In the gardening world, worms can be both your friend and your enemy. While a lot of growers happily welcome them in their garden beds, some worms can be extremely detrimental to your houseplants and garden vegetables – especially if you are growing them in pots. Even beneficial worms can cause havoc if their population grows out of control.
If you are finding these wrigglers a nuisance, then read on. We will discuss below how to get rid of worms in potted plants naturally, without resorting to harmful chemicals.
How do worms affect potted plants?
Worms have long been known as a gardener’s best friend. Beneficial for both soil and plants, they recycle organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. Their underground activity also helps improve soil aeration and reduce compaction, thereby helping your plants absorb more of the nutrients available in the soil.
But, while worms can be hugely beneficial for an outdoor garden, they might not be ideal for potted plants. Worms like red wigglers breed prolifically and can overpopulate a pot with limited space. Eventually, the worms will start consuming the roots of the plant since there will be not enough scraps to feed them all. Some worms, like grub worms, also feed on the roots and plant leaves.
The most common signs of worm infestation in potted plants are:
- Worms appear on the surface of the soil
- Visible holes in the topsoil
- Visible worm castings in the pot’s drainage holes
- Your plants look dull and lifeless, which is most likely due to damaged roots
Overall, having worms in potted plants might not offer as many benefits as having them in an outdoor garden. Thus, it is best to get rid of them and establish preventative measures to protect your plants from irreversible damage.
How did worms get into my potted plants?
You might be wondering how on earth these little intruders got into your potted plants in the first place.
Drainage holes are the most common entry point for worms. Perhaps you moved your potted plants outdoors to give them some natural light and fresh air. When the pots come into contact with the ground or garden soil, there is a chance that worms will crawl up into the pot through the holes. Once inside, they will begin to reproduce, continuing until the day you notice the infestation.
Another way for potted plants to become infested by worms is via the potting mix. If you are using a homemade version, you might have collected some worms and eggs during the process. Before you know it, a bunch of worms is cohabiting with your plants in the pot!
The most common worms that invade potted plants are:
- Earthworms, which are considered beneficial for outdoor gardens
- Pot worms, which usually appear as a large group of little white threads on the soil
- Red worms or red wigglers, another common friend of garden plants
- Grub worms, a common garden pest that appears as creamy-white larvae
- Plant parasitic nematodes, such as roundworms, are known to damage the root structure of plants
How to get rid of worms in potted plants naturally?
Worried about the dangers of using pesticides on your potted plants? These natural options should help you get rid of worms without harming your plants or your pets:
1. Repot your plant
Often you might not notice that your potted plants are infested with worms until you repot them. While red wigglers appear on the surface of the soil, earthworms commonly hang out at the bottom of the pot. When you find these critters cohabitating with your plants, the first thing you need to do is to remove them one by one.
Grab a sieve to catch the worms before repotting your plants in fresh soil. Remove whatever worms you might find using a pair of tweezers, or by hand. You can toss the beneficial worms into your compost bin or garden soil, and discard those that are considered harmful.
Most importantly, do not forget to rinse the roots before transferring your plant to a fresh potting mix. This will ensure that no worm eggs are left on the roots, thus eliminating the chance of new worms hatching in the new pot. You should also throw away the old soil instead of composting or reusing it, to prevent re-infestation. You can wash the old pot with one part bleach and 10 parts water, or transfer your plant to a brand new pot.
2. Soak the root ball in soapy water
Although worms love to hide in soggy soil, they still need oxygen to breathe. So, the best way to naturally get rid of them is to soak your plant in a bucket of water. Make sure the container is large enough for your plant.
Some gardeners also recommend diluting the water with some insecticidal soap. Submerge the root ball in this mixture and, after 20 minutes, you should see the worms floating to the surface.
Another option is to use diluted Dawn dishwashing soap if you do not have insecticidal soap available. Just be cautious when using human detergents, though, as the active chemicals can potentially harm your plants. Carefully submerge the root ball in the mixture for 20 minutes. Do not soak the stems and leaves. Worms hate any form of detergent, so you should see the pesky creatures emerging pretty soon!
3. Use organic agents
Organic pesticides are your best option if you do not like to apply dangerous chemicals to your potted plants. For example, the most common natural product used to treat plant pests and fungal diseases is neem oil. The one downside is that it only works against hornworms and grub worms – it cannot kill earthworms.
Another excellent option to deter pests and worms is hot pepper spray, thanks to its active ingredient, capsaicin. This chemical is 100% safe to use on your plants – even on your vegetables. You can easily make your own hot pepper spray by blending some chilies with water. A more hassle-free option is to purchase a commercial hot pepper spray from Amazon. Unfortunately, hot pepper sprays might not work on all types of worms and pests, so make sure to do your research first.
4. Attract natural predators
Bringing natural predators into your garden is a great method to keep the worm population in check. This might include smaller animals and insects that feed on common garden worms like earthworms and grubs. Do not worry – these friendly visitors are unlikely to harm your plants and would rather feast on the slippery creatures in the soil!
Some natural enemies of garden worms are:
- Birds will naturally visit your garden plants to seek something to eat, such as worms. To invite these plant-friendly guests, make sure you have a birdhouse and feeder installed in your backyard.
- Praying mantis, an insect that loves roses and berries. Make sure you have tall grass around your garden to give these little carnivores a place to hide.
- Frogs are known to be excellent pest-eaters. These amphibians consume a buffet of worms as well as slugs, snails, and a wide variety of insects. Hence, you can count on these creatures to control common garden pests without resorting to pesticides.
- Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are voracious carnivores. Their common diet includes slugs, snails, and worms. Fireflies do not carry diseases, harm your plants, or bite you. These bugs are also not poisonous, making them extremely beneficial for your garden.
5. Use corrugated cardboard
Do you know that worms love corrugated cardboard? Most corrugated cardboard is held together by glue made of cornstarch, and worms really enjoy feeding on this material. They eat shredded paper and cardboard, too! So, instead of throwing away your old cardboard, use it to attract your wiggly friends away from your plants.
Simply wet a piece of cardboard and leave it on the soil overnight. The next morning, you should see a bunch of worms feasting on the cardboard. You can decide whether to set the beneficial worms free outside, use them in your compost bin, or even collect them for fishing bait!
Ways to prevent worms in potted plants
Prevention is always better than cure. So, unless you intend to add beneficial worms to your potted plants, it is best to avoid getting them into the pots in the first place!
Using sterile soil is your best defense against worm infestations. Since the bags that contain the potting mix are sealed, there is no way for worms to get inside and lay eggs.
As mentioned before, worms can also reach your plants by entering through the pot’s drainage holes. If you take your indoor plants outside to water them, avoid placing the pots directly on the ground. Instead, place them on top of a table or any other structure to prevent soil contact.
Lastly, keep in mind that worms thrive in moist environments. As a prevention aid, make sure to water your plants only when the soil is dry. Otherwise, keeping the soil moist all the time will likely attract worms as well as other harmful pests and pathogens!
Not all worms are beneficial for your garden. Although it is rare to see a worm infestation in your potted plants, it is still possible for some worms to make their way into your pots. Thankfully, though, there are natural ways to get rid of them.
Do not forget to check what type of worms you have in the pot, as you might find some that are beneficial to your outdoor garden. Toss those wiggly soil helpers into your garden or compost bin, while discarding the harmful ones!
Image: istockphoto.com / Maryana Serdynska