Pests and Diseases forum: Earthworms as pests

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So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Oct 4, 2013 7:53 PM CST

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Does anyone know how to flush earthworms out of potted plants? I am experiencing a population explosion of earthworms in my potted plants and they are beginning to do some serious damage to the plants as well as to the potting soil
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plantladylin
Oct 5, 2013 12:37 PM CST
Oh my, I never realized earthworms could do damage. I'd probably remove the plants from their containers, relocate the soil with the earthworms to the garden and repot the plants in fresh potting medium. I occasionally find a couple of earthworms in my plants when I'm repotting and I just take them out to a flower bed, dig a little hole and place them in the hole and cover them up. Green Grin!
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So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Oct 5, 2013 12:56 PM CST

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I did a mass re-potting last spring but, alas, I am being overrun again Sad I have over 300 potted plants so it is quite the task to re-pot everyone (though I have started re-potting again). I am hoping that someone knows a way to drive these buggers out as it is getting costly. I cannot figure out how they are invading either - the majority of plants are on a concrete pad. I would have thought it would be way too hot to migrate over cement in the summer but Shrug!
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orchidgal
Oct 27, 2013 6:35 PM CST
Send them my way. I never find an earthworm -- I suspect the moles eat them. I've got them from various sources in the past (small amounts), and still never find one when I'm digging.
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Leftwood
Jan 23, 2014 10:31 PM CST
Have your tried submerging the pots in water?

Maybe you have different worms down there, but it works here....
Name: Cinda
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gardengus
Apr 20, 2014 7:34 PM CST
Just wondered if you found a solution?
sounds like the worms are attracted to your moist/cool soil.
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Marilyn
Aug 8, 2014 2:16 PM CST
When I find an earthworm out of soil, I usually scoop it up and place it into one of my containers or my garden soil.

I never thought they could ever do any harm or damage. I thought they were always one of the good guys.

Old Gardener,

What kind of serious damage to your plants are you having with the earthworms? Confused

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So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 8, 2014 2:55 PM CST

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I had noticed that when a plant was failing (wilting and collapsing), I would always find that the pot was full of worms (and big ones at that - one 5 gal pot had 62 worms in it that I could see). I started checking the pots of other plants that looked good and were still growing strong and, sure enough, they did not have the worm issue (one or two earthworms at best). All of the pots are the same type (the black nursery style) and I have used the same type of potting soil in all of them. I do know that the soil of the affected plants is consistently ground down to a fine silt that just pours out of the drainage holes now and I am guessing that is from the soil being constantly digested and re-digested by the worms.

I do not know if the plants (mostly daylilies but other plants were impacted, too) were failing due to root damage (the roots were consistently smaller than their healthy brethren), the rapid reduction in soil level, or by the change in the consistency of the soil but I never was able to find a solution to the problem.

The soil in our yard is teeming with earthworms and we are forever mulching it so I am a little surprised that they seem so eager to migrate to the potted plants.
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Weedwhacker
Aug 9, 2014 8:04 PM CST
Yikes, that's a lot of pots to deal with... but I think I would start with a few and wash as much soil from the roots as possible and then repot, to eliminate as many of the cocoons as possible. Sounds crazy to have so many worms that have invaded the pots, but it is what it is -- maybe your potting soil originally contained earthworm cocoons? If you have an in-ground garden, I'd definitely save the soil and add it to the garden; or, if not, there are a lot of gardeners that would be thrilled to have all those worms! Definitely sounds like a mess to have them wrecking your potted plants, though Thumbs down
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So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 9, 2014 9:05 PM CST

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I have to wonder, too, if the soil came pre-loaded. I have never seen so many worms confined to such a small area. I tried re-potting the plants in the spring - that gets expensive quickly - and was discouraged to find that I had the same issue later that fall. Grumbling

I did toss the old soil into the garden, though.
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Name: Sue
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sooby
Aug 10, 2014 6:26 AM CST
Do you cover the drainage hole/s with anything? If not, maybe next time you repot place a coffee filter over it and then the potting soil. Not sure if a piece of window fly screening would work also.

