Sep 19, 2021 • 5M

BEYOND BASICS: JUMPING WORMS

A special edition of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter.

 
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YOU DON'T WANT THESE WORMS IN YOUR GARDEN, COMPOST OR WORM BIN

The damage that jumping worms (aka Asian Jumping Worms, Crazy Worms, Alabama Jumpers, or Snake Worms) can do to your garden soil.

(video originally produced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

More on how jumping worms damage your soil structure, from Oregon State University:

Because they have very large mouths akin to mechanical excavators, jumping worms are able to grasp and consume large amounts. With their voracious appetite, they outcompete the native microbial organisms and invertebrates that other organisms feed on. Their propensity to eat all the litter creates bare soil where invasive plants and animals move in, altering native ecosystems. They also remove the mulch that helps cool the soil and conserve moisture,

Further, the castings – or fecal material – of most worms contain extremely important microbes that help fight soil-borne plant diseases and repel insects. Worm castings also improve soil structure by diversifying the size of soil particles, which enhances moisture penetration and increases water retention. With jumping worms, the outcome is the opposite. Since their gut biome is slightly different, there aren’t the same beneficial results.

“What they are casting out doesn’t absorb moisture well so you end up losing porosity, which affects the overall structure of the soil,” said Sam Chan, Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension watershed health and aquatic invasive species specialist. “Initially wet and gummy, the castings quickly dry into hard granules that are difficult to rewet, not the best medium for growing plants.”

The changes to soil structure and composition caused by the worm castings can attract certain unwanted microbes, which creates an increased susceptibility to disease and can cause girdled roots. Plant stems and roots at the surface of the soil may become exposed to more environmental extremes from the loss of litter and decomposed organic matter and changes to soil structure.

Jumping worms have been outlawed in many states, but not all, and can still be found online for fishing. Chan advises to be careful not to purchase jumping worms, also known as crazy worm, Asian jumping worm and snake worm, and to spread the word about their danger. Many people – even those who sell them – aren’t aware of their invasiveness.

To help decrease the spread of jumping worms, shake off the roots of plants when sharing or buying at a private plant sale. Buy bareroot plants when possible. Never share compost, mulch, soil or plants that contain a known infestation.

Nurseries are being careful, but it’s still a good practice to inspect the soil for cocoons when you transplant. If you find jumping worms in your garden, they will probably be in pockets rather than the whole garden. Brush off your shoes and equipment when you move from place to place in an effort to keep them from spreading. If they are in contained spaces, you can spread plastic to heat the soil. Once it reaches 104 degrees F, the cocoons die.

Audio from Episode 126 of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Podcast