Are you trying to figure out ways to boost the health of your potted plants? One way you can do so is by putting earthworms into your potted plants. Certain earthworms add nutrients to the soil. But you still need to practice caution when using earthworms!
You can put earthworms to potted plants but you need to use the right amount and types of earthworms for optimal plant health. Nightcrawlers, red wigglers, and pot worms are the best worms to use in potted plants. Adding too many earthworms can cause damage to plant health.
To maximize plant health by using earthworms, it is helpful to know about the worms you are using and understand what they do for the soil. It is also necessary for you to know if you have worms that are harming your plant. This article will tell you exactly what you need to know!
Before you add the earthworms to potted plants, add a 1-inch layer of compost to the potting soil. This will give the earthworms the material they can break down and provide nutrients for the plant roots to absorb. Check out the best compost on Amazon.com.
Earthworms in Potted Plants
There are different types of worms, and all have different effects on soil and plants. Adding the wrong ones will negatively affect your plant’s health. Typically, worms are not found in potted plants unless you use soil from your yard, or the potted plant has stayed outside for a long time. Worms leave behind castings (digested materials) that provide nutrients to the soil.
Three types of earthworms that have a positive impact on plant health are nightcrawlers, red wigglers, and pot worms. But you need to be careful of how many you add to each potted plant.
The most well-known earthworm is the nightcrawler; it is a brownish-grey worm typically found in a yard or garden or on the cement after heavy rain. More accurately, they are known as Canadian or European nightcrawlers.
- Canadian nightcrawlers can grow up to 14 inches but usually do not survive in warmer weather.
- Unlike their larger cousins, European nightcrawlers only reach about 3 inches in length.
Nightcrawlers are topsoil and subsoil dwellers because they burrow in soil, transporting nutrients as they move. Their constant traveling causes aeration to the soil and provides oxygen to the roots. In addition to aeration, the nightcrawler will leave behind castings as it travels.
They are called nightcrawlers because they borrow to the surface at night to eat, then return to the subsoil mixing nutrients from the subsoil to the topsoil and back.
They do not eat as much as the red wiggler, but they do eat the following:
(Sources: Sciencing and SF Gate)
Another earthworm and cousin of the nightcrawler is the red wiggler. These little wiggly creatures do different things for plants and soil than their cousin. The red wiggler is considered a composting worm.
They are the clean-up crew for maintaining garden and plant health. They will eat dead or dying materials such as leaves and roots. The castings from the consumption of the decaying matter are nutrient-packed. The red wiggler helps with aeration as well.
Red wigglers are called such mainly because of their color. They are red-brown with a yellow tail. They can grow up to 2 to 3 inches. They will mainly stay in the topsoil and thrive in a potted plant environment because it is warm and moist. They also reproduce more easily than other worms.
I asked some gardener friends if they had used earthworms in their potted plants. 93% had done so and found it beneficial as seen in the poll results below.
Exactly like the name states, pot worms are found exclusively in containers or potted plants. These tiny little worms are considered topsoil worms. Like the nightcrawler, they aerate the topsoil by burrowing and eat decomposing matter such as bacteria, fungi, and humus. These worms are not very effective at composting.
Often confused as the offspring of adult earthworms, these little worms are white and stringy. Most often, they will quickly appear in your potted plants, a couple thousand at a time. Even though they are present in such large numbers, it will not do damage to plant life.
The Worms You Should Remove from Potted Plants
Having worms in your potted plants is an inexpensive option for helping plant health. But some worms will cause damage to your plants. It is also important to be able to recognize these havoc-causing worms so that you can remove them from your plants when they appear.
Some worms that are harmful to your potted plants are:
- Grub worms and cutworms
Grub Worms and Cutworms
Grub worms and cutworms are the larvae stages of various adult beetles and butterflies or moths. Cutworms are better known as caterpillars. Both grub worms and cutworms will destroy your plants very quickly because they eat live organic matter such as healthy leaves, stems, and roots. Furthermore, cutworms stay in the larvae stage longer, inflicting more damage.
- A grub worm is a large, white or grey worm with six legs in front. They grow to about 2 to 3 centimeters curling into a ‘C’ shape.
- Caterpillars or cutworms come in a multitude of colors and sizes, some may even look furry or spiny, and all of them have three pairs of legs and several appendages. Be cautious when handling some of them because they are poisonous or may sting.
Millipedes are only damaging to your plant when it is sick or dying. These creepy crawly creatures may cause you more distress than they cause to your plant. The super moist environment of a potted plant is where they feel most at home. Millipedes are brownish-black with a round, hard, 1-inch body and several legs.
Unlike earthworms with segmented bodies, nematodes are extremely small and most often are hard to see. They have slender, white bodies with pointed ends. Most nematodes are beneficial to the plant because they feed on bacteria, fungi, and other damage-causing insects in the soil.
The ones that cause damage to the plants are parasitic nematodes. They can gain entrance inside a plant or cause damage on the outside by attacking all parts of the plant. You may see odd areas of stunted growth or dead areas. Most often, they are found in outdoor plants and gardens.
An easy way to rid this natural soil of parasitic nematodes is to heat the soil in a covered metal pan for 30 minutes until the temperature reaches 180°F. Once the soil has cooled, it is safe to use. (Source: Good House Keeping)
Ridding Your Potted Plants of Earthworms and Other Pests
If there are too many earthworms in the potting soil, you will need to get rid of some of them. There are some easy ways to rid your potted plant of earthworms and pests.
- Drowning your potted plant with water.
- Drying out the soil.
If you have an overpopulation of worms or pests and you are unable to pick them out, overwatering your plant may drive them out. When that does not rid you of the problem, try submerging your pot in soapy water for about 20 minutes. The pests and worms will come to the surface, making it easier to pick them out.
If your plant can handle less watering, then you can try letting the soil completely dry out. This will cause the worms and pests to emerge from the soil in search of moister ground. You will be able to pick them out. (Source: Laidback Gardener)
An Alternate Option
After picking out your various earthworms or instead of adding them to a potted plant, you can create a worm composting bin. Red wigglers, in particular, love this environment, and it is a better way to prevent overpopulation of worms in a potted plant. The red wiggler eats a multitude of waste products.
A little soil and specific materials added to your composting bin create the perfect environment for worms to thrive in compost. You need the following materials:
- A deep ventilated bin
- Shredded newspapers and corrugated cardboard
- Dead leaves or decaying plant matter
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
After you’ve created your compost pile, you can add worms to it for the ultimate compost to add to your potted plants!
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.