Is the potting medium a soilless mix or is there actual soil in it?
So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 10, 2014 7:42 AM CST

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I do cover the holes in the pot and while the screening (or whatever I have on hand at the moment) works great for the brand of potting soil that I purchase, the soil turns to a very fine silt after the worms are finished with it. It is this almost powdery silty stuff that then pours through. It is not unusual for me to lose a half-pots worth of soil in a 3 or 5 gallon pot over a 6 month period. I use supersoil brand potting mix - not the greatest but readily available where I live.
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." -Abraham Lincoln
Name: Sue
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sooby
Aug 10, 2014 11:45 AM CST
Where I was going with that is that if you were using coffee filters to cover the drainage holes it isn't likely that the worms got in that way because there are no openings. With insect screening it would depend how small they were at the time whether they could get in through the mesh. If they're in pots that are similarly blocked, then it points to their already being in the mix in which case covering the holes would also stop them from getting out.

A possible way to get them out of the top of the pots would be with lemon-scented liquid hand "dish soap" at about one or two tablespoons per gallon of water poured through the pot. But I'd only try this on one or two pots in case it damages the plants. I suggest this because one of my tasks where I work is monitoring turf for pests and diseases. To check for pests I pour diluted lemon "dish soap" onto an area of turf and then wait for the insects to climb out to get away from it and then identify and count them. In the process of this, any earthworms present also come out onto the surface seemingly very uncomfortable from the "soap" solution. To avoid the soap damaging the turf, especially if it is sunny, I flush afterwards with plain water (including the earthworms hoping they'll feel better!) hence I would also flush through the pots with copious amounts of plain water afterwards. Might be worth a try but a little risky.
So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 10, 2014 11:56 AM CST

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I have tried coffee filters in the past with the moisture loving plants but they broke down rapidly here. These days, I try to locate something that provides some screening and lasts for a while but still allows the pots to drain more naturally. Unfortunately, I think it makes it easy for the worms to migrate from one pot to the next.

I will definitely try your suggestion with the dish soap. Do you know if it is necessary for it to be lemon scented? I want to make sure that I pick up the correct stuff. Anything that will force the worms to come up to top of the pot and not kill my plants in the process would be great. I can pick worms quite quickly now as I have had a lot of practice Hilarious! I will be sure to start with just a few plants and to flush them well afterwards. I really appreciate the advice. Thank you so much for your suggestion!
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." -Abraham Lincoln
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX (Zone 8a)
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LindaTX8
Aug 10, 2014 12:06 PM CST
This site says with 1-gallon pots or more, it's beneficial to have earthworms. I'd agree with that.
http://www.balconycontainergardening.com/wildlife/437-worms-...
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Name: Linda
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LindaTX8
Aug 10, 2014 12:06 PM CST
This site says with 1-gallon pots or more, it's beneficial to have earthworms. I'd agree with that.
http://www.balconycontainergardening.com/wildlife/437-worms-...
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. E. B.White
Integrity can never be taken. It can only be given, and I wasn't going to give it up to these people. Gary Mowad
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Aug 10, 2014 12:07 PM CST
I use lemon because that's what we're advised to use for flushing insects, including by at least one entomologist. I've no idea if that's actually been scientifically researched or just anecdotal, though, but supposedly lemon is best and it works so I haven't tried anything else to compare. It's regular "Sunlight" lemon dish soap that I use, it's not an Ultra. I'm in Canada so don't know if you have exactly the same product there. If you have earthworms in your lawn you could try flushing a small area of that to see what is the lowest concentration of "dish soap" to water that works with whatever product you can get (but don't forget to flush with plain water afterwards if you're fussy about your lawn, especially if it is hot and dry!).
So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 10, 2014 12:13 PM CST

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Thank you, sooby. I will definitely give this a try Thumbs up
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So Cal (Zone 10b)
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OldGardener
Aug 10, 2014 12:17 PM CST

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[quote="LindaTX8"]This site says with 1-gallon pots or more, it's beneficial to have earthworms. I'd agree with that.
]http://www.balconycontainergardening.com/wildlife/437-worms-...

I read the article - thank you for sharing it! I see that they say not to add too many worms, though , and to keep only a couple of worms per pot. I think that is where the problem lies. I have scores of worms per pot - they are breeding like rabbits. At this rate, it does not take them long to grind all of the soil up. Crying
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." -Abraham Lincoln
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
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gardengus
Aug 10, 2014 2:32 PM CST
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