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Connecticut Garden Journal: Jumping worms are a menace to forests—are they in your garden?

We normally think of earthworms as good for the soil. But not all earthworms are the same. In a forest, Asian jumping worms eat organic matter, seeds and kill seedlings, reducing any rejuvenation of the trees.
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We normally think of earthworms as good for the soil. But not all earthworms are the same. In a forest, Asian jumping worms eat organic matter, seeds and kill seedlings, reducing any rejuvenation of the trees.

We normally think of earthworms as good for the soil. But not all earthworms are the same. Earthworms originally came from Europe with the colonists. Now there are worms from other parts of the globe that are harmful to our forest and garden soils.

The Asian jumping worm or snake worm is native to parts of Japan that have mostly evergreen and oak trees. Our thinner leafed maple leaves are a great food for jumping worms. Jumping worms eat organic matter at a faster rate and they reproduce and spread quicker than regular worms. Once in a forest you'll notice the understory is gone. The jumping worms eat the organic matter, seeds and kill seedlings, reducing any rejuvenation of the trees.

In the garden, you'll know you have jumping worms if you see grape nut sized soil particles on the surface. You can also drench the soil with a solution of 1 gallon water, 1/3 cup crushed, yellow, mustard seeds. The worms will rise to the surface. Jumping worms wiggle vigorously and have a milky band that goes all around their bodies. European earthworms don't have the band circling their bodies.

To prevent their spread, knock off the soil on new plants before planting, especially ones you receive from friends' gardens. This insures no eggs, cocoons or worms will be present. Handpick jumping worms placing them in a plastic bag on a driveway to bake. Researchers are working on other controls such as beneficial nematodes, fungus, biochar and tea tree seed meal. Check theConnecticut Agricultural Research Station website for more information.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.