Taking care of plants is a fulfilling hobby and whether you are a new plant parent or a seasoned gardener, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than seeing invasive creepy crawlers in the soil. Worms can be harmful to your potted plants as they tend to eat dried plant matter, but if there is not enough to sustain them, they will eat away at the plants’ root system which will deplete and possibly kill your plant.
First, you need to know the signs that your potted plant soil has been infested by worms. Once you have confirmed this, there are some steps to take to get rid of them and keep them away going forward.
Determine if Your Potted Plant Has Worms
There are a few ways to tell if your potted plant has worms and knowing some of the signs is a great place to start for revitalizing your plant.
- You can see worms at the surface.
- You can see casings at the surface of your plant or around drainage holes.
- You can see holes at the top of the soil.
- You can see the movement of worms upon watering the soil or under the sunlight.
- Your plant may be dying.
- While most worms exist in the soil, certain species will attack the leaves when matured.
If you were careful to inspect your plants before buying them and are unsure of how worms go into the soil, some of the reasons they end up there may surprise you.
- The worms were put into the soil intentionally to aerate the soil and keep it healthy but they multiplied and became destructive.
- Worm eggs were present in the soil upon purchase.
- The plant came into contact with another afftected plant.
- Bringing a plant indoors from outside where worms may have found their way in.
- There were not enough natural predators to eat the worms which is common in house plants.
Isolate the Infested Plant
Once you have determined your plant has worms, isolate it from any other plants in your house to prevent them from infestation. If multiple plants have worms, it is okay to keep them together and treat them at the same time.
Repotting the Affected Plant
During the repotting process, brace yourself as you are likely to see more worms in the soil. When repotting the plant, there are a few things you need to be mindful of.
Soak the Affected Plant
To get the worms out of the affected soil, you can submerge it in a mix of water and mild dish soap (1 tsp of soap to every 1 cup of water) for 15-20 minutes. This will cause worms to flee and any remaining pests to die as dish soap compromises the outer layer of most insects. Soaking the whole plant should not be done often but when fully submerged, it can also take care of any pests that may be attached to the leaves at the same time.
Get Rid of Eggs That Could Be Attached to the Roots
Before transplanting the affected plant into fresh, sterilized soil, rinse the roots off under running water or allow it to soak in the aforementioned soap and water mixture to ensure any worm eggs do not remain attached to the root system which would ultimately infect the plant again.
Be careful not to damage any roots in the process of soaking and rinsing the plant, as the stress from damaging the roots and changing the environment the plant has been in can cause transplant shock.
Use Sterile Potting Soil
Because some soils come with worm eggs and other organisms present in them, look for sterile potting soil. If you cannot find any to purchase, you can sterilize soil yourself by placing soil on a baking sheet, covering it with tin foil, and baking it in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Preventing Worms from Returning
After putting in the time and effort to rid your plant of worms and other pests, you want to ensure that your plant is safe against another infestation. Keeping your plants healthy also keeps them strong, increasing their natural resistance to worms and other pests.
Keep the Plant Isolated for Two Weeks
It is a good idea to keep your freshly treated plant isolated from other plants for two weeks to ensure no worms or other pests hatch and become invasive again.
When you bring an outdoor plant inside, it is also advisable to isolate it for two weeks to ensure it does not have worms or other pests that could spread to your other plants. If it is possible, avoid placing indoor plants outside and vice versa. If it is necessary, then give the plant a full soak in soapy water for 15-20 minutes, then isolate it.
When you purchase a new plant or if you were gifted one by a trusted friend, always inspect it for any worms or other pests. Pay close attention to the soil, checking it in bright lighting for any movement and the undersides of its leaves. Even if the plant appears to be in good condition, it is still recommended to keep your plant away from other plants for at least two weeks to be sure nothing hatches or comes up.
Only Use Treated or Sterilized Soil
Only use specialty potting plant mix or bake soil for 20-30 mins at 180 degrees Fahrenheit before use to kill off any pests or eggs living in the soil.
Treat Your Soil
There are both commercial and homemade sprays and treatments to use on your plants if you start to see the signs of a pest infestation or if you want to be safe and treat it before introducing it to new a space near other plants.
Insecticide soap sprays can be sprayed onto all parts of the plant to rid it of any pest and works similarly to dish soap in that it softens the exoskeleton of pests and kills others on contact.
Natural treatments include neem oil and Epsom salt. Neem oil, extracted from the neem seed kernels originating in India, acts as both an effective pesticide and a fungicide without harming your plant.
Epsom salt should be used sparingly and only when needed. It can kill worms and other pests on contact however, excessive exposure to Epsom salt can also kill your plants. If Epsom salt is used in the right amount, it can increase the magnesium in the soil which can help certain plants grow.
Ensure Your Plants Have Proper Drainage
Make sure to only pot your plants in pots with proper drainage holes on the bottom. Because worms and pests like moist environments, improper drainage can cause your plant to hold on to moisture for extended periods creating the perfect home for unwanted guests.
This also prevents your plant from being overwatered which can cause a plant to be unforgiving and die. Be sure to only water your plants as needed, once the soil dries up. Plants tend to bounce back quickly from being under-watered rather than being over-watered.
Clean Your Planting Supplies to Avoid Cross-Contamination
Similar to the logic of keeping an infested plant away from other plants, you should also take care in cleaning any potting tools used (soil shovels, nursing pots, etc…) between uses on each plant to avoid cross-contamination of soils where pests may be present.
Taking care of potted plants can be rewarding. They create a peaceful, ambient environment that keeps you in touch with nature. It is also purposeful to care for something like a plant and watch it flourish. However, it can be disheartening and somewhat off-putting to find that pests and worms have infested your plants. Before giving up on your plant, try these solutions and they will be thriving again in no time.