms in Plants
Like tomato hornworms, they live and feed on the foliage of plants, especially Solanaceae. But, like tomato hornworms, they prefer their namesake hosts, tobacco. Like tomato hornworms, they reside on leaf foliage for most of the larvae stage.
However, right about the pupa stage, they seek a location for pupation and create burrows underground where they will pupate. As they search for the location, you will even notice a heart starting to form through their skin as they reach the end of the caterpillar stage and are about to transition.
You can solve a hornworm problem in your garden by introducing their predatory insects to counter them. Hornworm’s biggest enemies are wasps. Wasps function by laying eggs in the bodies of hornworms, causing the wasp larvae to feed on the hornworms, killing them off.
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Appearance: 1-inch long brown, gray, green, or yellow body and some species have longitudinal stripes
Like grubworms, cutworms are larvae of moth species. However, they cover a more diverse group of moth species. Biologically, cutworms are caterpillars rather than worms. However, they still function as live worms in the garden. Cutworms get their name from their tendency to cut down young plant seedlings at the base. This, in turn, leads to the eventual wilting and death of the plant.
Cutworms grow to about an inch long and usually have brown, green, yellow, or gray bodies. Some are adorned with longitudinal stripes.
Cutworms in Plants
Cutworms are mostly active at night and hide themselves in the soil during the day. As mentioned above, cutworms feed on plant seedlings. Cutworms are a common major pest and a huge nuisance to gardeners and farmers alike. They will attack anything from small garden plants to corn and even large trees.
While you can use options like insecticides to tackle an infestation, you can eliminate it through predators alone. Remember, these pests hide during the day and are only active at night. This strategy helps them avoid predators and parasitoids during the day. You will even notice some cutworms attack the smallest seedlings to make it easier to run into the ground when you shine light at them.
9. Beet Armyworms
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Appearance: 1-inch pinkish-brown body clotted with black
Beet armyworms or small mottled willow moths are larvae of the asparagus fern caterpillar. While they are native to Asia, they have spread across the world.
Also known as Spodoptera exigua, beet armyworms feature an inch-long pinkish-brown body clotted with black. They also have spiracular lines of pale ochreous with a dark upper edge look on their bodies. As they grow into caterpillars, they develop an olive green to greenish brown cutworm-like look with a soft and bulging body finished with dark longitudinal stripes.
Beet Armyworms in Plants
Beet armyworms can cause serious damage to plants. They feed on the leaves and fruits of the plants, leaving them completely defoliated. Different-sized armyworms will also attack the plant differently. Smaller beet armyworms tend to feed on the leaf parenchyma to leave behind extremely thin veins and epidermis.
On the other hand, larger beet armyworms create burrows through thick plant areas – like the lettuce head instead of simply burrowing through thinner single leaves of the lettuce. Furthermore, these armyworms will attack the buds and new plant growth to stop flowers from opening, leaves from sprouting, and the fruit from developing.
You want to be particularly careful if you are growing members of the nightshade in your garden. These include plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. But, other common food crops may also be susceptible to armyworm attacks. These include beets, asparagus, beans, peas, corn, lettuce, potatoes, and cereal.
Signs of a beet armyworm infestation in the garden include small holes on leaves or significant defoliation or wilting. You will also notice silvery film netting leaves as smaller larvae leave these behind as they move across plants. Beet armyworms can be easily removed manually if the infestation isn’t severe. Alternatively, you can use human and pest-safe insecticide that targets these beet armyworms.
10. Land Flatworms
- Phylum: Platyhelminthes
- Order: Tricladida
- Appearance: 0.1 to 39 inches long bodies with a wet, slimy, and unsegmented body
Land flatworms, land planarians, or Geoplanidae are predator flatworms of smaller invertebrates. This family of flatworms has over 900 different species.
Land flatworms resemble slugs or leeches although they don’t have anterior tentacles or segmentation you would typically observe on the two. These flatworms feature mucus-covered bodies with a flat, soft, and unsegmented look. They can also grow pretty long, starting from as low as 0.1 inches to over 30 inches long.
Land Flatworms in Plants
Land flatworms prefer wet and shaded soil, typically under pots or containers and even between gardening equipment. Like cutworms, land flatworms usually travel and are active during the night as their eyes are sensitive to light.
Nonetheless, land flatworms don’t work like your typical predator worms. Rather than feed on live plants, they feed on something else that’s equally valuable to the soil. These predators feed on the good microbiome in the soil. These flatworms are so threatening that they can even feed on a creature that is 100x bigger than them. These include fellow land flatworms, earthworms, snails, slugs, millipedes, insects, and other invertebrates.
A flatworm infestation will lead to a massive drop in the soil quality and even affect pollination in the garden. However, land flatworms don’t hold any water-retaining abilities and solely depend on their environments to keep them moist. So, keeping the soil completely dry is enough to eradicate these worms.
11. Jumping Worms
- Phylum: Annelida
- Order: Opisthopora
- Appearance: 1.5 to 8 inches long with smooth and glossy gray or brown body with milky white clitellum
Also known as Amynthas agrestis or Asian jumping worms, jumping worms are an invasive species of earthworms, native to eastern Asia. You can also refer to jumping worms as crazy worms, snake worms, Asian earthworms, or Alabama jumpers.
These invasive worms have been a problem to gardeners and farmers, especially in the southern part of the US since the 19th century. They are notorious for overconsuming leaf litter and mulch, which is their main food source.
Jumping worms feature a smooth and glossy gray or brown body with a milky white clitellum. In fact, you can easily identify them through this clitellum – a fleshy rear-end band. Their length can range between 1.5 and 8 inches long while the Asian varieties reproduce and develop quicker than European ones.
Jumping Worms in Plants
Their biggest assault on the garden is stripping off nutrients from topsoil by munching on mulch and leaf litter. They are also responsible for the increased rates of soil erosion in gardens. They put your garden at risk of soil erosion as they change the structure and chemistry of the soil. These worms also inhibit seedling growth and impact beneficial relationships between microbiome, trees, and plants.
Plus, they reduce the rate of water absorption in the soil. In short, you certainly don’t want these visitors in your garden. Undisturbed, these worms crawl like snakes but they start to jump like crazy when poked. In addition to using mustard seed and water mixture to kill these worms, you can spray them with isopropyl alcohol, hand pick them and throw them in the trash, or bag them in a transparent bag and expose them to the sun.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why are Worms More Common During the Rainy Season?
Worms can be commonly seen on the surface of the soil during the rainy season as they come out to the surface to breathe. While worms can survive in moist soil, they don’t survive in wet or watery soils. As rainwater continues to settle in the soil, worms move out to avoid drowning.
What Are the Perfect Plant Conditions for Worms?
Worms thrive in moist and loose soil with well-regulated temperatures. The soil should also be rich in dead organic matter, such as natural mulch, leaf litter, and grass clippings.
Are All Worms in Plants Good?
Not all worms are good. You can find a good variety of beneficial good worms and several bad and parasitic worms. Most earthworms are good and beneficial to the soil while most nematodes are harmful. A couple of worms tend to be both good and bad, depending on the circumstances.
Will A Worm Infestation Kill My Plants?
Generally, a worm infestation will not kill your plants if you intervene on time. Most worms will simply much on roots or leaves, which leads to wilting or stunted growth. With proper intervention, your plants can kick back and regrow.
But, without proper intervention, a prolonged infestation may cause dire effects and ultimately, lead to the death of your plants. There are exceptions, however. For example, a large earthworm infestation may not be as dangerous as an infestation of parasitic or harmful worms.
This is because while earthworms bear some benefits to the plants and soil ecosystem, parasitic worms are destructive and harmful. They will feed on plants and ruin the soil ecosystem, making it easier for the plants to die off.
Are Worms Good for Both Garden Bed and Potted Plants?
Yes, most good worms are great for both garden beds and potted plants. The only thing they need is the right environment to thrive, i.e. moist and loose soil and a good supply of dead organic matter. Furthermore, you have to ensure that there is a reasonable population of these worms.
Even good worms can pose threats to the garden if they are in larger quantities. On the other hand, good worms do go for both garden beds and potted plants as they equally release nutrients to the soil while improving the structure, microbiome, and overall soil ecosystem.
Can I Reuse Soil Infested with Worms?
You should avoid re-using soil infected with bad and parasitic worms. This is because it is easier for the contaminated soil to bring about the same worm infestation problems in the newly planted crops. It’s always a good idea to start fresh with new soil or potting mix. However, if you absolutely have to reuse the potting mix or soil, you want to solarize it first (expose it to direct sunlight and high heat for a long period) to ensure you kill all the parasites before you reuse it.
You can find myriad types of worms in plants. For example, while earthworms are classed as one here, there are over 100 different species of this type of worm alone. The good news is that both good and bad worms exist and you can easily identify them through the descriptions shared above.
This makes it easy to know when to leave the good bacteria intact to help your soil ecosystem or when to intervene and remove the unwanted parasitic worms. If you are an avid gardener, this simple guide into the most common types of worms in plants is a great place to start for identifying worms, encouraging good ones in the garden, and ridding your garden of the bad ones.
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